Software Development with Linux

Installing Linux on a laptop without CD

SUN, 01 FEB 2009

I got a laptop from job. Unfortunately, it came with Windows XP installed on it. To improve my conditions and increase my productivity, I wanted to install Linux on it. But, I also wanted to keep the Windows XP partition (it may came in handy for testing, etc.).

The problem is, I don't have any CD-R to burn a Linux ISO on it. I stumble upon UNetbootin, which allow someone to create a bootable USB memory key using any Linux ISO.

The other problem is, I only have a 500MB memory key, and all the Linux distributions offer ISO bigger than that, to fit exactly on a CD. Except for network install (netinst) CDs (or really small distribution like Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux). So, even with a slow wireless Internet connection (I'm at the hotel), I decided to try with netinst anyway.

I've tried Fedora 10, Kubuntu 8.10, CentOS 5 and OpenSUSE 11.1. Using UNetbootin, it was easy to put them onto the USB memory key. But, all of them only wanted to work with eth0 (which wasn't possible at the hotel), except for Fedora 10. Unfortunately, even if the wlan0 interface was detected and selectable, I couldn't specify which wireless access point to use.

After looking around on DistroWatch, I founded that antiX provided a Live/Install CD for approximately 400MB, so it would fit on my USB memory key. Since antiX is based on MEPIS, which is in turned based on Debian, I decided to gave it a try. It looked like it provided a full Linux distribution (compared to the small Linux distributions) so this should result in a pretty usable laptop.

After a full night of download, I installed the ISO onto my USB memory key with UNetbootin and rebooted my laptop. antiX booted in seconds. The installation process was really straight forward. I could use GParted to resize the Windows partition to make place for an EXT3 and SWAP partitions. Once the installation completed, I removed the USB memory key and rebooted. Both the Windows XP and antiX booted correctly. It took me only 1 hour to do all that, so everything was completed before work!

For now, my half a day experience with qntiX has been OK. It feels fast. I'm currently using Fluxbox, which is the default (and only?) installed window manager. I'm not sure yet if I'll stay with it or install KDE, but for now I've no problem with it, so I don't see any reason to switch.

So, the moral of the story is: don't be afraid to try new Linux distributions from time to time, you could be surprised!