I've been digging for information on how to install Ubuntu onto an external USB drive. Although there seems to be a fair bit of experience documented it all seems to be focused on creating some kind of minimal install on a smaller USB pen drive. I don't want to install on a little USB key, I want to install on a partition of a large 320 Gb drive.
I grabbed a copy of the Ubuntu 9.1 ISO image and burned it onto a CD. Upon booting off the CD the installer only seems to recognize my first main drive and doesn't show me any other drives as options for installing. So I quit the installer and Ubuntu boots up in it's stand-alone live CD mode. Ok, maybe I can do it from here. Some more reading shows that I can do "fdisk -l" to show my drives... sure enough they're all there including my USB partitions. Then I found out about the utility in the System menu for creating a bootable USB drive so I run that. Ok, great it shows all the drives and partitions. I select the partition I want to use and the "make bootable" button is not enabled, so I assume I need to format the partition. Ok, no problem, push the "Format" button... Oops error (I don't remember what the error message was).... so the error dialog has an "Ok" button on it so I push "Ok".... The error comes up again.... Oh Oh... I start to worry now that something bad is happening. So instead of "Ok" I close the whole application and then restart it... Lo and behold... my USB drive partitions are gone and it shows only the entire USB drive as one partition. Scumbag software has gone and repartitioned the entire drive and possibly even formatted it as FAT32.
Lord save me from software developers that can't create foolproof software!! I'm so lucky that I didn't have anything important on that drive. Otherwise I'd be really pissed. I'm also lucky that it didn't touch the other USB drives on my system.
I thought Linux might be ready for prime time and I'd heard that Ubuntu was one of the best, but as I found about 10 years ago when I tried Linux, the developers are likely ultra-geeks that still haven't mastered the skills required to make systems usable by normal people. Sigh.
I've since found yet another set of instructions for installing onto an external drive. I might give it one more try but I'm not optimistic given this first failed attempt.