Netbooks come without an optical drive. If you purchase such a notebook and you have to install Windows XP, or any other operating system, it goes without saying that an installation CD won't work. You will have to set it up, from a USB flash drive.
In another scenario, if the optical drive of your desktop computer or laptop breaks down and you need to repair or install Windows XP, what would you do? Use a bootable USB drive, of course.
Even if your optical drive is fine and dandy, it doesn't hurt you, to have a bootable USB flash drive ready, for any emergency. These drives don't cost much and serve many purposes, including being a bootable drive for installation.
How to Install it from a USB Drive
Once the bootable Windows XP drive is created, you won't need an optical drive for installation but you will need one for copying and extracting the ISO image from a Windows XP installation disc. Other than that, you will need a flash drive (obviously), with at least 1GB of memory space (2 GB is recommended). Here is the step-by-step procedure.
Download and Install WinToFlash
You may have expected me to provide you with instructions on creating the bootable flash drive, through commands typed in command prompt. You can do that, but the creation of WinToFlash software, that specializes in converting Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 installation DVDs into bootable USB flash drives, has eliminated that need.
All you need to do is download WinToFlash and install it on your PC. However, this won't work, if you want to install Ubuntu from a USB drive or any other Linux distribution. For that, you will have to use a different program.
Prepare a Bootable USB Drive
Insert your Windows XP installation disk in the optical drive. Insert the USB flash drive in a port and format it. Open the WinToFlash program and locate the Windows XP installation location and the flash drive location for it.
Run the program and let it do its job. It will copy the ISO image of your installation disk onto the flash drive and convert it into a bootable drive. Once the transfer is complete, close the program and remove the bootable USB drive.
Booting From the Drive and Installing
Insert the flash drive in the USB port of the laptop or netbook, on which you intend to install the operating system. Restart the computer and go into BIOS setup (by pressing F12 during start-up). Change the bootable drive setting to USB drive. Once you do that, save the settings and exit.
Then, installation will go ahead and you will have Windows XP installed in the normal way. For any other installation, including Windows Vista and Windows 7, the procedure is the same.
You can use the bootable drive to install Windows XP on any computer, that does not come with the luxury of an optical drive, like netbooks. If you need to install Windows 7 from a flash drive, Microsoft provides a tool called 'Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool', which you can use. Just visit the Microsoft site, for a download.