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Boot Portable Live USB Linux on Older Hardware - page 2

Your Linux is Portable, But Where's the Port?

  • March 11, 2011
  • By Emery Fletcher
There is a way around the problem, thanks to an interesting little piece of programming from Elmar Hanlhofer that he calls the Plop Boot Manager. The tiny (1.5MB) free download unzips to 8.9MB and contains options for installation with either a Linux or a Windows system. It can be installed on hard drive, floppy disk, or CD, and there are a number of other tools in the download for configuration and even for creating a custom boot manager CD. To the great credit of its author, it also has a thorough, well-written instruction files in both English and German. Once installed on the chosen drive, Plop can handle booting from essentially any of the external media that are typically used to carry bootable systems.

I am well aware of my own limited computer skills, so I was not about to try installing such a powerful (read: super low-level) item on my hard drive, but there was no need. The Plop Boot Manager can run from either of the included plpbt files: an .iso file which can be burned to a CD, or an .img file that can be written to a floppy disk. Each of those files contains the complete boot manager. I made myself one of each and tested them.

I already knew that the two machines I was going to use as tests had no ability to boot from USB. One was still so pristine, despite its age, that it retained the once-traditional Floppy First boot order. For that one I reformatted an old floppy disk that had been hiding in a desk drawer for years. If you're wondering why I would even think of doing such a thing, consider this: you can leave the floppy in the drive as long as you think you'll be needing it, and still get to your CD or thumb drive whenever you want. It makes it a sort of add-on BIOS.

And that's just how Plop behaves. Immediately after the POST screen the floppy drive whirred briefly and a small 80x50 pixel text mode panel appeared on the monitor with a choice of booting from the hard drive, from the CD drive, or from the USB. I chose USB, and it smoothly booted the Knoppix 6.4.3 I had previously installed on the thumb drive. It ran well, Compiz and all, faster than from CD but slower than from hard drive. I counted that test a resounding success.

The other, even older PC I was going to test had been set up to boot from hard drive first, so at the POST screen I changed the setting and put in the CD I had burned. (Small irony: the CD drive runs fine, but the floppy drive is dead.) The startup panel image was the same, I again chose the USB, but on this machine Knoppix ran much slower than it did from the CD of the same distro. I was puzzled, until I realized that computer is old enough that it must use USB 1.1 instead of 2.0. I hadn't noticed until then, because I'd never used the USB port for anything but small files in the past. I don't think I'll be doing much with thumb drive Linux on that machine!

Most of the time I spend on computers is at home, so I don't have much personal need for an easily portable form of Linux. But with two or more OSs on each of my four machines it's a lot handier to be able to run infrequently used distros like Knoppix or Parted Magic from thumb drives than from CDs. I think I'll be getting considerable mileage out of the Plop Boot Manager, and I hope this article leads some other people to it.

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