If you select "USB" and "Mac" on this download page, it gives a series of command line instructions to make a USB key which the MacBook will boot into Ubuntu from.

I've followed them to the letter two or three times on different USB keys, and it doesn't work. There's a very great deal of technical discussion about EFI etc. but this set of instructions seems to suggest it should just work, but it doesn't.

Help? I'm increasingly unhappy with the more locked-down approach Apple is taking, and I'd quite like to start using Linux with a view to transitioning over to using it as my main operating system, but booting from the CD takes forever, runs slowly and I'm really hoping to get it moving off USB.

Can anybody help me?

  • I'm not sure you can. I haven't heard any success in doing so. Have you considered making your Macbook dualboot instead? I run a triple-boot Macbook with rEFIt and it's fantastic. – Pete Ashdown Feb 28 '11 at 22:42
  • Easiest way is to use the bootcamp utility. Here you can insert the Ubuntu CD instead of the Windows one. – c0de Jan 2 '12 at 11:37
  • It's not possible. I've tried it all (askubuntu.com/questions/251958/…) Forget about it. – cyphunk Feb 21 '13 at 13:21
  • 1
    Maybe I'm not completely sure what you're asking, but after installing the Ubuntu iso (v12.04) onto a USB stick from a windows computer, I just held alt on the Mac on boot to choose a different boot option, and the drive appeared as Windows. I booted from that, and it came up fine. – Codesmith Sep 3 '14 at 18:17
  • The "locked down approach" is why I bought an Android phone to replace my old iPhone, and I never regretted it. – Rolf Dec 27 '16 at 12:47

Short answer: You can't. Apple doesn't want you to boot an OS other than OS X off USB. If your Mac has a working optical drive, use it. It will save you pain. If you have a newer Mac (64 bit), just remember to use the Mac iso(amd64+mac), not the regular amd64 iso. (See this for an explanation of the difference)

Longer answer: (Ok, I lied above.) You can, but "it's complicated". One method that has worked for a number of people is to dd the bootable USB key to its own partition on your hard drive and then boot off that partition. The basic method is explained nicely here.

This doesn't always work, even on the same hardware. In particular, if you have a MacBook Air, which doesn't have an optical drive, then the forums are filled with posts of trying the dd-to-a-partition trick and failing. For MacBook Air owners, it is strongly advised to obtain a MacBook Air SuperDrive (no, a regular USB CD/DVD drive does not suffice) and then use that to install through the usual CD route (using the Mac iso for a 64 bit install).

Lastly, this USB method actually worked(!) to install 11.10 onto my MacBook Air 3,1 (late 2010 model). However, I expect some modification is needed to work on other versions of the Air, not to mention other Macs.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    The dd method has never worked on my 1) Macbook 3,1 2) Macbook Pro 3,1 3) Macbook Pro 8,2... Any yet they claim in works. I feel betrayed! – user24668 May 9 '12 at 12:07
  • The dd method I refer to in the longer answer is not the same as the "official" instructions. It seems to work alright on a fair number of MacBook models, but not the Air. – Chan-Ho Suh May 10 '12 at 9:10
  • 2
    did not work on a macbook aluminium circa 2010. Ubuntu look like fools leaving up this obviously very unreliable FAQ's and instructions for using USB. Considering that most macbooks these days do not have CDrom drives Ubuntu should serious focus on this a bit more or write off a large majority of laptops from their user base. – cyphunk Feb 21 '13 at 13:18
  • 1
    The long method, which is somewhat more up-to-date for people finding this now at lifehacker.com/5934942/…, works. However, even if you go to all the trouble of getting this installed via USB or otherwise, you'll still have a lot of work to do in configuring the OS at the low-level (better be familiar with the terminal) for the trackpad and other things to function as you expect them to; much reconfiguring. Shame they haven't tuned it more for the Macbooks by now. – rcd Nov 21 '13 at 23:50

How to create a bootable USB stick on OS X/macOS

This procedure requires that you create an .img file from the .iso file you download. It will also change the filesystem that is on the USB stick to make it bootable, so backup all data before continuing.

  1. Download Ubuntu Desktop

  2. Open the Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities/ or query Terminal in Spotlight).

  3. Insert your USB flash media, which must be 2GB or larger and has only 1 partition on the USB flash drive. For Ubuntu 18.04 and later the USB flash drive should be 4GB or larger.

  4. Launch the Disk Utility app which is located in Applications -> Utilities or Spotlight search.

    • In the lefthand pane, click on the USB drive to select it.

    • Click the Partition tab.

    • Select 1 Partition from the dropdown menu.

    • Enter a name for the drive.

    • Change the Format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

    • Click the Options button.

    • Ensure that the GUID Partition Table radio button is selected and click OK.

    • Click Apply.

    Warning: Disk Utility needs to be used with caution as selecting the wrong device or partition can result in data loss.

  5. Convert the .iso file to .img using the convert option of hdiutil e.g.,

    hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ~/path/to/target.img ~/path/to/ubuntu.iso

    Note: OS X tends to put the .dmg ending on the output file automatically.

  6. Run:

    diskutil list

    to get the current list of devices.

  7. Run:

    diskutil list

    again and determine the device node assigned to your flash media (e.g. /dev/disk2).

  8. Run:

    diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN

    (replace N with the disk number from the last command; in the previous example, N would be 2).

  9. Execute:

    sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.img of=/dev/rdiskN bs=1m

    (replace /path/to/downloaded.img with the path where the image file is located; for example, ./ubuntu.img or ./ubuntu.dmg).

    • Using /dev/rdisk instead of /dev/disk may be faster
    • Give the dd command enough time to finish. It could take 3-5 minutes to finish executing. When dd is finished, you should see a confirmation that the process has completed.
    • If you see the error dd: Invalid number '1m', you are using GNU dd. Use the same command but replace bs=1m with bs=1M
    • If you see the error dd: /dev/diskN: Resource busy, make sure the disk is not in use. Start the 'Disk Utility.app' and unmount (don't eject) the drive.
  10. Run:

    diskutil eject /dev/diskN

    and remove your flash media when the command completes.

Booting Ubuntu on a Mac from the USB drive

The newly created Ubuntu live USB drive is now ready to be inserted into a Mac.

enter image description here
Booting Ubuntu from the USB drive

To test the Ubuntu live USB on a Mac:

  1. Insert the USB drive into an available USB port.
  2. Reboot or turn on the Mac.
  3. Immediately after the startup chime, press the Option key (sometimes marked Alt).
  4. Select the USB drive from which to boot by using the left and right arrow and Enter keys.
  5. If you can't see the USB drive in step 4, download rEFInd boot manager to get a screen where you can choose from the available devices to boot from.
| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    This doesn't answer the question. This answer is how to create a bootable usb key while currently running OS X. The question is how to create a USB that can boot a Mac. I have followed these instructions. I can boot a PC with the resulting USB key, but the Mac doesn't recognize it as a bootable device. – chrish Jan 6 '16 at 0:26
  • 3
    I just successfully did this, but at first the USB key wouldn't show up in the list, I had to re-plug it and then it appeared as a EFI startup disk – Keith M Apr 3 '16 at 2:13
  • 1
    Worked fine for me for a Macbook Air (~2012 and Macbook Pro mid/late 2009). Note that this will only work on a drive with 1 partition. "dd-ing" the file over to 1 partition of 2 didn't work for me in terms of showing up at the mac startup manager. A blog post on this with same steps is also here: business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/… – DynamicDan Jan 21 '17 at 23:06
  • Correct me if I'm wrong but this'll just give you a live-CD esque boot, right? not a persistent installation. – Alex Hart Apr 2 '18 at 1:52
  • That is correct, this will give you a live CD-esque boot. – karel Apr 2 '18 at 4:44

With this four steps I installed Ubuntu 13.04 on my Macbook Air mid 2011:

  1. Create a new partition using Disk Utility

  2. Install latest version of rEFInd on your Mac

  3. Download the Mac ISO of Ubuntu and create a bootable USB stick with UNetbootin

  4. Restart your Mac select boot from USB and install Ubuntu

| improve this answer | |
  • Alternative [Tested on an iMac.2013] 1. install refit 2. download the latest ubuntu iso (13.04 at this point) 3. create a live usb with "Usb Startup Disk Creator" (comes default with all ubuntu installations) 4. connect usb disk to iMac 5. restart iMac 6. hold option or command (alt or super) (i forget which) 7. select efi×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes – airtonix May 17 '13 at 9:28
  • 1
    As of 3/2019 This answer worked on MacBook (circa 2008) and I was able to put ubuntu 18.04. Thanks – Chad Mar 19 '19 at 20:58

After a LOT of trouble with various methods i finally got ubuntu 13.04 32bits working on a macbook 2,1 (mid 2007). My DVD drive is broken so i really needed a live USB.

(DISCLAIMER:)I´m no programmer but after setting things up the following way it worked like charm.

  1. Install the latest version of rEFIt.
  2. Download Mac Linux USB Loader from this page: https://github.com/SevenBits/Mac-Linux-USB-Loader/releases/tag/v1.1
  3. Download the source code from the same link. You will need the bootlA32.efi file located in the "EFI" folder.
  4. Insert your USB flash drive, and format it to FAT 32 using disk utility.
  5. Open Mac Linux USB Loader and select the .iso file you want to boot.
  6. Click on Create Live USB and follow the instructions, it's a pretty straight forward process.

  7. My macbook model just refused to boot on efi64, so i had to do some tweaking here:

  8. Go ahead and open the USB drive. Go to the "efi" folder and then the "boot" folder. Inside you should see a file named bootX64.efi

  9. Erase it and place the bootlA32.efi file instead.

  10. Now just reboot and from the rEFIt menu choose to boot from the USB drive.

I Hope it helps somebody out there!

| improve this answer | |

This is a FAQ in the Ubuntu Forum: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1046568

It does not work directly, but requires some special handling with GRUB http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=995704

Added: The information on the Download page shows how to build a USB key that is bootable on PCs, but not on Macs.

| improve this answer | |
  • 11
    Those forums are horrible for trying to grok any sane information from. :( – hendry Apr 22 '12 at 4:25

Download Ubuntu and then make one bootable USB learn more which works with Macbook, iMac and Mini etc.. (2011 and later versions).

Requirements: 1. 2GB USB drive 2. Ubuntu System with net access.

| improve this answer | |

Try to get a machine with Ubuntu already installed, a PC, notebook, whatever, maybe from a friend, and then get an ISO image of Ubuntu 12.10 amd64. Using Ubuntu, open the "Startup Disk Creator" utility, select the ISO image of Ubuntu, the USB device and create the disk.

Hold the option key while the Mac is booting and select the USB drive to boot from and you're done. I've done it, and it works.

| improve this answer | |