How to Put Ubuntu Linux on a USB Thumb Drive (Without the Mess)

We have discussed installing Ubuntu on a USB thumb before. This time, we’re doing it differently, to make it cleaner and easier to store your files.

In the past, we’ve showed you how to install Ubuntu on a USB thumb drive (here and here). We all know, Ubuntu LiveUSBs are really cool, and really helpful as well. Usually when you install Ubuntu on a USB thumb drive, the drive becomes pretty much unusable for data storage, because there’s a mess of Ubuntu files in it. You’d surely ask yourself, “Where on earth do I store my data now?”

The answer is simple. Install Ubuntu elsewhere. No, not on another dedicated thumb drive. We can install Ubuntu in a separate partition on the thumb drive, and it’s really simple, even inside Ubuntu. All you need is a USB thumb drive (preferably larger than 2GB), and a copy of Ubuntu. You can have Ubuntu running from a LiveCD, or from your hard drive. But the best way to do this is in a Virtual Machine. We have told you how to create an Ubuntu virtual machine, so be sure to have a look at that. The reason we’re doing this in a VM is that we’ll be playing with partitions on the drive, and IF you accidentally make a wrong move, it would cost you lots of deleted data. So proceed with caution if you’re not going to do this in a VM.

For our testing, the process was done in VMWare Player with Ubuntu 10.10. Let’s get started, shall we?

Attach the USB thumb drive, and if doing it in VMWare, enable the USB in VMWare as well by clicking on the USB icon, and clicking “Connect (disconnect from host)”

Once the thumb drive appears, navigate to System>Administration>GParted Partition Editor

Be sure to select YOUR USB THUMB DRIVE from the drop down list in the top right corner (this step may be crucial if you’re not in a VM, be sure to select the correct drive).

You can identify your USB Thumb Drive by its label, and its capacity.

Right click on the graphical area, and click “Unmount”

Now right click, and click “Delete”

Right click again, and click “New”

First, we are going to create the data storage partition. Since this partition will be visible in Windows, it would be cosmetically better to allot it a good size. We have a 4GB thumb drive here, so let’s give it 2GB of space. 2048MiB approximately equals 2GB, so enter this value in the “New Size (MiB)” field. Make sure the file system is set to NTFS. Give it a name, we’re naming it “Usable Partition” here. Press the “Add” button to add the partition.

Now lets add the partition for Ubuntu. Right click on the unallocated space in the graphical area, and click “New”.

This time, we’re allotting all the rest of the space to this partition, so no need to change the size values. Change the file system to “ext2” and name it “Ubuntu”.

Now we’re going to apply the partition changes, so click the green Tick button to carry out the changes.

Click Apply to confirm

Wait for it to do its work.

Once that’s done, exit GParted. Now let’s install Ubuntu on the USB thumb drive. Navigate to System>Administration>Startup Disk Creator

When it opens, scroll down the list to find the “Ubuntu” partition we created earlier. In the following screenshot, you can see the USB Drive selected. This is not what we want. Scroll down to find the “Ubuntu” Partition.

Also, set a persistence level. Anything above 500MB is fine. Basically, the persistence level will determine the amount of customized settings that will be saved in the Ubuntu partition (for instance, the system-wide changes that you’ll make to Ubuntu, desktop settings, all that stuff). Whenever you plug the Live USB into any other computer, all your settings will be retrieved regardless of where you use it.

These were all the settings you need to make. Click “Make Startup Disk” when you’re done. It will start copying the files to the USB drive.

How about a cup of coffee? This will take a while!

When it’s done, you’ll see this message. Congratulations, your Ubuntu Live USB is ready. You can plug it into any computer that supports booting from a USB (all computers do, and if yours doesn’t, learn how to make it do so, using PLoP boot manager)

There you have it, Ubuntu in a separate partition of a USB thumb drive, leaving room for data storage. You can now plug in your Ubuntu LiveUSB into any computer, boot into Ubuntu, and download any data on the usable/data storage partition. And yeah, here’s a snippet of how that partition looks from the inside. An empty, 2GB partition for your data storage.

Enjoy your Ubuntu LiveUSB. Use it to fix your or someone’s PC, use it a public computers, or to install Ubuntu on someone’s computer, whatever you want, all you need is a computer!