How to use a Mac to create a Linux Live USB Stick and Boot it

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Ok, let’s say you are just about to take the plunge and install Linux on your nice shiny Mac but before then you want to test drive how it really works, using a Live distro. There’s a few ways to boot a mac up, firstly there’s the good old CD ROM drive (SuperDrive as you mac fans know it), but guess what? Most of the new MacBook Pro’s etc don’t even have a DVD/CD ROM drive! So scratch that… Next there is network boot and finally there’s boot from USB. Network boot is a whole other ball game that we will cover separately for good reason so let’s concentrate on how to create a USB stick which is bootable and contains a Linux Operating system of your choice on it. The good thing about this tip is that it’s quick and easy. The other, official ways of booting an Apple/EFI system can be quite complex, including Ubuntu’s own solution.

I tested this on a Macbook Pro Retina (Late 2013 model), however this should work on any modern Mac with EFI booting. Note that the tool seems to have been tested with Ubuntu and it’s derivatives, if you are trying another distribution like RedHat/CentOS, this may not work for you.

What you’ll need

1) A Mac with EFI ROM running Snow Leopard or Later (How do I tell I am running an EFI mac?).

2) You’ll need the easy to use Mac – Linux USB Loader tool from this web site (SevenBits).

3) An ISO download of your Linux distribution of choice. Be sure to chose a normal 64-bit version made for PCs, don’t download an Apple specific version as we require the distribution to support EFI booting. EFI has replaced the good old BIOS in the new macs as well as many newer PCs.

Step 1 – Format your USB stick

Pop your USB stick in and fire up Disk Utility (a built-in App on your Mac). You will need to format the USB stick as FAT32 (MS-DOS FAT) format, and it must have an MBR (Master Boot Record). Make sure that there is one partition on the USB stick and format it (this will destroy any data on it).

Step 2 – Copy the ISO image to your USB stick

To do this, simply fire up the Mac-Linux USB Loader tool as listed in the ‘What you’ll need’ section of this article.

Click on ‘Create Live USB’. Select the appropriate ISO image from your Finder and sit back for a while.

Step 3 – Boot Linux

All that’s left to do is restart your Mac and boot Linux from the USB stick.

To do this, shut down your mac, turn it back on. When you hear the usual Apple ‘Chime’, press and hold the Option key. You will see all your drives including the inserted USB stick which will be yellow in colour and will probably be entitled ‘EFI Boot’.

Click on the yellow icon and you will see a text screen loading the Linux kernel if all went well.

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