In the past, installing Wine to a portable distribution could be a lengthy struggle, fraught with peril, frustration, and chroots. But that gloomy age is gone now! Thanks to the widespread and mature live-system machinery developed by many distros, it shouldn't be hard to have your own portable installation of Wine.
Installing the Base Distro
The main thing you'll need is a properly formatted (FAT32) USB flash drive. To be sure you also have enough space, you'll probably want...
- At least 3 to 4 GB for the base distro, though some only require a few hundred MB
- 1 GB or more for Wine itself and any dependencies
- Another GB if you plan to keep and compile from source on the drive
- Anywhere from just a few to hundreds of GB for your programs and data, depending entirely on your needs
The next ingredient is the ISO image of whatever distro you want to run Wine on. If you don't have one in mind, two well-known Linux distros that historically focused on portability are KNOPPIX and Puppy, but most major distros including Fedora and Ubuntu now offer live-USB versions.
Another distro you might find interesting is Zorin OS, which tries to make Linux as familiar to Windows users as possible and consequently includes a version of Wine right out of the box.
You can always just go to your preferred distro's website and download an ISO image, but another option definitely worth considering is the UNetbootin tool. Not only can this create your live-USB install from a pre-downloaded ISO, or download the ISO itself, but it makes configuring other settings for your live-USB simple, and can be used entirely from within Windows.
Mac computers have a picky boot-loader and will not accept the file structure typically used on live-USBs. As a result, even though UNetbootin runs on Mac OS X, it can't create a live-USB image bootable on OS X.
This doesn't mean you can't create a portable installation for running on Macs; the tool Mac Linux USB Loader supposedly can, but we haven't tested this software before. If that doesn't work, you may just need to follow special instructions for manually creating your live-USB (Ubuntu's live-USB for OS X instructions are a good example)
Whether you choose a live-USB creator or to follow your distro's specific instructions manually, just be sure to enable persistence when you install the distro to your USB. This setting will allow your live-USB to record any changes to settings and files when you log off, which is exactly what you need to install Wine and your programs to the drive.
Installing Wine and Programs
Once you have a persistent live-USB ready and working, installing Wine itself shouldn't be too hard at all. If you're ok with the version packaged by the distro itself, you should be able to install Wine through the package manager. We also package recent development and staging versions of Wine for a few distros; you can find out more at our Downloads page.
Just don't forget to always reboot or shutdown, then unplug your live-USB properly so that data isn't corrupted.
Other Possible Ideas
This section is for noting other approaches that have definite disadvantages, but may actually be useful for some users. If you do come across a situation where one of these methods is preferable, feel free to move its entry to a new section with detailed instructions.
- If you really want or need to, remastering your distro's ISO image with Wine and your programs already installed, then writing it to your USB is possible. In fact, this used to be the required approach for portable Wine. Compared to a persistent live install though, this method results in an installation that is both more difficult to setup and less convenient to update.
- Another thing a remastered ISO image would allow for is theoretically putting your Wine install and distro on a DVD, rather than a USB. However, with the ubiquity of USB ports, using a DVD would have essentially no advantages over a flash drive (except the lower cost of the disk) but many disadvantages (longer boot times and even a rewritable DVD would have limited capacity for updates, which would be very inconvenient)
- Installing Wine and your prefixes and programs to a flash drive, without any underlying distro, is entirely possible. Besides being inherently less portable (it would only work on unix hosts with all necessary dependencies), you would need to configure each host system to properly access the files.
- Actually, if you're just interested in unix host systems, this might not be too hard. One could keep a script on the flash drive to do any necessary configuration.
- Would symlinking even be necessary, or could directories just be appended to the session's PATH variables?
- One last possibility is to still have a live-USB distribution, but rather than installing Wine through the OS with persistence, keep Wine outside the OS file-system on the flash drive. This method should still be wholly portable, but the OS would need to be configured to find all the files (preferably on mount without user input)
- This method does arguably keep the base OS image more stable, with Wine in a distinct overlay. Would that be a significant advantage though?
- If the Wine files can be kept in a different partition altogether, one could also use file-systems other than FAT for them.