Ubuntu – How to get the Mac to boot from an Ubuntu USB key


If you select "USB" and "Mac" on this download page, it gives a series of command line instructions to make a USB key which the MacBook will boot into Ubuntu from.

I've followed them to the letter two or three times on different USB keys, and it doesn't work. There's a very great deal of technical discussion about EFI etc. but this set of instructions seems to suggest it should just work, but it doesn't.

Help? I'm increasingly unhappy with the more locked-down approach Apple is taking, and I'd quite like to start using Linux with a view to transitioning over to using it as my main operating system, but booting from the CD takes forever, runs slowly and I'm really hoping to get it moving off USB.

Can anybody help me?

Best Answer

Short answer: You can't. Apple doesn't want you to boot an OS other than OS X off USB. If your Mac has a working optical drive, use it. It will save you pain. If you have a newer Mac (64 bit), just remember to use the Mac iso(amd64+mac), not the regular amd64 iso. (See this for an explanation of the difference)

Longer answer: (Ok, I lied above.) You can, but "it's complicated". One method that has worked for a number of people is to dd the bootable USB key to its own partition on your hard drive and then boot off that partition. The basic method is explained nicely here.

This doesn't always work, even on the same hardware. In particular, if you have a MacBook Air, which doesn't have an optical drive, then the forums are filled with posts of trying the dd-to-a-partition trick and failing. For MacBook Air owners, it is strongly advised to obtain a MacBook Air SuperDrive (no, a regular USB CD/DVD drive does not suffice) and then use that to install through the usual CD route (using the Mac iso for a 64 bit install).

Lastly, this USB method actually worked(!) to install 11.10 onto my MacBook Air 3,1 (late 2010 model). However, I expect some modification is needed to work on other versions of the Air, not to mention other Macs.

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