What was the difference? I still don't really know WHY it's different but I did figure out WHAT makes Mint 6 XFCE USB persistent. The key is in the syslinux.cfg file. The default syslinux.cfg section that tell it how to boot looks like this:
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label live menu label Start Linux Mint XFCE Community Edition kernel /casper/vmlinuz append file=/cdrom/preseed/mint.seed boot=casper initrd=/casper/initrd.gz quiet splash -- menu default
So here are the steps to make a persistent, bootable, Linux Mint 6 XFCE USB. This assumes: a PC capable of booting from USB, a USB stick (at least 1 GB) formatted FAT32, knowledge of how to burn a cd, boot from the live cd, connect to the internet and use Synaptic package manager to load applications.
1. Download and burn to CD the Mint 6 XFCE iso.
2. Boot the Mint 6 XFCE cd and connect to the internet.
3. Install USB-Creator using Synaptic.
4. Plug in the USB stick, it will show up on the desktop.
5. Run the "Create a USB startup stick" command now available in the system Menu Set the file size to use up to 4GB of the USB (4GB is the FAT32 single file limit).
6. When the USB is created it says you can reboot to use the USB. Click "OK" but do NOT reboot yet.
7. Open the folder on the desktop for the USB. You will see a file named syslinux.cfg in the root of this folder. This is NOT the one to modify. Open the "syslinux" folder and open the syslinux.cfg file that you find there with your favorite text editor.
8. Edit the lines starting with "menu" and "append" in the code listed above to look like:
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label live menu label Start Linux Mint XFCE Community Edition - persistent kernel /casper/vmlinuz append file=/cdrom/preseed/mint.seed boot=casper persistent initrd=/casper/initrd.gz quiet splash -- menu default
10. Restart, booting from the USB. When the boot option screen comes up the top boot option should look like the line that starts "menu label" in the code above - you now have a persistent Linux Mint 6 XFCE bootable USB stick.
1. This tutorial is specific to and has been tested on Linux Mint 6 XFCE. I expect that it probably works on other editions but I have not tested it. Anybody wishing to use it on other editions are welcome to update this thread with their experience.
2. When you boot from the USB and the boot options display you can hit tab and an editable boot option line will be displayed. The word "persistent" should appear after "boot=casper" for persistence. Remove the word "persistent" if you do not want this session to be persistent. It will not show any changes saved during previous persistent sessions. Any changes saved in previous persistent sessions will reappear when you boot persistent again.
3. Any changes that you make during a persistent session are saved in the casper-rw file which was sized in step 5 above. If you install updates you will be filling up the casper-rw file. When casper-rw is full things go south very quickly. If your USB is less than 4GB it is probably not a good idea to install updates.
4. When you have the system configured the way you want it, backing up the casper-rw file is a good idea. If casper-rw gets corrupted for any reason then boot using the live cd, delete the casper-rw file from the USB and restore the backed up casper-rw. Booting with the newly refreshed USB will get you back to the place where you backed up casper-rw.