Installing multiple operating systems on a USB storage device

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Flash chips are now used as storage devices for operating systems. MultiSystem lets you pack as many operating systems as you want on a USB stick.

USB sticks with 64GB and even 128GB capacity have become very affordable. Their large storage capacity makes it possible to simultaneously use multiple operating systems that sit on a single stick. It doesn't matter whether you need several specialized live systems for administration on the Internet or whether you want to access the Internet anonymously. With the help of MultiSystem, the desired operating systems are automatically loaded on a USB stick together with a bootloader that also gets correctly configured without the need for any further effort on your part.


MultiSystem software is distributed under the GPLv3 and has undergone continuous development for some years. It is available as an ISO image based on Ubuntu [1] for downloading from SourceForge. There are also a variety of versions to choose from. In addition to a number of older versions, there are two 1.3GB ISO images for 32-bit and 64-bit systems. These are based on Ubuntu LTS 16.04 (Xenial Xerus). The source code is available on the project page – which, be warned, is entirely in French [2]. You can also find the software in some of the repositories for Debian and Ubuntu plus their derivatives. You can integrate these software archives in your system and then install the program (see the Adding MultiSystem Repositories box).

Adding MultiSystem Repositories

MultiSystem can also be installed from your own repository. Debian and its derivatives, plus Ubuntu and its variations like Linux Mint, receive support here. If you switch to a terminal for integrating the repository on your system, you should execute the command:

sudo apt-add-repository ,deb all main'

Then you should import the accompanying public key with:

wget -q -O - | sudo apt-key add -

The next step is to update the package list with:

sudo apt-get update

Now you can install the software with:

sudo apt-get install multisystem

This procedure is suitable for Ubuntu and its derivatives and also for all of the distributions that are directly related.

Since some dependencies exist but relevant directions are partly only in French, it is a good idea to use the ISO image that comes with a completely preconfigured environment. You will have to burn this to an optical data storage device (i.e., a DVD). The ISO image is not constructed as a hybrid. Therefore, it is not possible to use the software on a USB memory stick.

In addition to putting the software onto a data storage device and installing it on an existing Linux operating system, you will need to check out your chosen USB stick for storing the various operating systems. The USB stick's device name should not include any blank spaces. Otherwise, the software will generate an error message and refuse to operate. If you do use a memory stick with a name that includes blank spaces, then you will have to rename it. The easiest way to do this is to use the graphical tool GParted. After you have selected the given stick in its program window, you should right-click on the target partition and select the entry Label File System from the pop-up menu. Then you should enter a new name that does not include any blank spaces and confirm the name by clicking OK . You should make sure that the relevant data device has been unmounted before carrying out this task. Once you are finished, the USB stick is ready to use (Figure 1).

Figure 1: GParted helps you easily rename the target data storage device.

When larger memory sticks are involved, you will also need to make sure that they contain just a single partition. This is because MultiSystem only recognizes and speaks to a storage device's first partition. When additional partitions exist on a flash stick, then it becomes impossible to use all of the capacity.

Getting Started

Now you should restart your system from the DVD containing the MultiSystem distribution. A typical Ubuntu desktop will open where you will see that MultiSystem has already started automatically. The system automatically recognizes the stick here and lists it in the program window. If you have mounted multiple USB sticks on your system, then all of them will be listed, and you will be asked to select the stick that is intended for use with MultiSystem. The window will first appear in English. You can localize to your language of choice with a single click on the button sitting to the right of the flag icon at the top right of the window. The system will change the language accordingly for the user interface (Figure 2).

Figure 2: MultiSystem in Ubuntu is embedded in a live system.

MultiSystem supports a large number of Linux derivatives and also many other operating systems. These can be transferred to the USB stick with a bootloader script that has been adapted to each. The list of supported distributions can be found on the project website [3]. The list also contains some distributions that are no longer offered, such as the Brazilian Dreamlinux, as well as distributions that are no longer developed like the Russian Inquisitor Linux. Additional systems that are new and have recently been derived from existing distributions, for example Kolibri Linux, are missing from the list. Consequently, the collection you see is merely a rough overview.

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