MiniOS, lightweight and customizable USB bootable operating system

We know well the usefulness of Live Linux distributions: they can be run directly from removable media, such as a USB stick, without the need to install them on storage drives inside the PC. They are operating systems designed to provide a complete user experience without making permanent changes to the host system. MiniOS is a project that goes even further by proposing itself as a modular and portable Linux distribution based on Debian.

The main prerogative of MiniOS is to allow the ISO creation customized, capable of providing the user with a complete and practical work environment that can be booted from removable boot media. Exactly how it can be one USB pendrive.

MiniOS is distributed in the form of various ISO file topologies, all of which can be downloaded from the project’s official website. Alternatively, using the files published on repository GitHub you can package your own version using a clever system scripting(minios-live scripts).

What is MiniOS and what is it for

MiniOS is a Linux distribution light e fast designed to be installed on a USB stick. The MiniOS project is certainly not new, but the more modern version saw the light in 2020 using the aforementioned one as a basis Debian.

A distinctive feature of MiniOS is its modular approach for system configuration: users can add or remove features according to their specific needs. This makes the system easy to use and flexible in customization. MiniOS only takes up 350-1660MB of disk space (depending on the version) and can be loaded onto bootable media using popular utilities like Ventoy, Rufus, UNetbootin, balenaEtcher and so on.

MiniOS supports booting from UEFI and legacy BIOS: this means that the operating system is designed to boot on systems that use both EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) than the traditional BIOS. Furthermore, MiniOS uses the same package manager of Debian: this provides access to them repository and the ability to install software packages normally available to users of the Debian distribution.

MiniOS desktop environment

Le edizioni di MiniOS

We said that MiniOS is a distribution offered in several editions, each designed to meet specific user needs. From the official website of the project, you can download several file ISO: they can be used immediately and exempt the user from having to use the scripting mechanism briefly described at the beginning.

The differences between the editions

Below are the main differences between edizioni di MiniOS:

  • Flux. Compact version visually similar to Slax. This is the smaller version of MiniOS which is characterized by a series of similarities with Slax, a live Linux distribution based on Slackware. The desktop environment it is in this case Fluxbox; it contains a minimal set of software (without any Web browser) and weighs just over 350 MB.
  • Minimum. It is an edition of MiniOS based on an older version of Debian, compressed using the xz algorithm to take up less space. It integrates a minimal set of software and weighs approximately 375 MB.
  • Standard. The most balanced edition of MiniOS that combines good compactness with essential features for most users. It uses the zstd compression algorithm and offers a friendly user interface. It weighs approximately 560 MB.
  • Maximum. It’s a complete system for work and entertainment. In this case, MiniOS deviates from the “recipe” of live distributions as tools for solving problems, performing emergency system startups, recovering files, accessing systems that no longer boot regularly. The edition Maximum includes everything the version offers Standard, with the addition of software for the business and leisure world (word processor, multimedia player, browser, backup programs and more). It weighs approximately 700 MB.
  • Ultra. A complete system for those who need advanced features, such as music editor, office suite, image editor, 3D modeling software and virtualization system. It weighs almost 1.4GB.
  • Puzzle. This is a special edition of MiniOS that is very similar to the version Standard but which is also born with a series of integrated expansion possibilities. New features are added through the modules prepared by the MiniOS developers and published on the official website.

MiniOS Linux applications available

Loading MiniOS onto a USB stick with Rufus

In the image, we use Rufus to set up a bootable USB stick containing one of the editions of MiniOS already prepared (in this case we have chosen Maximum). As you can see, the boot is set up in such a way that MiniOS can be loaded both on systems equipped with legacy BIOS and on those that use UEFI.

MiniOS, boot con Rufus

The underlying problem is that MiniOS, by itself, is not compatible with Secure Boot: on systems that use the functionality startup protection of the system, the message “vmlinuz has invalid signature“. It indicates that the Linux kernel (vmlinuz) being loaded is digitally signed, but the signature is invalid or was not recognized as authentic.

Boot MiniOS without disabling Secure Boot

Secure Boot is a security feature designed to protect the boot process of a device and ensure that only digitally signed software is loaded during the machine’s boot phase. Microsoft introduced the technology that became a requirement for installing Windows 11, but at the same time it has become a widely adopted standard across the industry.

Ventoy is an application that allows you to create a bootable USB stick with multiple ISO files: it is possible to combine, for example, multiple Linux distributions and the various installation media of Windows or other operating systems. This open source utility, distributed under the GPLv3+ license, allows you to boot MiniOS without disabling Secure Boot.

Ventoy MiniOS

To proceed, just download Ventoy, connect a formattable USB stickextract the contents of the compressed Ventoy archive to a folder of your choice (for example C:\Ventoy) then double-click on the file Ventoy2Disk.exe. At this point, after checking that in the menu Option the voice has emerged Secure Boot Supportyou can click Install then waiting for the dongle configuration procedure to complete.

Ultimately, you have to copy the ISO file of MiniOS in the main partition contained in the bootable USB stick: the partition has Ventoy as a label.

By connecting the USB stick thus generated to any system, for example boot into MiniOS simply press Enter when the Ventoy boot screen appears (making sure you have selected the MiniOS ISO file) then choose Boot in grub2 mode in the next menu.

Using MiniOS scripts to generate a custom deployment

As mentioned above, MiniOS allows you to build abootable ISO image through the use of specific scripts. The system currently supports several options for “packaging” the ISO file:

  • Debian 9, 10, 11, 12 with desktop environment Fluxbox (simile a Slax).
  • Debian 9, 10, 11, 12, Testing, Unstable, Kali Linux e Ubuntu 20.04, 22.04 con desktop environment Xfce4.

To create a customized version of MiniOS, you must first equip yourself with a Linux machine Debian 12 o Ubuntu 22.04 then download the necessary files by clicking on Code on the GitHub page and then up Download Zip. Intervening on the contents of the file linux-live/buildconfig you can select the basic parameters of the distribution. The command ./install - finally it allows you to create the customized ISO file.

More information about the commands that can be used is available in the MiniOS GitHub repository.


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