Linux has evolved into dozens and dozens of different distributions (or “distros”) over the decades since its inception. They each have their own fanbase, as well as a set of uses that make them special.
Linux is also popular as a portable operating system, which can be booted from a USB drive to turn any computer you find into your own temporary Linux workstation. However, some distros are better suited to portable life than others.
So we’ve put together a list of the best portable Linux distros of this year.
Why have portable Linux on a USB key?
If this is the first time the idea of running Linux from a USB drive instead of installing it on an internal hard drive has crossed your mind, you might be wondering why anyone would like to do this in the first place.
There are actually many great uses for portable, bootable versions of a Linux distribution. Here are some of the most common:
- To solve a computer problem, such as a virus or a bad hard drive.
- Use for cybersecurity purposes, such as penetration testing.
- Have a private computing environment that won’t leave a trace when you’re done.
Sounds good, right? The question is, what makes a particular Linux distro better for portable use? Let’s go over the main features we’re looking for.
What to Look for in a Portable Linux Distro
While there’s nothing stopping you from putting the full version of conventional desktop Linux distributions on a USB stick, in many cases it’s counterproductive. Sure, USB drives are spacious, durable, and fast these days, but they’re still not the same as an internal SSD.
You may also need to use fairly modest computers from time to time, depending on what you need the Linux USB stick for. Which means you need to think carefully about the size and system requirements that a given distro would need.
When choosing the best portable Linux distros for this list, we look for the following features:
- Small installation sizes.
- Modular software installation options.
- Low system requirements.
Although not all distros on the list have all three attributes, they all look attractive from a portable perspective.
Puppy Linux has always prided itself on being a small, lightweight Linux distribution that will pretty much run on a potato as long as that potato is code compatible.
It was a favorite during the height of the netbook craze, where users were ditching the limited operating systems that came with their netbooks and then replacing them with the more flexible Puppy Linux. In fact, it was perfect in an era when SSDs were in the single digits in terms of capacity.
Puppy Linux isn’t really a one-size-fits-all distro. It’s actually kind of a model that’s applied to multiple distros, so you can pick the one you like best at the heart of the experience.
It’s perfect if you need a portable version of Linux that can do basically everything the slower versions can do, but is guaranteed to work on any system you find, no matter how weak. specifications.
Kali Linux is not for everyone. It is a Linux distribution specially designed for cybersecurity purposes. If it’s such a specialized Linux distribution, why does it seem so popular? The answer lies, at least in part, in Kali’s appearance on the TV show. Mister Robot, which was perhaps the most accurate depiction of Tipsing ever seen on TV or in movies.
This gave the distro an “excellent” public reputation, but most users won’t find it very useful. Nonetheless, it is definitely one of the best portable distros out there, because if you are looking for powerful cybersecurity tools to quickly perform penetration tests or turn any random computer around you into a Tipsing swiss army knife.
Slax is a relatively new Linux distribution that is specifically designed as a portable Linux distribution, which is different from the traditional practice of taking desktop Linux distributions and simply installing them on a bootable flash drive.
The main philosophy behind Slax is modularity. You can quickly customize it with just the software and components you need. It’s also very flexible, supporting both persistent changes and the ability to boot into a clean, impermanent live version of the operating system when you need it.
Perhaps the biggest downside is how ultra-minimal and basic the core offering is. If you’re looking for the full desktop Linux experience on a portable storage medium, maybe look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you need something slim, mean, flexible and powerful, then Slax should definitely catch your eye.
Ubuntu GamePack is a third-party Ubuntu redistribution that has been specifically modified to support a large number of games. From the latest triple-A titles that can run on Ubuntu to classic games designed for DOS or other legacy platforms.
Since most people probably can’t install or play games on their work computers or other shared machines, installing Ubuntu GamePack on a USB flash drive and restarting a computer allows you to do something fun without leaving any traces on the computer in question. .
Of course, you need to have a computer that can handle the games you want to play and a USB drive large enough to accommodate them, but other than that, the game is on!
An important aspect of Ubuntu GamePack is that UALinux offers it in many different variants with different user interfaces and desktops. The version shown above is the “Like Win” version intended to look like Windows 10.
Porteus emerged like all distributions. It started with an existing distro, then branched off into its own branch, becoming something new. In Porteus’ case, it was a special version of Slax known as Slax Remix.
Like Slax, Porteus is highly portable with a modular design and small installation. However, it stands out for its faster performance. Especially when the entire operating system is loaded into RAM. It also starts and stops extremely quickly, as the developers of this distro have rewritten the code that governs these processes to be as efficient as possible.
While we think these are some of the best portable Linux distros that truly represent some of the best options available, the beauty of open source software means you can try them all and more. The only thing standing in your way is time and bandwidth.
Just fire up a virtual machine, download all the distros you like, and have fun. Of course, start with those on this list that look promising. This could save you a lot of time!