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I must confess that I haven't posted for more than a year, although I have been reading the emails that your admin staff kindly sends me. I was just about to bother you with a question regarding installing and booting into Linux from a flash drive on laptop with no hard drive in it. However, I just discovered http://www.pendrivelinux.com/, so I'll post my questions there first, since they apparently specialize in this kind of installation. Of course, comments and suggestions here would also be welcome and appreciated.
Distribution: BSD & Linux - As long as they are Lightweight
You can run any distro from a pendrive, as you can from an external HDD, or even SD/SDHC cards as long as your computer can boot from the media. Booting & running from pendrives is very much faster than running from CD/DVD, very usable.
If you want a Windows partition on the drive, put it as the first, then add your other partitions as you would on a normal HDD.
First partition for Windows use, next for Linux distro, then the rest for your data. Use ext4 with noatime, do not use swap.
If you decide to change distro, simply install it to the Linux partition, leaving your data partition untouched.
Thanks for the response AND the advice. I've actually tried a few utilities, none of which
worked, even with all of the installation files present. With each trial I kept getting the
message, "Missing boot manager". Also, lately I've been reading that an external USB drive
might be to slow to be practical for an operating system, unless it's a USB 3.0, which this old
laptop does not support. Accordingly, I'm now leaning toward using an external USB hard drive,
which should exhibit a high enough data transfer rate.
At this point, I'd be satisfied if I could run openSUSE Gnome by first booting into a "livecd"
version and then performing a "permanent" installation on the drive. Since it's an older
system that doesn't seem to be able to handle the video requirements of one of the newer
openSUSe editions ()13.1 or 13.2, I'd like to install openSUSE v11.3 (i586) with the Gnome
v2.22 GUI, which appears to display and work pretty well from the CD that I burned from a
downloaded ISO more than years ago.
Finally, I was wondering if I can use dd or grub and make my drive bootable directly from the bash command line. Remember, I'd prefer a USB hard drive over a USB flash drive.
A standard USB drive should be fine. While 3.0 is faster, normal USB (2.0 on almost any computer newer than 10-15 years) will work as well. The only time that the drive speed really has a major impact is booting and starting applications. In my experience, it only takes a few extra seconds for programs to start, and booting is about the same.
I have a number of Linux systems on my 5 year old Desktop and have systems such as Mint 17 and Ubuntu 14.04 installed on an external usb 2.0 drive. Don't really notice they are any slower than those on the internal although if your computer is a lot older than that, it might be a problem.
You haven't posted any details on your "old" laptop hardware, might be helpful to get help if you did.
Software such as pendrivelinux and unetbootin is pretty reliable and they have been around and in use for years. If you are getting a boot manager is missing error, when do you get this error? Is it when trying to boot the usb installation medium or after the install trying to boot the installed system?
You might post some details on your hardware. The newer releases of Opensuse are probably too heavy if the laptop is old and older releases you refer to are no longer supported, no new software or updates available. You might need to go with a lighter distribution of Linux.
Pendrivelinux is a great way to build a special type of install or running usb flash. It usually has a benefit of running from a compressed file and seems faster. The problem usually is that you are running a cd/dvd image and can't easily update.
Many distro's offer a hybrid image that can be dd'd to a usb. You can also install directly to a usb just like a normal hard drive. (modern distro's) The advantage is you can keep it updated.