As an IT guru, I like to play around with multiple Linux-based operating systems. Whether I’m going to perform a clean install or merely use the Live boot portion to give the OS a test drive, there’s one thing I don’t really like to do, and that’s buying DVD-Rs and burning ISO images to them, only to then turn the disc into a new coaster for my drink when I get bored of it. Not only is this a waste of money, but discs are not particularly fast when compared to solid-state media.
Universal USB Installer
If you have a thumb drive handy that is at least 4GB or larger in size, Universal USB Installer can come to the rescue with its special superpower: the ability to write ISO files of popular Linux distributions to a thumb drive for booting and installation onto the destination hard disk. This utility even purports to do USB stick style installers for Windows Vista, 7 and 8, in case you want to skip the disc on those as well.
Whenever you want to create a bootable Linux installer stick, simply plug in your thumb drive, start the utility and select your favorite distro along with drive and format options, then click Create to begin the process. If you didn’t download the ISO beforehand, Universal USB Installer offers an option to grab the file for you before beginning the creation process. Depending on the distro that is selected from the menu, the entire job from start to finish can take up to five to ten minutes, depending on the size of the ISO and the speed of the flash memory.
During my tests, every single supported OS I threw at the utility easily created a working bootable drive that I could use on my computer. For added convenience, a persistent file storage area can be added so that, if you are in a Live USB session and want to save documents, for instance, you will be able to save directly to the flash drive without running into read-only restrictions that obviously plague burned discs.
From a Windows user’s perspective, drives are also formatted as FAT32, making it easy to sneaker-net files over as needed without requiring fancy Ext* file system drivers.
Unfortunately, I did run into issues getting in the USB Windows Installer section of the tool. When I attempted to create a USB installer of my Windows 7 Professional Retail DVD, which was converted to an ISO beforehand, the files would indeed copy over, but I could not boot the flash drive properly. Whether this is a bug that exists with the particular DVD image I utilized, or whether I needed to use an OEM version of the operating system instead of a Retail version, I could not tell. This part was sadly a let-down for me, and I hope this problem gets fixed soon.
One final issue I have with the utility, although rather minor, is that there is absolutely no percentage to completion meter that measures an actual step in the process, save for the part when 7zip extracts files from the ISO. For instance, I was at a step where a drive was formatting and there was a progress bar with something in it, but nothing moved at all for about two minutes before moving on to the next step. Since this utility appears to be based off of Nullsoft’s Installer System, this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
With all that said, when it comes to getting your Linux fix without touching the disc burner, Universal USB Installer does get the job done nicely in a Windows environment. No need to crack out fancy command line parameters, like calling dd, which can be rather crude and lacking in information.
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