Borrowing a PC? Put Linux on it, via a USB drive

* Don't worry about having to borrow someone's swim trunks again

Have you ever had to use someone else's PC at work - either to complete a quick task, or as a substitute machine for a short period of time? The experience is never pleasant - foreign desktop settings, grimy keyboards, crazy font sizes and odd wallpaper - it's liken to borrowing someone's swim trunks. If you're a Linux desktop user and are forced to use someone's Windows machine, the experience may be more on par with borrowing a toothbrush.

To guard against this potential unpleasantness, it's time you looked into putting a bootable Linux desktop image on a portable USB key chain drive. Several well-used options are out there that allow a scaled down Linux desktop operating system to load into a PC's memory, boot the machine, auto-detect hardware, and allow for a nicer temporary computing experience.

Knoppix is a popular slimmed-down Linux distribution that is used widely on CDs as a temporary operating system. Damn Small Linux is another distribution that can fit on media as small as 50MB. Both of these Linux distributions can be modified and augmented to boot up from a USB drive instead of a CD, but some tinkering is required.

FeatherLinux is a ready-made distribution based on Knoppix with much of the modifications already made. The image also includes some basic applications, such as Firefox, Abiword (a quick word processing app), the Thunderbird e-mail client, the Etherreal protocol analyzer and a small WAV file player, among other tools.

For those even lazier, pre-configured USB drives can be purchased for around $60 that have all the software loaded and have been tested with several types of PC hardware.

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