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Damn Small Linux: Making bootable USB drives on Mac OS X

Recently I had a need to log into a machine with no cdrom and I decided to use Damn Small Linux to get enough of a shell to access the machine.

It’s a very small, 50MB distribution of linux that is not that easy to install if you don’t have a linux box to start with. Despite the large number of Linux boxes that I once owned, I’ve replaced all of them with Mac OS. Fortunately, there is a simple way to install DSL on a USB boot drive from Mac OS, using VMWare Fusion.

You’ll need a 1GB USB drive. The smaller the drive is, the better. Some systems cannot boot off of very large USB drives. 512MB or 1GB is recommended.

Here’s the how to…

Download the latest copy of DSL from a mirror.

Do not use syslinux, but get the ISOLINUX version. This is the ISO named dsl-x.x.x where x.x.x is a version number. I used dsl-4.4.10.iso, although in retrospect I should have used the VMWare VMX Image. Either works.

Insert the pendrive and format it.

Mac OS will auto mount the pendrive. Open Disk Utiilty.
Format the device as MS DOS FAT and MBR.
One Partition.

Important: Unmount the pendrive before starting VMWare Fusion.

Create a new VMWare Fusion Virtual Machine

The general idea here is to create an empty VM using fusion, and to boot off of the ISO you have just downloaded.
It can be reasonably small. You do not need to allocate disk space on your HD.
Configure the VM as Linux/Ubuntu and to mount the CD.

Mount the pendrive as an “Alcor Micro Mass Storage” device. It will appear to your VM as /dev/sda.

Install DSL

When DSL boots up, at the “boot:” prompt, type “install”
Then, select “5” for “USB Pendrive HDB boot install”

Answer yes to all prompts, and the install will (hopefully) complete.

Now What?

You’re done. DSL is great for password recovery, emergency repair, or system rescue. So long as your system supports booting from USB drives, you’re good to go!

This entry was posted on Monday, June 20th, 2011 at 4:20 pm and is filed under linux, operations, systems administration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Damn Small Linux: Making bootable USB drives on Mac OS X”

  1. 1 Edward

    I installed Damn Small Linux 4.11RC2 in a Compaq Presario 2292.
    I am now using this computer as a web server!

    I wrote some tips and tricks on how to install Damn Small Linux 4.11RC2 and use it as a web server, that you can find in:


    I wish it is helpful to someone!!!


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