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How To Boot 10 Different Live CDs From 1 USB Flash Drive

09-booting-cc

Ever get the urge to try out a bunch of Linux distros at once? Maybe you’re hosting a Linux installation party. Here’s an easy way to get a bunch of Live CDs working from a single thumb drive.

10 Distributions, You Say?

MultiSystem is a really easy tool made to run on Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros that you can use to play with various LiveCDs at once, or to create the ultimate recovery device.  If you don’t use Ubuntu, you can use an Ubuntu Live CD to install MultiSystem so that you can create your super live USB drive without having to run Linux as your main OS.

It’s best to download your ISOs ahead of time, and select a USB drive large enough to house them all.  I actually went with an 8 GB SD card (used via a USB adapter).  Here are some of the popular and interesting distros I used.

  • Ubuntu, a very novice-friendly and popular distro that’s widely used
  • Kubuntu, a KDE-oriented version of Ubuntu.
  • Linux Mint, another novice-friendly distro that aims to get more usable out of the box.  It is also 100% compatible with Ubuntu packages.
  • Linux Mint Debian Edition, like Linux Mint except it’s 100% compatible with the Debian testing build.
  • Debian, one of the older and more central distros out there.  It has both a “stable” build and a “testing” build.
  • Fedora, which used to be RedHat and is another big distro.  It aims at power, and has several “spins”, which aim to work out of the box for different purposes.
  • Fuduntu, A Fedora-based distro with some important optimizations for netbooks, like adding Fewt’s Jupiter tool and moving /var to a ramdisk.
  • Slax, which is based on simplicity and up-to-date software, but also the ability to run smoothly on older hardware, just like its Slackware roots.  It uses modules instead of installed software to make this easy.
  • OpenSUSE, an easily-configurable distro that has been around for quite a while.
  • BackTrack, a distro aimed specifically at penetration testing.  Great for testing how secure your – or your friend’s – network really is.

There are plenty of other amazing distros that work great, such as Arch, Slackware, ZenWalk, Cent OS, etc., but work best when installed.  If you want to find more Linux distributions, check out DistroWatch.com, and you can also take a peek at MultiSystem’s Compatibility Page for more ideas.

Installing MultiSystem

Head over to the MultiSystem Download Page, and grab the installation script.  The website is in French, but if you’re not comfortable there’s a translate option on the right, s’il vous plaît.

Next, open up terminal and change to the directory where you downloaded your file.  Mine is in the “Downloads” directory:

cd ~/Downloads/

Uncompress the script with the following command:

tar -xvjpf install-depot-multisystem.sh.tar.bz2

Next, we need to run it:

./install-depot-multisystem.sh

You’ll see a small windows pop-up and ask you for your password, like so:

02-extra window

Just pop that in and you’ll be good to go!

Making Your Super Live USB Drive

You’ll find the tool in Applications > Accessories > MultiSystem

03-run multisystem

Let’s take a look at the Selection window.

05-multisystem main menu

Before we start, let’s make sure it’s updated to the latest and greatest.  Click the update button.  You’ll see another window pop up and look like this:

04-update multisystem

Enter your password when prompted and watch it do its thing.  When it’s done, it’ll return to the Selection window, and you can select your USB drive from the list at the bottom.  Click “Validate” and you’ll see the main window pop up.

06-main window-highlighted

Just drag and drop an .ISO file into the highlighted area to add it to your USB drive.  You’ll see a window pop up with file progress.

08-copying iso

Once it’s done, just lather, rinse, and repeat.  Upon booting from your device, you’ll see a veritable plethora of options.

09-booting-cc

Some Technical Details

Essentially, MultiSystem downloads and installs GRUB2 to your USB drive, along with SYSLINUX and GRUB4DOS.  These are tools that allow the booting of multiple OSs in various ways.  It then takes care of creating the proper entries for each bootloader and copying the files over to your USB drive.

Support isn’t limited to Linux.  It supposedly works with Windows ISOs and XBMC, as well as other utilities like Hiren’s BootCD, since it uses SYSLINUX in addition to GRUB2 and GRUB4DOS.  Your mileage may vary from update to update, though.  Share your experiences in the comments!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 01/3/11

Comments (33)

  1. HCamper

    Great Article.
    A great way for some one to try each flavor.
    You might want to suggest this method
    to the “Mint Project”.
    Cheers
    Martin :)

  2. Juan Pablo

    I use SARDU http://bit.ly/fX2dkH for Windows. SARDU lets you create multiboot USB/DVD/CD with multiple tools, like Linux, Antivirus, Windows PE, etc.
    Greetings

  3. Kalpeshdsolanki

    Great article. But i am mesmerized by this ubuntu theme you used. Please tell me which theme is this and how/where to get this? Really verry cool theme.

  4. Hatryst

    I always wanted to know this :)
    However, is it possible to have an AntiVirus as a part of the LiveUSB?
    (Like BitDefender Live USB?)
    http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/36677/how-to-use-the-bitdefender-rescue-cd-to-clean-your-infected-pc/
    Can we have an entry for that as well?

  5. Sidiiq

    Why not use “Multiple ISOs” it’s very great, easy to setup and can boot more than 20 ISOs in one usb. here is the link check it out http://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-multiple-iso-from-usb-multiboot-usb/

  6. YatriTrivedi

    My theme is based on the BlueJoy Gnome theme and a modified Radial Emerald theme.

    http://gnome-look.org/content/…..tent=73387
    http://gnome-look.org/content/…..tent=71352

  7. Corillian

    The link to the multi-system download page does not work.

  8. campbell2644

    Thanks for a really interesting and useful page. I’ll try it out.

  9. m0l0ch

    Is there a way to have linux dist on the usb with windows 7 & windows xp installation as well?

  10. Bit Hacker

    @m0l0ch…. hacker.pk/how-to-install-windows-xp-vista-7-from-usb-st

  11. lol

    and i wonder if that “inception.mp3″ on his ubuntu desktop is really a .mp3 file, or did he just change the extension to .mp3, and its really, inception the movie lol

  12. Alhambra

    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-multiple-iso-from-usb-multiboot-usb/
    With this you can Install Windows 7 from Multiboot USB, and Boot some Linux Systems.
    only Install Windows- no livemode!
    You can Add Antivirusprogramms to.

    If your BIOS dosn´t support booting from USB, use this
    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-from-usb-without-bios-support-via-plop-cd/

    See you

  13. YatriTrivedi

    @Corillian: Link is working for me…
    @lol: actually, it’s the sound clip from http://inception.davepedu.com/ It’s become a really big joke for my friends and me.

  14. Mike

    My question is, how do you get Arch Linux onto it?

  15. `gene

    Using both Ubuntu and Kubuntu is a waste just create a full GNOME + KDE Ubuntu.

  16. one world

    I get an error message…in French. Best I can render it is:

    Erreur Multisystem n’accepte pas les espaces dan les labels de la disque

    Which I think means something about not accepting the labels(?) of the disk space(???)

    Anybody know what this means and how to overcome it??

  17. one world

    oh…wait….geez…been too long since I took French! I think that error means that the disk cannot have spaces in the label. But I didn’t give the disk a label. Must be one from the manufacturer……

  18. one world

    Renamed the disk….it worked!

  19. one world

    But can’t seem to install the Haiku iso…. :(

  20. outsourceit

    Can I make a bootable DVD out of this? What additional step would I need to make?

  21. Cygnus

    Seems to have installed OK and formated to Fat32 but never seems to get detected by the MultiSystem program script and asks if its connected. Ubuntu is able to the use the drive without error which seems odd. Have the latest update of the program so am stumped! any help greatfully received!

  22. YatriTrivedi

    @m0l0ch: AFAIK, the winxp installation iso should work without any changes. it’s menu will appear under grub4dos. I was unsuccessful with my attempts to get the win7 iso working, though. :-/

    @Mike & @one world: Some ISOs have issues. XBMC-Live is reported to work, but it wouldn’t work for me. They do updates, and certain updates seem to “break” specific livecds temporarily. Hopefully it’ll get taken care of soon!

    @outsourceit: the tool is designed specifically for USB storage devices, though i suppose you could copy all the files off of a flash drive and put it into an ISO…

    @cygnus: I had a similar problem. For me, the default label of the USB device had a space in it, and changing the label fixed the issue. Other USB devices were unaffected by a space in the label, though. Try inserting a couple at once, and maybe your desired one will show up in the menu as well.

  23. cygnus

    I keep getting this error…. http://img5.imagebanana.com/img/b4cpsk8g/MultiSystem_015.jpeg I’ve tried changing the label, formatting again and again and mounting and unmounting it several times. Am I doing anything wrong here?

  24. One World

    I found that I can load UBCD into Multisystem…and it appears in the iso list in the application. But when I actually boot up my PC, UBCD does *not* appear in the list of boot options presented by Grub.

  25. One World

    SOLVED: UBCD is under the grub4dos menu….

  26. raith

    does this make a persistent drive, can I make changes to the distros and have them stay that way the next time I use them?

  27. Something

    I had Backtrack 4 installed so I decided to attempt from that. A new user must be created (adduser) and added to the admin group (adduser admin). From there, the easiest solution is to find the MultiSystem entry under, right-click, and Edit Item. Check “run as a different user” and enter the user you created. This will solve the “Erreur: pas en root” message. However, I still can not get a list populated with attached media. It may be VMware, it may be the OS, or it may be MultiSystem. I suspect the latter although I can’t read the window message very well since it’s the text is so large it runs off the screen. It sounded like the volume label was wrong, but I changed it to “MBOOT” via `mlabel x: MBOOT` after modying .mtoolsrc. Hopefully this will save someone a bit of frustration and they can figure it out from here.

  28. Something

    Looks like this board strips less/greater than signs. The first two commands should be `adduser some_username` and `adduser some_username admin` respectively.

  29. Something

    And fixed. The error message was for not mounting in /media/usb. After logging out and relogging as the plain user, everything seemed to work. I ran the command from the console to snoop on things, but things seem to be rolling now. Any errors at this point will be ISO compatibilities. Thanks for the writeup which prompted this whole adventure.

  30. nasrullah

    How to fix this in archlinux.. i did install it on my PC but not able to run it after booting ..no display

  31. Brandon

    Excellent article. Can I put Ubuntu 10.10 on a USB drive via MultiSystem and then connect that USB drive to my laptop and boot into it; then can I install Ubuntu 10.10 onto my laptop HDD? Thanks.

  32. jrussell88

    I had the same problem as Cygnus caused by spaces in the volume label for my USB flash drive.

    Replacing the spaces with underline characters ‘_’ didn’t work, but alphanumeric characters only worked.
    The flash drive also has to be mounted.

    I used GParted under Ubuntu 11.04 for this.

  33. toddc

    seems to fail to install after 6 iso installed but drive has room and it fails grub could there be a grub limit?

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