Although you’re reading this guide on a site dedicated to the Linux operating system, you may not be familiar with Linux and its capabilities. Linux is an operating system, just like the macOS which runs on Apple Mac computers, and the Windows operating system which runs on PC’s. The popular Android operating system, used widely on smartphones, is powered by Linux.
Linux tends to be the domain of computer enthusiasts and IT professionals. The vast majority of home users run the macOS or Windows on their home computers. Linux is an open-source operating system which is absolutely free of charge, available to anyone, and much less susceptible to malware and viruses.
There are numerous different versions of Linux, known as distributions (or ‘distros’ for short). The different distros have varied purposes and applications. You can read a great deal more about Linux on the Linux website.
As an IT support professional, I tend to use Linux in certain circumstances where it provides a more effective solution than Windows 10. I normally use Ubuntu which is one of the most popular Linux distributions. It’s possible to boot a Windows or Mac computer into a live session of Ubuntu without having to actually install it on the computer’s hard disk.
In this Linux guide, I’d like to look at how to create a Ubuntu installer flash drive. I shall describe how to create the drive using either a Mac or a Windows PC, and the drive created will be bootable on either a Mac or PC. After booting the drive in your computer, you’ll be able to select whether to run a live session of Ubuntu, or to install it on the computer’s hard drive.
The Mac screenshots used in this guide were captured using macOS High Sierra and the procedure has been checked and confirmed using macOS Big Sur.
The installer for Ubuntu is less than 3 GB in size and so we shall use a flash drive with a capacity of 4 GB or greater.
Formatting the Flash Drive on a Mac
We shall begin by erasing and formatting the flash drive.
Ensure that your flash drive is plugged into a USB port on your Mac before commencing this procedure.
- Open Finder, select Utilities and open Disk Utility.
- Check the View menu in Disk Utility to ensure that the option to Show All Devices is selected.
- Your flash drive will be listed as an External device in the left-hand pane of the Disk Utility window. You should select it and then click Erase.
4.We shall name the drive UBUNTU and select MS-DOS (FAT)) as the format and GUID Partition Map as the partitioning scheme. We are using FAT32 rather than Mac OS Extended (Journaled) so that the Ubuntu installer will be bootable in a Windows PC as well as in a Mac.
5.Click Erase and then Done when erasure and formatting of the drive has finished.
Writing Ubuntu to the Flash Drive On a Mac
We shall use a tool called UNetbootin to write the Ubuntu installer to the flash drive. The tool can be downloaded from the UNetbootin home page.
In order to launch UNetbootin, you’ll need to control-click it and then select Open as the app was created by a developer unverified by Apple. Having launched the tool, you’ll be prompted for your administrator password in order to be able to write to the flash drive.
Before you can proceed, you need to locate the name of the IDENTIFER for the flash drive. Each partition on each disk in a Mac has a unique identifier. In order to locate the identifier for your flash drive, open a Terminal window (from Finder/Utilities) and type diskutil list <enter>. In the resulting output, locate the name UBUNTU and take note of the name of its IDENTIFIER. In my case this is disk2s2, as you can see below.
Now return to the UNetbootin window and ensure that the radio button next to Distribution is selected. Then select Ubuntu from the list of Linux distributions available, followed by the version you require. We shall select version 20.10_Live_x64 which is the most recent version at the time of writing.
Now select USB drive as the Type: and your IDENTIFIER as the Drive. Click OK and the Ubuntu image will be downloaded and written to the flash drive. Both the download and the operation of writing the installer to the drive will require some time, but the progress of both will be displayed on the screen.
Formatting the Flash Drive on a Windows PC
To format the flash drive using a PC, first ensure that the flash drive is plugged in to a USB port on the computer. Locate the drive in File Explorer, right-click on it and select FORMAT. Give it the Volume Label Ubuntu, ensure that Quick Format is ticked, and click Start.
After a short time, the formatting operation will be completed.
Writing Ubuntu to the Flash Drive On a Windows PC
As with the procedure for the Mac, we shall use UNetbootin to write the Ubuntu installer to the flash drive. Begin by downloading the Windows version of the tool from the UNetbootin home page and launching it.
In the resulting UNetbootin window, ensure that the radio button next to Distribution is selected. Then select Ubuntu from the list of Linux distributions, followed by the version you require. We shall select version 20.10_Live_x64.
Now select USB drive as the Type: and the appropriate drive letter for your flash drive as the Drive. Click OK and the Ubuntu image will be downloaded and written to the flash drive. As before, both the download and the operation of writing the installer to the drive will require some time, and the progress of both will be displayed on the screen.
Testing the Ubuntu Installer On Mac and PC
The flash drive we’ve just created should be bootable in a Mac or a PC.
To test the drive on a Mac, connect the flash drive to one of the computer’s USB ports. Then switch the computer on, holding down the option key right after you power it on. You should soon see the different bootable options available to you. These will include the hard drive of the Mac, and your Ubuntu flash drive. Clicking on the flash drive will launch the installation of Ubuntu on the Mac.
To test the flash drive on a Windows PC, ensure that secure boot is disabled and configure the BIOS/UEFI settings to enable booting from a USB drive. After restarting the computer, the installation of Ubuntu will be launched from the flash drive.
As stated at the beginning, there are many applications for a Linux operating system. After creating a bootable Ubuntu flash drive, you’ll be able to either install Ubuntu to your computer, or run a live session. The latter is extremely useful if you’d like to begin to get a taste of Linux’s capabilities.