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Red Hat's Fedora 9 Loads Portable Desktop On USBs

The feature allows anyone with a low-cost, 1-GB or 2-GB memory stick to carry a desktop around for use on any common x86 instruction set hardware.
Fedora has gained an application in version 9, released Tuesday, that captures an image of a user's preferred desktop and loads it onto a USB device.

The feature allows anyone with a low-cost, 1-GB or 2-GB memory stick to carry a desktop around for use on any common x86 instruction set hardware.

Fedora is the community-developed version of Linux that Red Hat issues frequently to get changes and new features out into the community. Fedora project leader Paul Frields agreed the ability to create a transportable Linux desktop on a USB device could have uses ultimately in the enterprise, but he was unwilling to predict when such a feature might find its way into the slower-moving, more carefully tested Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Nevertheless, Frields said the ability to transport a Linux desktop on a low-cost memory device opens up several possibilities among users and device manufacturers. Such an approach to desktop mobility fits in with goals of producing "low-heat-producing, low-power-consuming mobile devices that could run off a USB key," he said.

It would also give the Fedora project an additional way to popularize its work. Any visitor to a Fedora advocate at a trade show booth could walk away with a version of the operating system on a pocket device.

The Live USB images feature has been added to a previously existing Fedora program, called Live CD Tools. The feature not only generates a portable combination of operating system and favorite applications, it also has a "nondestructive" characteristic that allows it to be added to a memory device without disturbing existing files on it.

Live USB images will work with the remaining memory space on a device that already contains files, although it's probably wise to have roughly a minimum of 1 GB available, Frields said. But 2 GB is better, if a browser and a set of applications and related data are part of the desktop, he said.

Live USB images will create a logical layer above the desktop image on a USB that allows changes to be made to the operating system, applications, or files that accompany them without disturbing the overall configuration of the device. "It creates an overlay file system. You can add data or create documents," or update a Firefox browser for viewing the Web. "It's a computer system you can carry in your pocket," Frields said.

Fedora images or snapshots can be downloaded from the Fedora Project URL listed on the Red Hat Web site. The operating system can be combined with such small footprint applications as AbiWord word processing; Evolution e-mail, calendar, and address book; and Gnumeric spreadsheet.

The Live USB images feature doesn't capture an image of the user's existing desktop so much as allow him to choose and build one through downloads or off a Red Hat Fedora CD set. Large footprint applications, such as those found in OpenOffice, are off limits to this approach, so far. Frields said the Fedora community would lose its ability to support different languages around the world if it allowed too much memory to be taken up by applications, he said.