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I have copied a Gnome distro to a USB drive which boots fine on my Mac, I want to install this to another USB drive I have so I can take the USB drive and use it on any PC. I partitioned the USB drive to have a main partition and a swap section then assigned the swap section and an ext4 to the main section then installed the boot loader to the ext4 partition. It installed fine and the Mac bootloader sees it, but when it goes into the boot it just flashes a cursor in the top left and doesn't boot into Linux.

How can I make the USB drive ready to have the installation put on it and use it as a standalone Linux build?

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There are specific distributions that specialize on what you want. I have successfully used slax for a long time and was very happy with it; you might want to take a look on Knoppix as well.

However, I would recommend checking the BIOS boot options first. For example, is "Secure Boot" disabled or enabled? If it is boot related, this link might be helpful.

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