I would like to use Linux at home but do not want it to mess up anything on my home PC (Windows 7).

Ideally, I would like to run it from a USB drive, as independent from the PC as possible.

This is totally new territory for me, so I have several questions.
First, is this possible?
If so, what distro of Linux is recommended?
How do you tell the computer to boot from the USB when starting up?

I don't expect to run many applications.
Mostly a word processor (e.g. - Libre Office), a web browser, FTP client for updating my websites, plain text editor, and perhaps a C++ compiler/IDE.
Could these Linux applications also be run from the USB drive?

Any suggestions for what size USB is required for doing all this?

I need a step-by-step "Installing and Running Linux for Dummies" tutorial. Any suggestions?

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There are a number of ways to do it. A good way to start is a live usb drive you create with the tool unetbootin: http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ That will create a live usb (bootable) drive without touching your computer disc drives. A 4GB thumb drive will do nicely.

The other way is to create a persistent usb image that you can write to just like any disc. Like the live usb, it won't touch your computer discs without you doing so specifically. There are a number of distributions that have such images and tools to install them including Ubuntu, Mint, and others. See their web sites for the tools, images, and instructions. Again, a 4GB or larger thumb drive will work nicely. If I were creating a persistent usb image I would use a 32GB thumb drive as that would have plenty of room for storing documents, installing new software, etc.

Thanks for the advice.
I just came back from a walk through a local store and was looking at USBs. Some of them come with drag-and-drop encryption built-in.
That got me wondering: would a USB with this built-in encryption interfere with running Linux from it?
Is it best to purchase a USB without the encryption in the first place?

I think these drag-and-drop encryption things are usually implemented in the Windows driver that is loaded when you plug in the USB drive. Or, possibly, as part of the file-system used to format the USB drive. I think that once you re-format / wipe the USB, or disable that special driver, the encryption is gone and it's just a normal USB. So, it's probably no problem, but it might be, so better not buy that.

I don't see the point (unless you're a "noob") to buy an encrypted USB drive. You can easily format the drive with an encrypted file-system, and it will be far more portable and robust than the crapware that these USB drive snake-oil-salesmen put in it.

mike_2000, I've seen many of these, it's usually an add on that loads by simulating a CD. End user runs the 'CD' and can create an encrypted vault ont he USB, just like truecrypt.... Anyone interested in encryption on Windows would probably be using truecrypt anyway.

@CimmerianX: Thanks for that, I have never used those things, but I expected it was this kind of crapware. And as you said, if you really want encryption, you should use a proper encryption system like truecrypt or a few others.

I had one of those once, and found it to be more a hindrance than a help. I agree with Mike2K - mostly snake oil... :-) As CimmerianX says, use trucrypt - it works on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. Since it is open source, you can probably port it to BSD as well, if it hasn't been already - the source is available on the trucrypt.org web site.

will it work on xp? i have allready formated the usb with unetbootin-windows584.

sorry.i'v made a mistake.it is independent from my hard disk. sorry.

Hi to everyone. Agree with rubberman that bootinstaller works great. It solved me a trouble in a notebook a few months ago. After trying some other methods, it was the easier and effective.

But I also invite you to try slax. Click Here
It's a full Linux distro specifically made for USB usage. It only takes 210 MB; is very easy to install. It's based on KDE and has many apps available in web page and they are very easy to install and uninstall. Perhaps it's the weak part of it: Apps updating is a little slow but at the moment the main apps (office suite, web browser etc) you will want are the latest or the inmediate earlier.
I should tell you I'm a plain user with low technical skill. I've been using that distro by 3 years and it works great for me.

I hope my comment would be useful for all of you and apologize for my Tarzan alike english

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