Flashdrive Linux Saves the Day

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, I never go anywhere without a bootable Linux flashdrive. The fact that Linux is so portable is one of my favorite things about it. I have at various times kept Fedora, Linux Mint, and Puppy on my flashdrive, but for the last couple months, my mobile distro of choice has been Knoppix.

 

Before I switched to Knoppix, I had been using Puppy. I liked it, but I wanted to try something different. I started doing a little research, and decided to try either Puredyne or Knoppix. Puredyne has a focus on creative media, and looks very interesting, but I ultimately decided to go with Knoppix. Knoppix, like Puppy, Fedora, and some other distros, has encryption as part of the setup process, which is a big plus for a computer I’m carrying around in my pocket in case I lose it. It is also Debian-based, so it benefits from Debian’s vast software library and stability. I downloaded the ISO, and wrote it to my 8 gig flashdrive.

 

I’m not going to go into great details about how to set up and use Knoppix. I found it to be pretty intuitive, and I’m not a super-guru or anything. I just want to talk about some of the things I’ve done with it. These same things could be accomplished with other Linux distros, too.

 

One of my co-workers was having a virus problem on his personal laptop, so I booted his computer from my Knoppix flashdrive, ran a Clam antivirus scan, removed 3 viruses and he was then able to load and use Windows as normal. I’ve since used Clam on Knoppix to remove viruses from several other computers with the same level of success. Clam is available on many distros, so if you’re looking for a Linux antivirus that you can also use to rescue other systems, Clam is worth checking out.

 

The most recent example I have had of Linux on a flashdrive completely saving the day happened last weekend. My family are corvette enthusiasts, and every year they host the 4th Annual Corvette Meet and Greet at Ron Hulett Chevrolet at Lake of the Ozarks (Click here for pictures). I went down to my parents house that weekend to help out with the show and run the sound. We were expecting 90 cars to participate in the show, but over 100 ultimately showed up.

 

4th Annual Corvette Meet and Greet

My dad had a spreadsheets set up for participant registration and vote tabulation. My parents’ plan was to run the sound, registration, and voting off of their 4-5 year old Dell laptop running Windows XP, as they had done for the previous three years.

 

A couple hours into the show, the computer blue-screened and we couldn’t get Windows to boot. I wish I had taken time to pay attention to the blue screen messages, but time was of the essence, so I’m not sure exactly what went wrong. I booted the laptop off of my Knoppix drive, connected to the dealership’s wireless network, got a music playlist going on Grooveshark, and mounted the hard drive to get a copy of the registration and vote tabulation spreadsheets. Fortunately the drive mounted and I was able to save a copy of each to the flash drive and continue inputting data with LibreOffice Calc.

 

If I had not been carrying Linux on a flash drive, the corvette show would have been much more difficult to complete successfully. We would have had no music, and vote tabulation would have been a nightmare, with over 90 ballots, each with 16 classes to vote on. After the show was over, I ran a Clam scan and removed several viruses from the XP hard drive, and it was able to boot as normal after that, though I’m not sure if the viruses were the problem (though they couldn’t have been helping anything).

 

Next year, we’re running everything off of one of my Linux laptops. I think I’m going to make a database for registration and vote tabulation too, because I think it will be a better way to keep everything organized, even though the spreadsheet got the job done.

 

Do you carry around a Linux flashdrive everywhere you go? What distro do you use? Have you been able to save the day with Linux? Any cool stories? Share your story in the comments.

 

Update:  Thanks, LXer.com, TuxMachines.org, LinuxHomePage.com, and News.Ycombinator.com for linking to my blog post, I really appreciate it!

25 Comments

  1. im carrying usb linux everywhere too & ive been saved many times as well 🙂 especially for taking backup on Destroyed OSs, to fix HDD problems, network drivers issue or just to watch full-speed HD Video & Flash on older computers that suffers from a demanding installed OS.

    Lately im using bodhi and im very pleased of its performance even on slow netbooks. i had other distros like Tinycore,slitaz and a couple of self customized OSs. All ran nice & smooth.

  2. Hey Psychorat, thanks for commenting. I really need to give Bodhi a try. It sounds like an interesting project, and I want to see what that enlightenment window manager is all about. I’ve got Fedora 15 Xfce running on my netbook and it is pretty decent as far as speed goes, but I’m always looking to try something new.

  3. I carry my Live flash drive everywhere, and it has helped me out a lot (particularly at work, where I am the entire IT department on a network of Windows computers… they won’t let me switch to Linux). I’ve used it to clean viruses, restore registry files, backup files, troubleshoot networking issues, and more.

    I mainly carry Ubuntu, but I’ve been known to use others, such as Knoppix, SystemRescueDisc and DamnSmallLinux (although admittedly, Ubuntu is the only one I’ve used on my USB, as those were LiveCDs).

    One of my most memorable was when a co-worker brought in his personal laptop to see if I could get about 150 MB of files off of it. The computer booted fine, but the ethernet port wasn’t functioning anymore, it didn’t have a CD burner or wireless, the files were too big for floppy (well, I could have done it probably, but it would have taken forever, and besides, I don’t trust floppies), and it was running the original Windows 98 (so while the computer had USB ports, Windows didn’t recognize them, as they weren’t recognized until Win98SE). It was also really low on memory (by today’s standards, at least… I think it had 64 MB).

    Fortunately, DamnSmallLinux (on CD, as that computer’s BIOS didn’t recognize a USB drive as a bootable drive) ran on it just fine, and it had no trouble reading the USB ports, so I was easily able to get the files off.

    Unfortunately, that experience did nothing to help convince that particular co-worker that Linux (or even free and open source software) was worth trying (he is strongly of the belief that if it doesn’t say “Microsoft” or “Adobe”, then it isn’t quality software). Ah, well, you win some, you lose some.

  4. Corfy, I’ve noticed the same thing where you do something amazing for someone else with Linux, and yet he still won’t give it a try for himself. I don’t know what it is about computers, but it seems like the majority of people are content to just keep using Windows because it is all they know, even though they’re willing to dive right in on smart phones, game systems, DVD players, and whatever else might have an interface that they don’t already know how to use.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting!

  5. What really amazes me is that these people stick with Windows because it “just works” or because it is so “simple”, yet they have no idea what to do if they ever have a problem.

    If Windows “just works”, why are you having this particular problem, and if Windows is so “simple”, shouldn’t you be able to figure it out on your own?

    (Admittedly, the problem in my previous comment was more of a hardware issue than a software issue, but still, most of the time the problem is a malware infected computer.)

    Although as I said, I am the entire IT department at my office (with 60 computers and four servers). I often tell my co-workers that if Microsoft made stable, reliable products that did what they were supposed to do, I’d be out of a job. Consequently, I owe Microsoft a letter of thanks.

  6. I love FlashDriveLinux! I use Multiboot System on a 16Gb Flash drive that I keep loaded with BackTrack, TAILS, Knoppix, AVG Recovery CD and Linux Mint. And it’s always on my keychain.

    I wouldn’t leave home without it! =-)

  7. Corfy, to add to your point, I think that they don’t realize that the thing that is “just working” isn’t even necessarily Windows, 90% of the time it is a browser. I’ve observed that for most people, most of what they’re doing is accessing web content from a browser, and maybe using an email client or occasionally typing up a document/making a spreadsheet. There is very little web content anymore that requires you to use Windows or Internet Explorer, for the most part, you could use Firefox, Chrome, or other OS-independent browsers and not notice a significant difference in experience between Windows, Linux, and Mac (other than perhaps a speed advantage for Linux or Mac over Windows, which would depend on several factors).

  8. @Brian Cox, I haven’t used Multiboot System before. Are you able to get any persistent file storage with that, or is it all just running as a live medium? I need to get a bigger flash drive so I can carry around a whole bag of tricks like your setup. Thanks for reading/commenting!

  9. I too carry a bootable USB of Linux. In my case, I carry a copy of CrunchBang Statler Xfce edition, because 1) after KDE and GNOME made changes to their desktops in recent years that were too radical for my tastes, not to mention memory resources, Xfce is now my desktop of choice, and 2) CrunchBang is one of only a handful of distros that properly detects the Broadcom wireless card in my wife’s laptop, on which she still insists on running Windows XP. (I still have yet to convert her…)

  10. Fred, I mostly use Xfce these days too. I looked at Gnome 3 on Fedora 15, but it just wasn’t for me (yet anyway). I’ve been using Xfce on my netbook with Fedora 14 and now Fedora 15, and I always choose Xfce on my various virtual machines that I run for fun (Debian, PCBSD, and others). Knoppix comes with LXDE by default, which has been fine for me as well.

    I definitely know what it’s like to pick a distro based on hardware constraints. The reason I started using Linux Mint extensively a couple years back was because it was able to recognize the Ralink card in my netbook.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  11. Fred, maybe you could try to install a good Windows-clone Theme pack (windows,icons,Gnomenu) and wine to your wife’s laptop. if she use cross-platform apps like skype, openoffice already, she wont find many differences.

    Thats how i convinced the girlfriend of a friend to switch 😉

  12. Agree with PSYCHORAT re: Bodhi. Quite a pleasant surprise. Debian with stable and well-configured Enlightentment, as well as minimal initial SW config.

    Perfect for a netbook, older computer, or folks who like to start minimal and add apps selectively. I plan to replace ArchBang with Bodhi as my main system.

    However, Knoppix/LXDE is my first choice for a rescue USB simply because Bodhi is minimal and I may not have time or network to download tools needed for computer rescue.

  13. @Secdroid, is anything leading you away from ArchBang, or do you find that Bodhi just fulfills your wants so well that you are going to switch to it for your main system?

    Thanks for reading/commenting.

  14. Psychorat, on more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to try the ol’ switcheroo and surreptitiously installing Linux with a bunch of Windows themes just to show people they really don’t need to be tied to Windows itself, but I have never pulled the trigger.

  15. Enjoyed reading your experience with Linux. Very informative. Oh, and the pictures Corvette s were great.

  16. @RUSSELL — I have been *completely* delighted with ArchBang, as I was with CrunchBang. ArchBang has been quite stable, despite being a rolling release. The package maintainers do a great job. Very few issues, all quite minor.

    Why the switch to Bodhi?

    — I’m a distro hopper. I learn something new from each hop. Time to hop.

    — Bodhi is the first Enlightenment that seemed ready for “prime time.” Lightweight and *extremely* configurable.

    — I’d like to use the same lightweight distro on my single core Atom netbook and desktop. I prefer lightweight.

    — I’m lazy and I find that the apps I want to try are available pre-compiled for Debian, but less so in the Arch repositories, including AUR.

  17. @Esteban, thanks for commenting. The show was great fun.

  18. @secdroid, I definitely understand the impulse to be a distro hopper. I move back and forth between Mint, Fedora, Debian, and random others here and there on my laptop just for a little variety.

  19. Nice article Russell. Reading it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside 🙂 (Except that I don’t care much for Corvettes.. I’m more of a Porsche fan ;))

    Anyways, I do carry a Linux USB with me all the time – with a few major distros – namely, Linux Mint (LXDE edition), Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Puppy Linux and of course, the usual rescue distros like Avira, Parted Magic etc.

    The reason I keep so many is that you never know which one would better on a particular hardware. Usually desktop computers are all good, but it’s the laptops that have issues. In my experiences, I found Mint to be overall the best in terms of compatibility, while Fedora has the best hardware support (but it’s a bit unstable). Also the LXDE version is really light so I’ve been able to use it just fine on 8-10 year old machines.

    Finally, the reason why I don’t use Knoppix is because it’s become quite large and bloated. The package management system isn’t that great either (same reason why I don’t use Puppy anymore). The advantage of using Mint/Ubuntu etc is that if you want you can even install it permanent on your computer and use it full time.

    However I understand that every distro has it’s advantages. Hence the reason for my multi-boot USB.

    Speaking of multiboot, YUMI is a great tool to automatically create and update your multi-boot drive:

    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/yumi-multiboot-usb-creator/

  20. @Shiv, I’m definitely going to have to check YUMI out. One of the reasons I switched from Puppy to Knoppix on my flashdrive was because of package management. I will agree that it isn’t ideal on Knoppix either, but for my needs, it is better than Puppy. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  21. Yeah, Puppy’s package management isn’t very good and the repository selection is pretty limited. Even for ready-made packages, most of the good stuff is only available from user contributions laid out on the forum. It either makes Puppy a no-go or motivates you to make your own packages.

    It’s still my favorite system for use on a flash drive, though, but then I don’t mind having to make my own packages now and then.

  22. Just to add a few things. I just bought a 32gb flashdrive for $40.00 that’s awesome. I’m filling it up as we speak. I have a nearly 10gb password file so I need a large drive. I finally could afford one.

    Anyways. I got Win7 installers 64 & 32bit, win7 repairs, xp lite and installers, various linux & rescue it’s crazy.

    I have been using Yumi but recently switched to SARDU. SARDU supports windows installers where Yumi doesn’t.

    http://www.sarducd.it/

  23. @Michael, I used puppy on my flash drive for several months and didn’t have too many complaints, but from time to time I would run into an application that I wanted that wasn’t readily available, and I was too lazy to do anything about it. I do love how small a footprint puppy has though. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  24. @Brian, that’s an awesome setup. Where did you find the 32 gig flashdrive for that great of a price? I considered my 8 gig a deal at $20 a couple years ago, I love the way tech stuff gets cheaper and better over time. That’s a beast of a password file, 10GB. What’s the filetype? I have a protected spreadsheet with the passwords I use at work, but I’ve got a system I use for all my other stuff so I never have to remember anything, I just have to figure it out each time if I can’t remember. Thanks for the link to SARDU, I’m going to have to check that out. Thanks for reading/commenting.

  25. @Russell
    Here is a link. It’s good but wish it was usb 3.0.
    http://www.staples.com/SanDisk-Cruzer-32GB-USB-flash-drive/product_785426

    The password file is for *cough* recovering my lost passwords via dictionary attack. Ya never know. The list includes specials characters *&^%@ etc.

    I’ve gained access to excel password protected files before. I use a program called keepass that I snyc with 2 computers and my android phone with sugarsync. It does encryption.

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