And that is what I have done. I am using an 8GB USB flash drive, about the same capacity as you'd find in a netbook, for example. (I boot into Linux on weekends, on my own time.) Works great!
It occurs to me that this may not have been an obvious solution to everyone, so I'd like to talk about it.
Maybe you're in a similar situation as me, where you want to boot Linux but aren't able (or allowed) to install another operating system on your computer. Or maybe you just want to install Linux on a PC you own, but don't want to mess about with the sometimes-scary task of resizing a Windows hard drive so you can dual-boot. Or perhaps you just want to be able to bring your own Linux installation with you, so you can boot it anywhere (in an Internet cafe, friend's house, etc.)
One obvious way to do this is to convert a LiveCD version of Linux into a "LiveUSB". That's how I originally did it, and it worked well.
I wanted to have a full install of Linux, something that was just the same as installing on a hard drive. But without actually installing to the hard drive. So I picked up an 8GB USB drive (to compare, same capacity as many netbooks) and installed Linux on that.
Was it easy? Yes, it definitely was! Just booted my laptop using the LiveUSB that I'd used to install Fedora 11 for my wife, and told the installer to install Linux on the USB drive. It's exactly the same as installing on the hard drive, but you do need to pay attention at two points in the installation process:
- When you let the installer create the partitions, make sure to specify the USB drive. Check the capacity of the drives it presents to you, and that should be an obvious clue which one is the USB drive. (The hard drive on my laptop is 80GB.)
- When the boot info is installed, make sure to select the USB drive, not the hard drive. Again, check the capacity of the drives it shows you, and you'll be sure to pick the right one.
I manually created my partitions, but you can let the installer do it for you. It's your choice.
In case I ever lose the flash drive, I made sure to encrypt my data. Just as in previous releases, the Fedora 11 installer makes encrypting your system very easy. During setup, just check the box to encrypt your hard drive, type in your passphrase, and the installer does the rest!
That was it. It took about 20 minutes to install everything - and it doesn't touch the hard drive, so Windows remains completely unaffected. Now, when I'm at home and want to run Linux, I just boot from the USB drive. When I'm at the office, I boot from the hard drive and run Windows.To be honest, there is a side effect from running Linux from a flash drive: Typical flash drives read at up to 30 MB/s, and write at about half that. On the other hand, because all my data lives on the USB drive, the hard drive never spins up. The trade off is longer battery life (the hard drive can spin down if it's never used) but writing files is slower. It's unnoticeable when doing "everyday" activities (writing docs, browsing the web) but it definitely takes longer to run system updates - compared to my wife's Linux laptop, which boots from a hard drive.