Billix: a Sysadmin's Swiss Army Knife

Turn that spare USB stick into a sysadmin's dream with Billix.

In closing, Billix may not make you coffee in the morning or eradicate Windows from the face of the earth, but having a USB key in your pocket that offers you the functionality to do all of those tasks quickly and easily can make the life of a system administrator (or any Linux-oriented person) much easier.

Bill Childers is an IT Manager in Silicon Valley, where he lives with his wife and two children. He enjoys Linux far too much, and probably should get more sun from time to time. In his spare time, he does work with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but he does not smell like garlic.


Bill Childers is the Virtual Editor for Linux Journal. No one really knows what that means.


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Billix and FreeBSD

Mario Guerra's picture

I wonder if booting a netinstall FreeBSD 7 is possible.

Yes indeed

Onno's picture

That would really be great!
I modified billix already to use full installation ISO's, but we also use FreeBSD installation so it would be really really great if we can also include those installation on the USB.

Billix - a linux super tool

Alireza Aghamohammadi's picture

This is a very good tool to have on a USB/flash drive. I'll give it a try.

Alireza Aghamohammadi

needed options for Windows version of syslinux

cdharding's picture

while troubleshooting why my thumb drive wouldn't boot, I came across a forum post that was about installing
Ubuntu on a flash drive from windows, and there was mention of using the m and a options for syslinux if you were running it from Windows. It says it is not needed for the *nix version but is definitely needed for the Windows version. the post is here:


sigint's picture


I was extremely excited to read this article. I ran out and purchased a 512 Kingston DT games USB($9.99US), and get to
running this line >> syslinux -s {device},and syslinux is telling me that i don't have a valid FAT filesystem; when i do have a valid FAT filesystem. Where can i for help?

Have you tried reformatting

paulatthehug's picture

Have you tried reformatting it using 'mkfs.msdos' or 'mkfs.vfat'?

No valid FAT filesystem's picture

I have the same problem. Running Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, and have tried two different USB sticks, and both FAT16 and FAT32. syslinux will not recognise the file system, for some reason.

Lars Erik

Same problem

Cwolly's picture

I continue to have the same problem, and have not yet found a solid answer on how to fix it. when I run the install-mbr, it is doing something to the thumb drive that will not allow syslinux to see it as a valid partition anymore. I also get the "this doesn't look like a valid FAT filesystem" error.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

billix and syslinux

mdeschane's picture

I was having the same problems; here are the steps I took that finally succeeded:

my USB device is sdc

cfdisk /dev/sdc; create partition and change type to FAT16
mkdosfs /dev/sdc1
mount -t msdos /dev/sdc1 /usbdrive (or where ever)
cd /usbdrive
cp billix-0.23.tar.gz
tar -zxvf billix-0.23.tar.gz (got a whole bunch of error messages "Cannot change ownership to uid 1000, gid 1000: Operation not permitted" even though I am root)
install-mbr -p1 /dev/sdc
cd ~
umount /usbdrive
syslinux -s /dev/sdc1

if you hold you mouth just right and clutch your favorite talisman firmly this should work.

permissions on fat16/32

linuxjnl's picture

FAT16/32 does not support file permissions. This is why you get the errors. These can be safely ignored.

ownership errors

cosmiclint's picture

I was getting the same errors. I think it's because of the way you mounted the drive. The UID and GID for /usbdrive would both be root, but I think the file wants be be untarred by a regular user.

When I included

-o uid=ubuntu,gid=root

in the mount command (I was using a live cd, so my username was ubuntu) then ran

tar -xzvf billix-0.23.tar.gz

as user ubuntu I didn't get the errors.

I've been able to boot dsl on a toshiba that supports booting from usb drive, but my Latitude doesn't make it past the menu.

Still playing with it, though and having a lot of fun. I routinely use live cds to fix borked windows boxes, so this is another handy tool.

Ownership errors

cosmiclint's picture

I should have added that I also copied the file in to the root of the drive as a regular user, so the file was also owned by user "ubuntu."