Ubuntu on-a-stick-PC

This page describes the installation procedure to create a Ubuntu Linux 10.4 installation on a USB-stick, microSD card or compatible medium that can boot on PC hardware independent of any software installed on that PC. Use of a PC-on-a-stick like this gives the user a complete Linux based PC work environment that is small enough to carry around anywhere and can easily be hidden or destroyed in case of emergency. The Users home directory can be encrypted for enhancing privacy.

This procedure should also be usable for the new Ubuntu 12.04 version and the upcoming 12.10 version (Oct 2012). The TAILS bootable operating system is designed for this application but still a bit rough arounf the edges. It will only get better. 


  1. PC/Laptop able to boot from USB
  2. USB-stick* or 10.4 CD-rom installation medium
  3. USB or (preferably) MicroSD card as installation target. Technical minimum size is 8Gb but 16-64 is better to allow for significant storage space for user(s). 

(*USB drive needs to be 1Gig for this, new installable drives can be made by downloading the 10.4 Ubuntu ISO-image and using the Startup Disk Creator )

Install procedure:

  • set the PC-BIOS to boot from the installation medium (CD-rom or USB-drive). This can be done by changing the boot-order in the BIOS settings. You can enter the BIOS-settings by pressing F2 or F10 when the PC starts.
  • Put the boot-medium and install-target drive in the PC and start. After about 10 seconds you should see the purple Ubuntu start screen.
  • select language (English is most compatible and easy to support – change only for good reasons!)
  • select install Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
  • set time zone, if your system has an internet connection it will select the time zone automagically, this can be changed later
  • set keyboard mapping, most keyboard are US-English, make sure you choose correcly, this can be changed later

Install on USB-drive, not on hard disk. This is the important bit!

  • select ‘specify manually (advanced)’ and click forward.
  • now identify the USB-drive (this will be the 8, 16 or 32 Gig drive as opposed to the larger internal disks in the PC) and select.
  • click ‘change’
  • select at ‘do not use the partition’ select ‘Ext4 journaling system’ (highest option in the menu)
  • select Format the partition: (tick the box)
  • select Mount point ‘/’ (highest option in the menu)
  • select ‘OK’
  • select ‘Forward’

Personal data

  • enter your name or alias
  • enter your username
  • enter you passphrase twice, use a strong password with CaPiTaLs, l3tt3rs as numbers and_underscores_as_spaces – do not write this down in recognisable form!!
  • name your PC-on-a-stick computer
  • select ‘Require my password to log in and to decrypt my home folder
  • select ‘Forward’ twice

Almost ready in install – wait!!!

  • select ‘advanced’
  • select the USB-stick drive
  • select OK
  • now select ‘Install’

The system will now be installed. This will take some time depending on the speed of your USB-drive. Take lunch or read all the encouraging texts on the greatness of Ubuntu (we suggest coffee or lunch).

  • After 30-50 minutes, depending mostly on the quality of the USB drive, the system will tell you to restart. Click ‘restart’
  • You may need to re-configure the BIOS-settings to allow the system to boot from the new USB-drive you just made.

First Login

  • log in with the user-name you set up earlier. Time to remember that good passphrase
  • after first login the system will give you the option to record the special passphrase that can be used to decrypt your home-directory
  • click ‘Run this action now’ if you want to do this
  • a new window will pop-up and ask for your Passphrase. Enter it and press enter.
  • the home-directory decryption passphrase will be shown. Copy-past it to a text-file and print it out later in a secure environment.


  • the update manager has detected available updates. For security reasons these should be run immediately. Click ‘Install Updates’ and enter you password.
  • the download time is mostly dependent on the speed of your Internet connection. On a modern multi-megabit DSL line this should be a few minutes.
  • installation of all the updates can take several hours, depending on the performance of the USB-drive.

Installing additional applications

  • We recommend installing the Thunderbird mail-client and the Enigmail crypto plugin. See the secure communications page for more details.