How to boot Qubes from a USB stick, Mac, PC, Linux

Hi all,

I had originally asked the team (along with anyone willing to help) about updating our Librems, which quickly morphed into personal questions about how to update my distribution’s version, and which Kakaroto (and to a lesser degree but with equal kindness, taylor-williamc) generously helped out with.

To make a long story short, I got to trying to boot Qubes from a typical USB stick, to which @Sascha responded via private message so as not to spam the original post. I’ll let him paste his reply here if he would like.

Prior to posting my question here, I decided to search the forum for duplicates and found a question on the issue here. Unfortunately, the poster @Daniel_N hasn’t gotten a response there since April, but his question was:

I tried installing Qubes OS on my Librem13 that only had the old option of installing PureOS from the start. So I tried several methods like using the dd-command to get the .iso on a USB-Stick, later the same procedure with an SD-Card and the last try was to prepare the USB-Stick with unetbootin. With all methods I was able to boot the Qubes OS installer. But after choosing the “Test Media and install Qubes OS R3.1” option, there accured some strange error messages which finally ended with the shell prompt

Is there any possibility to get the “new” installer on the Librem13 like that one on the latest patches where you’re able to choose between PureOS and Qubes OS? Or any other suggestions? I think my biggest problem is that I’m a total n00b on Linux. But even a friend of mine who is an IT-Consultant working with several Linux-Distributions couldn’t help.

In my case, I’m not even at the point of trying to boot from the USB stick, but just trying to figure out:

  1. Which system version of Qubes to download, for example if I’m on a Mac or PC, does such make a difference since it’ll be for Linux?

  2. How to make my USB stick bootable.

Again, @Sascha already responded and from what I’ve read therein I get the impression that his response is plenty helpful, so I’ll let him paste his response here if he’s up to it, otherwise I’ll summarize and paraphrase in a response for anyone who needs help in the future.

All that being said, hopefully Daniel_N found a solution and or it was resolved in such a way that regardless of who is trying to boot Qubes from a USB stick, and regardless of the Librem model or PureOS version, it is no longer an issue.

Thanks for reading through all that, sorry for the lengthy summary.

Below is my private response to @OntheMain:

I don’t mind helping if I can, but let’s not spam your original thread that was mainly about Coreboot, if I understood correctly. Feel free to create a new public thread about e.g. USB booting and add this reply there if you like. Updating the BIOS is something entirely different from updating your operating system and the software running on it. You can save updating the BIOS for later.

First of all, I have hardly touched a Mac in my life, and I don’t think I ever will, so I know nothing about Mac specific stuff. What I can say is this. A regular USB-sticks holding a couple of GB should suffice for booting a Linux distro and is very cheap to buy. In order to install a Linux distro, e.g. on your Librem 15(?), you first need to download the .iso file in question and save it to the hard disk of the machine you used to download the file - not to a USB stick. Then you need to use a special program (with or without a GUI) to create a bootable USB stick out of the downloaded .iso file. I don’t know what programs are available for Macs, but since the Mac kernel is Unix based the “dd” command may work from the command line. I’m not sure why you use the word “rebootable”. You just need a bootable USB stick, not really a “rebootable” one. Once you have created the stick, you put it in the machine you want to put the new OS on. Then, instead of booting from the hard disk of that machine, you let it boot from the USB stick. This is done by calling the boot manager by pressing F2, or something like that, right after pressing the on-button and starting up the machine. After this, a friendly distro like Mint will just let you follow simple instructions on the screen. I’m not sure how Qubes does it, but I really think you should try Mint first in order to get accustomed to this new world of freedom, but also responsibility. Please let me know if this explanations makes sense to you. Just keep in mind that I hardly know anything about the Mac world, except that I want to avoid it. :slight_smile:

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The link above seems to point to the wrong post.

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Thanks, corrected it. :smile:

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I’m on the 13, of the most recent version.

This is great news. I was afraid I’d have to go out and spend a lot of money.

Ok, so I thought my first question would arise here, but as it turns out, not. You wrote the .iso format. Initially I had thought there would be several possible extensions, e.g. .exe, .iso, etc., whereas now when I go to double check on their site, you’re right, there is jut the one available, the .iso extension, which of course simplifies things.

This seems to be where I am stuck. I have tried a number of programs for Mac, I think where I went wrong is not having the Qubes program on my drive. As long as I don’t need to reformat my USB stick (and therein delete everything on it) then I’ll do this now. To answer your question about the rebootable, I think I may have seen that elsewhere and perhaps carried it over by accident. Bootable is right.

Here do you mean that I should go to the terminal and execute some given command? Maybe you’re saying that in case I don’t or can’t find a program that makes the process easy, I should be able to use the terminal to carry out the process regardless?

Yeah the BIOS part I imagine will be easy. I was stuck a few steps ahead of that part and so once I get that out of the way I may have more questions. Thank you for your help! :smile:

Yeah I haven’t looked into Mint just yet but will check it out too. I wonder like if Daniel was asking whether one can have several OSs at the same time, rather than having several inside VMs inside some particular OS. Thank you again, @Sascha, much appreciated!!!

Like I said, I hardly know anything about the Mac world, but a little googling led me to this:

Maybe that is what you need to create a bootable USB stick on a Mac. If it isn’t, you’ll have to ask somebody else. In any case, you will need an empty USB stick capable of holding at least a couple of GB. That stick will be formatted and should not be used for holding any data except for the stuff relevant to booting your Linux distro the first time.

Booting several OS:s and running specialized Linux distros certainly is possible, but that is a lesson for later. If you already wiped PureOS from your drive, try the main edition of Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop environment and let it set everything up for you automatically. Once you get the hang of it, you can dig deeper and learn more. There will be no stopping you in the Linux world as long as you are willing to read and learn. The basics are simple, though, and you shouldn’t try specialized stuff before you know the basics. Keep in mind that the hardware and the software are completely separate here, as opposed to the walled garden of Apple. You could probably install some home-brew Linux on a modern toaster, but that’s not a good way to start learning.

I sort of think I understand why Purism comes with PureOS, but personally I would prefer it if it came with some simple Mint or Ubuntu or even pure Debian. Either that or nothing at all. Just my two cents.

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Ecther is exactly what you need. It pretty much walks you through the process. Just know the drive and where the qubes image file is and it’ll do the rest.



I finally made it to the installation of Qubes, and in spite of not having installed anything on the SSD drive that came with the Librem, which is over 112GiB, when I select said drive as the installation destination, it seems to think that there is basically no space on it left. Do I need to “delete all” or delete just one of the possible options?

I’ll put in an image to show you more clearly what I mean

The thing is, if I don’t delete something, which logically should be the drive, somehow, then it will interpret the ext4 as being the only resizable subordinate destination, which if you see, is way too small for the near 40GiB of needed space.

Before getting to this particular menu that you see, I am able to just try to install Qubes, of course, directly. But that is when it detects that the drive I have selected (which you can see in the background) is allegedly already full, and then tells me that I need to select something else to install Qubes on. So that is why I am in the menu I am (reclaiming space menu).

Do you know what to do here? Thanks in advance!! :slight_smile:

It is not clear to me what it is exactly you’re trying to accomplish.
You have a Librem 13. Is that correct? How many hard disks or SSDs do you have in it and how big are they?
Can you boot the PureOS that came with the machine? If so, do you want to wipe that installation completely? If so, why? Do you want to keep any data whatsoever that is currently on the machine you’re struggling with?

I’m in Finland (UTC +3). What is your time zone? If you have another computer I could possibly try to help you live over or something. Just don’t try to do too much until you know the basics.