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I installed Ubuntu 10.04 to my MacBook Pro (not the latest gen with i7, but one before that) on an external, USB harddrive (GRUB installed to the external as well).

When I hold down the option key to try to select the external, it doesn't show up.

After some looking around, my understanding is that it won't boot 'unsupported' operating system from an external drive. I have ran OSX from an external when I upgraded my harddrive.

What can I do (or is it even possible) to allow my MacBook Pro to boot the Ubuntu drive?

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It's possible, just rather complicated. I'm no expert so I'm just commenting. – Vervious May 5 '10 at 0:43
Random point. I had a Dell laptop which I had ubuntu 12.04 installed on. I wanted to use the HD in my 2009 MBP, so I swapped the drive over and turned it on. It booted, all the way into Ubuntu, complete with wifi working. Bonkers. – Daniel Huckstep Aug 15 '12 at 20:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

While these links do not talk about 10.04 directly, I expect them to work across releases.

  1. This Ubuntuforum thread might be useful: How to Boot Linux from USB on Macbook Pro.
    • I am fairly unschooled in the world of Linux, and I have been dieing to learn more about Linux for some time. So, about a week ago I began researching how to run Live Linux distributions on my Macbook Pro.
    • Using a nifty EFI extension called rEFIt, I discovered that booting live linux distributions on a Macbook Pro is possible. Also, I discovered that Slax recognizes many of the Macbook Pro's features (such as ethernet and Bluetooth) straight away.
  2. Pendrivelinux: Make a USB Boot CD for Ubuntu 8.10.
    • This USB Boot CD can be used to boot a Ubuntu 8.10 USB flash drive on computers with a BIOS that does not natively support booting from USB.
    • Could also be used to Boot Ubuntu from a USB Flash Drive on Apple Mac, Macbook and, Macbook Pro.
  3. How To Create A Portable Ubuntu Installation USB On The Mac.

Finally, once things work, this Ubuntu help page on MacBook Pro 5,3 and Ubuntu 10.04 might be useful

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Definitely try rEFIt and see if it can detect the Linux on the external drive. – kartikmohta May 6 '10 at 5:21

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