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There seems to be a lot of confusion, conflicting information and assumptions about this matter, so I'd like to clarify that this question is specifically about the 2009 model of MacBook Air. I am aware that most Macs boot from USB just fine. Internet Recovery was introduced to the Air range in 2010, IIRC.

I used to have the 2009 MBA myself back in the day, and I have a vague memory that booting via USB did not work, and that it was the case with all pre-2010 MacBook Airs. However, these days it is no longer easy to find clear information about the matter, official or otherwise. One extant source is here: https://wiki.debian.org/InstallingDebianOn/Apple/MacBookAir/2-1#Installation_medium

I also remember that the "official story" in case of failed hard drives was to boot from Apple's own external optical drive, the USB SuperDrive. The install DVD was even included in the package, despite the machine not having a drive to read it. I'm wondering how it would be that only that particular device worked; could the conditions it fulfills be faked somehow on a normal USB drive?

My situation is that I have been given the opportunity to acquire a cheap 2009 MBA with a failed hard drive, but I don't have physical access to the machine yet. What I am looking to do is replace the hard drive with an OWC SSD and installing a new system (in this case, Linux) on it. However, obviously I wouldn't want to order the new SSD for such an old machine unless I'm sure I can get it to work.

  • Your question should be: How to install OS X on a 2009 MacBook Air? Once OS X is up and running, you probably could install any Linux compatible with the hardware. – David Anderson Jan 30 '18 at 10:17
  • Which operating systems are you trying to install using USB? I am pretty sure Windows will not work. You seem pretty confident Linux can not be installed this way. I would think OS X would install this way, if you have a way to create the OS X installation USB flash drive. – David Anderson Jan 30 '18 at 10:58
  • Just to let you know, you probably could run 64 bit Windows 10 on this model. – David Anderson Jan 30 '18 at 11:02
  • As I mention, I'm looking to install Linux. You're right that it doesn't really matter though, if I can install OS X I can probably go on from there. However, I'd like to confirm if booting off of USB is possible on this specific model or not (without the Apple optical drive), as I wouldn't want to bet 120e on assumptions or inference alone :) – Ilmari Jan 30 '18 at 11:28
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    Maybe you misunderstood me. I was trying to say you can install many different Linux operating systems without using a USB port or optical drive, if you have OS X installed. Basically, you also have to install a free copy of VirtualBox into OS X. You then use VirtualBox as a tool to help install Linux as a dual boot (OS X and Linux) machine. Actually, you could remove OS X after installing Linux. For example, a user installed Ubuntu on a 2006 MacBook without using a USB port or optical drive. – David Anderson Jan 30 '18 at 11:35

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