Six Best Portable Operating Systems

Why restrict yourself to merely carrying around your data on a thumb drive? Take your entire operating system on your flash drive with the excellent portable operating systems you'll find inside this week's Hive Five.

Photo by Marcin Wichary. Six contenders in a Hive Five contest? Due to a tie within the top five contenders, a sixth contender has squeezed into the race.

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux doesn't require the kind of liposuction required by the meatier operating systems in the Hive Five in order to fit into a nice portable package. Weighing in at under 100MB, it can easily be loaded on everything from a CD to a USB drive with little fuss. The user interface is friendly even for a non-Linux user, and the basic tools you need for partitioning and file recovery are readily available—although it's just as great for web browsing and basic computing.


Slax takes a very user friendly and novel approach to portable computing. Before you even download the distribution you can customise it right from the download site by adding and subtracting modules based on your needs. You don't need the office software? Delete the module. Can't live without multimedia tools? Add them in. If you're completely new to Linux and setting up a portable operating system, Slax will get you up and running with the tools you want in no time flat.


The qualities that make Ubuntu so popular as a desktop operating system and live cd, give it a lot of weight as a portable operating system. Ubuntu isn't as small as some of the other contenders here but thanks to a number of factors, including strong saturation in the Linux market and an easy to use tool built right for flash-drive installations, Ubuntu makes a great addition to your portable drive.


If BackTrack was your friend, it would be the friend you have who keeps a survival kit in an Altoids tin, a length of rope in his jacket just in case, and a folding shovel in his briefcase. BackTrack isn't the most lightweight and certainly not the fluffiest portable operating system in this Hive Five. BackTrack is a serious tool packed with 300 applications covering everything from packet sniffing to hot spot probing to brute force password attacks. If you know what you're doing BackTrack will leave no corner of your computer and network un-poked, scanned, prodded, and analysed.


CrunchBang is a fork off the Ubuntu development tree. CrunchBang sports an ultra-minimal interface and has heavy emphasis on media playback. Right out of the box Firefox has Flash support and VLC can play a variety of media including DVDs. If you're missing an application or tool, thanks to its Ubuntu roots you can grab software right from the Ubuntu repository.

Damn Small Linux

Damn Small Linux is in fact really damn small. How small? Originally designed as an experiment to see how much Linux awesomeness could be packed into 50MB business card CD, Damn Small Linux hasn't strayed from its origins as an absolutely tiny portable distribution. Just because Damn Small Linux is tiny doesn't mean it's underpowered. It includes Firefox, a VNC viewer, file managers, instant messaging clients, and even a web server.

Your favourite portable operating system isn't on the list? Have a trick you've got to share? Sound off in the comments with your tips and tricks for taking your operating system with you.


    Why is Ubuntu at the top of the list in more than one form? Personally, I think Debian is better as a portable choice just because you get a lot of control over everything.

    Last edited 25/11/12 10:32 pm

      Ubuntu is based on Debian, so by your own logic, Debian is represented in more than one form as well.

    Six Best Portable "Operating Systems"?

    I was struggling to think of six different operating systems that actually have portable versions before clicking on the link...

    Oh... Six Different Versions Of The Same Operating System.


    djhayman must be an idiot.. why not you think of 6 operating systems then..?

    Why not Slitaz2 included? I'll vote it as the top portable linux.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now