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I've got a new MacBook Air which I'd like to install Ubuntu on. It has no internal optical drive, I have no external one.

I do have the ability to partition the disk and also have a USB flash drive and USB external hard drive. None of these I've been able to successfully boot the Ubuntu installer with though.

So... how can I install Ubuntu on a MacBook Air 3,2? Thanks in advance.

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7 Answers 7

I had a similar problem on an old Macbook 1.1 with a broken cd-drive. I remember that all the approaches shown in the forums did not work. Try to do the following (it worked for me), the main difference is to format the flash drive as EXT:

  • install refit
  • format your flash drive as EXT4. In the following commands note that you'll need to sudo.
  • install grub on the flash drive as follows: say the device is /dev/sdb and you mount it as /media/usbdrive, then run sudo grub-install --root-directory=/media/usbdrive /dev/sdb
  • copy the ubuntu iso to /media/usbdrive: sudo cp ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.iso /media/usbdrive/
  • now you want to create the config file for grub inside /media/usbdrive/boot/grub/. Create a file called grub.cfg with your favorite editor (you'll need to sudo): gksudo gedit /media/usbdrive/boot/grub/grub.cfg and paste the following 5 lines inside.

    search --set -f /ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.iso

    loopback loop /ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.iso

    linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/ubuntu-10.10-desktop-i386.iso persistent debug=

    initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz


  • Do a sudo sync to commit all changes to the usb drive.

  • That's it! Reboot, with your usb plugged-in and when refit comes up select the usb drive (in my case, it takes a while to boot (you will not see grub or anything just wait a ), probably it is uncompressing the iso, not sure.

  • Hope it works!
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This leads to a "missing operating system" error on a macbook air 4,2 :/ –  cweiske Oct 8 '11 at 17:27

I think I solved that ubuntu usb MBA 3.2 (late 2010) problem.

here is my solution: http://userpages.uni-koblenz.de/~ceinig/howto/artikel.php?id=92

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Rich, try https://help.ubuntu.com/community/How%20to%20install%20Ubuntu%20on%20MacBook%20using%20USB%20Stick

I just picked up the Air (3,2) yesterday and am in the same situation as you. It would be nice if we could co-work on this to solve it all and write up a guide together that explains the process step by step for others.

Feel free to mail me at snowdrop at wtactics dot org if you want to get in touch and exchange experiences: This far I have gotten a very diffuse and spread impression about how all of this will go...

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How have you not been able to boot with USB? What problems did you face? Perhaps this may be of use? http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1691340

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I've used rEFIt. 9 times out of 10 the problem is that when I choose the legacy or Linux options it just goes to saying "Missing operating system". –  rich Oct 31 '10 at 13:55
(As far as that link goes) only the main HDD appears as a startup disk option in preferences, the USB disks and the partition aren't available as options. –  rich Oct 31 '10 at 13:56
Hmmmm. Have you seen this? wiki.ubuntu.com/MactelSupportTeam/CommunityHelpPages I'm not sure whether that will give you much insight on booting from USB HD though... Heres a bit more information specifically regarding ubuntu on the macbook air ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1465614 –  Will Oct 31 '10 at 16:54
Yes, thanks, I've already seen both of those pages (I've read an awful lot around this in the last few days). No dice though, I just can't get anything other than "Missing operating system". –  rich Oct 31 '10 at 17:48
@rich As you debug your problem please update your original question, this will bump it and make it more detailed so your information doesn't get lost in the comments. –  Jorge Castro Oct 31 '10 at 19:13

I'm pretty sure your only option is to get a portable CD-drive and install it through that. I've tried to make a mac boot on my usb-key once(I didn't have a cd nearby), but after several hours I had to give up. If you really want to try, your best bet is to install rEFIt. But that's as far as I can help you.

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It took me a long time to find http://userpages.uni-koblenz.de/~ceinig/howto/artikel.php?id=92 the link given by ceinig (user10303) above. This worked for me!

The other solutions mentioned in the Ubuntu forums and wiki were not reliable, I found. I managed to get Ubuntu to install once by using the method of dd'ing a bootable usb (via unetbootin) to a partition on my hard disk and then using Refit to boot off that partition. But when I had to reinstall later, I couldn't reproduce the solution! In fact, even when it worked the first time I had to try a LOT. I found a thread via Google (but can't recall it) where someone else ran into the same issue. So I'd say go with the ceinig method.

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Booting from an USB stick is not possible with a Macbook air without some extra work.

See http://cweiske.de/tagebuch/ubuntu-on-macbook-air.htm#boot-preparation for a detailled explanation how to get the installer running despite this problem.

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