Can anyone recommend a live cd/usb linux distro that supports persistent storage and isn't ubuntu-based?

@RussSharek Since you said non Ubuntu I'm not sure if you're ok with Debian based. But slax should meet all your requirements.
slax.org/customize.php

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@kelbot @RussSharek Debian-Live works quite well too.

the whole Debian-Live part is semi optional at that. i untar an image onto a usb stick, chroot in, run `bootctl install` to install systemd-boot, and it's pretty much good to go, uses the stick in read/write mode.

i've run my main desktop this way for almost 2 years before i finally got around to copying it onto the hard drive! i just rsync'ed that same OS onto a new partition on the ssd, chrooted in, and ran bootctl install again! system cloned! there's not really any need for installers in Debian. debootstrap already has a pretty ready to go image! :)

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@jauntywunderkind420 @kelbot

I didn't know about the debootstrap method either, neat.

@avalon solved her immediate problem with a debian live usb, though I suspect we may explore a few other options.

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