Installing operating systems from CDs and DVDs is a thing of the past now – some Linux distros can’t be booted from CDs, and many middle-aged to new laptops (and even desktop computers!) simply do not have the CD ROM drive anymore, as it makes the device chunkier and heavier, and also because very little things are installed from CDs nowadays – it’s either downloadable from the Internet or it’s just simpler and more convenient to install it from a USB flash drive. So, how do you go about getting a USB that, for example, you can use to install an operating system? Very simple! You just need to get yourself a handy little tool that makes bootable USB flash drives, like Etcher.
Etcher is an opensource software that allows you to make bootable USB flash drives. It’s being updated regularly, and its latest update (as of the time of writing) was v1.5.110, released in early November 2020. It’s free to use, and there are some features that make it unique among the bootable USB maker software; we’ll list them below.
Etcher supports all three major operating systems – Windows, macOS, and Linux-based distros, with versions for each of them being available on its GitHub repository. For example, Windows one is called Chocolatey and macOS one is called BrewCask, and it seems the latter one needs to have its updates applied manually. Installation instructions and individual command lines for each OS and distro can be found in the GitHub repository as well. This kind of goes without saying, but that is also the place where you can get the source code if you want to tinker with it yourself. It’s worth mentioning that it works on macOS Yosemite and above, as well as Windows 7 and above. This feature is priceless for distro-addicts and distro-hoppers, as it allows for quick and simple bootable USB creation on a PC that already has a Linux distro installed.
Gui And Overall Simplicity
Etcher’s graphic user interface and functions are both made to be extremely user-friendly, with inexperienced users in mind. When you want to make a bootable USB, simply open Etcher, drag and drop the ISO file (or any other file type supported, more about that later) into it, select the desired USB drive and, after validating that the user is authorized to make changes, commence the burning process. The upside to this is that it makes it a fail-safe process, with no need to research different settings and their meaning; the downside, however, is that there are no advanced tinkering options available for more experienced users. It also validates the data copied after the copying process is over, to ensure that no mistakes were made.
By this, we mean that the FAQ and User Documentation are both well-supplied with useful information and helpful fixes for problems that could commonly be encountered while using this Etcher. This includes some pretty general and vague questions, such as “Why is my drive not booting?”, as well as some very specific and to the point issues with Etcher requiring polkit installed (refer to the previous paragraph where user authentication was mentioned; polkit is a tool that controls privileges of the user in the system if the user has administrator privileges or not) – polkit does not come pre-installed in all Linux-based distributions, unlike Windows, so it’s required that the user installs it before working with Etcher. There are also instructions for each OS on how to fix a broken, half-flashed drive that’s unusable.
Multiple File Type Support
Aside from the regular .iso, .img, and .dsk files, Etcher also doesn’t require the compressed files to be extracted, as well as supports .gz, .bz2, and .xz file types, the latter two of which allow for only single-file compression; they are essentially the .zip files made in various compression tools for Linux-based operating systems.
Etcher Pro seems to be the standalone hardware bootable USB maker device that the developers are planning to release at one point in the future, as it has the ‘coming soon’ tag on the official balena website. It will allegedly feature the ability to write on multiple devices (up to 16) simultaneously at very high (equal) speeds across all ports – up to 45MB/s. They will also be ‘stackable’, connected to each other and powered by one cable, up to 10 at a time, which allows for whopping 160 drives being flashed at once without loss of speed. However, this is still in development, and the exact release date has not yet been announced.
Etcher is fairly young, compared to some other veterans in the field, with its beta version having been released in 2016, but it’s still made huge progress since then. Its flexibility, support for all three major types of operating systems, user-friendly and intuitive design, as well as great support from developers and community alike, make it a great pick for when you need to make a bootable USB flash drive or an SD card. It does have its drawbacks, such as it connecting to the internet to send users’ data to balena and the option to ‘opt-out’ of that or enter offline mode, being somewhat hidden inside settings, or still being unstable at times, having issues with certain ISO images, etc. However, do not let these little flaws turn you away from this (not-so-little, as it takes up about 80MB of space!) gem of bootable USB maker software.