Installing Tails on a USB stick is the most common and the recommended scenario for using Tails as it allows automatic upgrades and persistence. DVDs are also getting less and less popular.

But as of 2016, installing Tails on a USB stick still:

  • Requires going through the command line sometimes, for example on macOS.
  • Requires going through an intermediary USB stick or DVD which is more complex, slower, and relies on third-party software (eg. UUI).

Future work

We have plans to rethink the installation process and upgrade process in depth. This would take into account the future work described in this section.

We want to eliminate the need for a first temporary Tails and have Tails Installer available on Linux, Windows, and macOS.

Do we really need a custom installer?

While working on porting Tails Installer to Debian and Ubuntu in 2015, we came to question the future of Tails Installer in many ways. On the one hand, it's a lot of work to maintain and port custom programs like Tails Installer and we would be happy to lower this workload by relying on other installation techniques or programs that would not be custom to Tails; on the other hand, having a custom installer gives us much more control and possibilities in terms of features proposed to the user and trust that we can put in a software that we make and distribute ourselves.

What could we use instead of Tails Installer?

  • Other multiplatform USB installers

    • None of the usual suspects (YUMI, Unetbooting, Rufus, etc.) work on Linux, Windows, and macOS.
    • New tools for flashing disk images on SD cards for Raspberry Pies are appearing, like Etcher but they are too green to be reliable.
  • Core utilities from other operating systems

    • GNOME Disks has a way to copy a disk image on a block device.
    • macOS supports only some formats. (#8802)
    • We couldn't found such utility for Windows. (#8550)

Porting Tails Installer to Windows and macOS

Porting Tails Installer to Windows and macOS would provide a consistent and simple way for installing Tails across all platforms and remove the need for an intermediary USB stick or DVD. Still, this would require a massive amount of work and skills that will be very hard to gather.

We started doing a feasibility study for:

Other nice bonuses would be:

  • If using the installer outside of Tails, point to the website to download the ISO. (#8867)
  • Make it possible to "Upgrade from ISO" from the command line, for the Debian expert instructions. (#8861)
  • Make it possible to "Install from ISO" from the command line, for the Debian expert instructions. (#8861).
  • Store version of Tails on destination key after install and upgrade. (#8863)
  • This would allow to display the installed version in "Target Device". (#8862)

ISO verification

The capacities of our Tails Verification browser extension are limited as can be seen in its thread model.

A stronger solution might be to do the OpenPGP verification automatically from Tails Installer. Users have to trust Tails Installer anyway (currently on top of trusting the ISO image) and most modern operating systems have software distribution mechanisms that are quite strong, hopefully stronger than plain HTTPS (Debian's APT, Apple's Mac App Store, etc.).

  • Automating the OpenPGP verification would be easy to achieve on Linux but would require more research for other platforms.
  • Do we want Tails Installer to include the Tails signing key or to rather depend on external mechanisms to fetch and verify the signing key? Thinking about key transitions…
  • Should we allow people to burn DVDs from Tails Installer as well? If Tails Installer becomes the recommended tool for verifying Tails, it makes sense to be able to burn DVDs from it.
  • We should still allow expert users to build more trust in our signing key through the OpenPGP WoT.

Endless full upgrades

As of now, Tails Installer is also used to do full upgrades. We want to be able to do this in Tails Upgrader instead. See the blueprint on endless upgrades. This might duplicate or conflict with some of the work proposed to simplify the interface.

Future

  • Push more ISO verification logic to Tails Installer. See the ?blueprint on ISO verification.