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So I was under the impression that if I flashed an image of Ubuntu onto a USB stick, connected it to my laptop running Windows 10 and booted it from the boot menu (F10) I would be able to use linux as usual without having to worry about my Windows installation. However, when Ubuntu boots, it brings me to a menu asking if I want to "try linux" (which I'm currently on, typing this question), or to "install linux". I tried to click he "install linux" option, but it recognises Windows boot manager and all the files on my hard drive etc, telling me that it will erase them.

So my question is, how can I "install" Ubuntu on this drive in a way that doesn't erase anything from my harddrive (i.e. windows and my files), such that I can bring this USB with me as a portable linux with all the associated files that I save on-the-go?

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    You don't have to install it, "try linux" means "run linux from this USB stick". You can also get Linux variants on USB sticks that don't ask this question, and just boot from the USB stick, leaving your harddisk alone. Making the rest of the USB stick available to save files is an option some USB stick distros have, and some don't. Google around a bit for one that does. – dirkt Apr 25 '17 at 8:35
  • Ahh, that I didn't know - thanks. Are there downsides to the "try linux" option then? Can I use it as normal (i.e. install programs without problems, run the programs after a reboot etc)? – Keir Simmons Apr 25 '17 at 8:40
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(I'll make this an answer now, even though I'm not familiar enough with the various USB stick variants to recommend concrete ones that do what you want).

You don't have to install it, "try linux" means "run Linux from this USB stick". You can also get Linux variants on USB sticks that don't ask this question, and just boot from the USB stick, leaving your harddisk alone.

The file system containing the Linux files on the USB stick is compressed, and therefore read-only. That means you can't install new packages from the Internet on the USB stick, you are restricted to the applications that are on the stick. You also can't store your own data files on this file system. So that's the downside of "try linux" as compared to "install linux": Once it's installed on your harddisk, it behaves just like a normal Linux system, and you can upgrade it and use it normally.

Making the rest of the USB stick available to save files (if there's any space left on the stick) is an option some USB stick distros have, and some don't. Google around a bit for one that does. You still won't be able to install new packages (applications) this way.

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