Illusory stillness

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Actually Create a Bootable Linux USB Key for Mac

I wanted to install Linux on a partition on an older (2008) Macbook Pro. It has no working CD drive. In fact having no CD drive is an accelerating trend these days.

Now the Ubuntu site has instructions for making a bootable USB stick. These instructions don’t work on my machine. Nonetheless [contrary to some reports], it is completely possible to boot this machine off a USB stick. For example, just imaging the OS X installer DVD to a USB key using Disk Utility results in a bootable key. So something is not right with the Ubuntu image or instructions.

this did not work this did not even run this did not work at first either (even the special boot loader) installing rEFIt gave no boot menu.

So here are directions that actually work. Or at least record my progress

Install rEFIt, but then I ran the command, and I finally saw a boot menu on startup, and it detected the EFI file on the USB stick.

However, the bootX64.efi file showed a “not compatible” error when I tried to boot it. Using the 32-bit bootIA32.efi worked, and got me into a GRUB prompt.

From the GRUB prempt, I typed,

ls (hd0,msdos1)
ls (hd0,msdos1)/efi/boot
ls (hd0,msdos1)/efi/boot/<name of my .iso>

Er, no, it looks like I can’t actually make GRUB boot an .iso image off a USB disk from the command line. It (and the other “Linux USB Creator” apps installed boot.efi files that gave “unsupported” errors. So the thing to do is to extract the contents of the .iso and see if GRUB works with that.


New attempt

I tried to mount the ISO to copy off the filesystem, but ISO was of course an ext filesystem unsupported on OS X I tried briefly to mount the thing using FUSE but I don’t know how to do an ISO that way. So I loaded up an Ubuntu VM under VirtualBox, and Ubuntu’s Startup Disk Creator utility extracted the ISO to a FAT filesystem key for me (had to try a couple of different keys to find one that that didn’t freeze the VM_on startup though)

Booting Mounting this in the mac again, I found rEFIT was able to see the USB key. Also, the builtin startup menu saw the ket without need for rEFIt. But now I’ve got an “unsupported operation” again when I actually try to boot the files. Closer though. So next I’ll copy over the GRUB that (sort of worked)[] and

root (hd0,msdos1)
configfile /boot/grub/grub.config

got me into a GRUB menu. Any of the options past the menu led to a blank screen though. Crud.

(eta: this may be due to the grub.config having references to /cdrom instead of the usb)

I tried again with a Mint installer. Mint wouldn’t even boot in VirtualBox so I made the Mint usbkey using Ubuntu’s startup disk creator again.

FINALLY, starting Mint in “compatibility mode” did something and I see Linux kernel messages. Seems to freeze after a while though, in the middle of something… and now I see that “blank screen” on startup really means “kernel hasn’t figured out the video”

What could I try next? Maybe install the live image as a partition? I think I’m getting through the USB hurdle though?

Next I tried “unetbootin.” Mac version was unresponsive so tried on Ubuntu virtualbox.

Should also try starting with a 10.10 .iso. because apparently compatibility decreases over time.

Okay, so booting using rEFIt as a “legacy OS” off of USB using the 10.10 ISO did not work. Nor did copying the contents of the USB stick to a new partition.

Next I will try making a Mint ISO again with a different kernel?

Or Debian “Lenny” since this person seems to have had success….

Failure threshold approaching