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I have some older machines that cannot run new versions of Debian/Ubuntu/SUSE/etc on KDE and GNOME GUI, they just crash. It's probably because of the graphics card driver or unsupported graphic cards or not enough video RAM.

Is there a light version of a GUI user interface which is still maintainable and can run all the current applications.

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Are you looking for a full DE? Many people seem to be suggesting window managers but if you go that route you'll have the burden/freedom of choosing all your DE components like pagers, panels, file managers, etc. yourself. –  jw013 Apr 2 '12 at 5:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Openbox and Window Maker are great suggestions. You may also have luck with related projects and derivatives; I had a good experience with Fluxbox on Crunchbang (Ubuntu-based). Lubuntu, with the LXDE desktop environment is very lightweight while providing a bit more out-of-the-box infrastructure than going without any desktop environment.

Though, I've recently dumped all of the above for XFCE, which satiates my desires for a GNOME2-like setup. There is a good community as well, and there's relative interoperability with GNOME2. For example, GNOME2 panel applets work in my XFCE panels. In general, XFCE gets out of your way and lets you focus on your work.

Also, for what it's worth, Linus Torvalds recently switched to/advocated XFCE in response to the GNOME3/Unity transitions taking hold in many distributions. (Slashdot 2011)

If you want ultra-lightweight, try a tiling window manager. You might start with Awesome, Enlightenment, or StumpWM. (bigger list at Wikipedia)

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I use awesome, and I'm loving it. It is super light-weight and although it is designed to be a tiling window manager, you can have floating windows too. It is very configurable! –  romeovs Apr 2 '12 at 22:25

Try a window manager such as Openbox or Window Maker. You will not have the full range of features that a desktop environment like KDE or GNOME offers, however.

As for application support, it doesn't depend on the interface (KDE apps will run on GNOME and vice-versa), but rather on the libraries that an application uses (e.g. GTK, Qt).

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Gnome and KDE are whats known as 'desktop environments'. They provide more than just a window manager; things such as a file manager, system settings utilities, etc.
There is also XFCE which is another desktop environment, but it a lot more light weight. than Gnome and KDE. XFCE uses GTK like gnome does, and maintains a lot of compatibility with gnome panel applets.

There's also Enlightenment which is somewhere between a window manager and a desktop environment.

There are also pure window managers such as Openbox/Fluxbox, or Window Maker. These are only window managers, and are thus a lot more basic.

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If youre looking for something that'll be similar to KDE and Gnome, I'd stick with XFCE.

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If you want very light, go with a tiling window manager.

I recommend dwm or awesome, the former being much lighter, but the latter has more documentation and is more friendly to people new to tiling managers.

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