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August 6th, 2012

Create a Bootable Live USB Thumb Drive or Rescue Drive Using UNetbootin

A few weeks ago when two ISO images I burned to CDs failed to produce a working live CD intended for a laptop, someone on a distro forum figured the problem was with the CDs. This was a good guess, as the MD5 checksum on the download had matched the source. He suggested I make a bootable USB drive using UNetbootin.

Unetbootin screen shot

Unetbootin screen shot

I’d never heard of UNetbootin before, but I immediately found it at Sourceforge and downloaded it to the Windows desktop I was using. After studying the simple GUI for a moment, I inserted a thumb drive into a USB port. A few clicks of the mouse later, UNetbootin was extracting and copying files to the thumb drive. A couple of minutes later, I removed the drive from the Windows box, made sure the laptop was set up to boot from USB, crossed my fingers and booted. Less than a minute later I was looking at the desktop for the distro I was testing. It was that simple.


UNetbootin is a simple no frills tool, the type of program that used to populate the shelves at Egghead and other software stores back before the Internet changed everything. Using it to make a bootable USB drive from an ISO image is so easy even your grandmother could do it. Not only that, the application comes equipped to download and copy quite a few tools that might come in handy on a rescue drive.

The first choice you make after opening UNetbootin is between “Distribution” and “Diskimage.” If you choose the first option, you then choose a distro and version from two drop down list boxes. If the distro you need is on the list, this saves you the chore of downloading the image yourself, it’s all done for you. In addition, this list includes the tools you need for a good rescue operation, such as Parted Magick, Dr. Web Antivirus and NTPasswd.

In my case, I’d already downloaded the distro, which also wasn’t on the list. I choose the second option and pointed UNetbootin to where I’d saved the download on the hard drive. Then I selected the destination thumb drive and hit okay. After that, there was nothing to do but sit back and watch as UNetbootin did its thing.

The only problem I found with the layout was the browse button for finding files on the home computer. It’s not marked, and on the Windows version of Firefox it looks as if it’s a text box. On Linux this isn’t as much of a problem, as the graphic looks like a button. However, even on Linux it’s still unmarked.

UNetbootin runs on Linux, Mac or Windows. On Linux, you must enter a root access password whenever you start the app.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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