For instance Unity 3D uses the Compiz OpenGL compositing manager, Gnome 3 uses "Mutter" and with the plasma KDE desktop introduction, it also requires you to have a powerful hardware features nonetheless.
But unlike with MS Windows in GNU/Linux, almost all of these desktops actually come with a fall-back mode which basically gives you a lower-end version of their original OpenGL rendering desktops (with a window manager that doesn't use a lot of your GPU), thus no one is left behind ;-) (I'm serious!).
But if have a slower or an older hardware in your PC or Laptop then I think most of the time you'll always be better off with a dedicated, lower hardware "aimed" lightweight desktops rather than those above mentioned "fall-back modes", because even in the fall-back mode (Unity 2D or Gnome 3 classic for instance) the only difference is in the Window manager rather than the individual applications thus if you have a lower-end hardware then it'll still "hurt", obviously.
In that sense if you're looking for such dedicated "lightweight" desktops, I'm pretty sure there are many but both Xfce and LXDE without a doubt are the most prominent ones.
The reason is simple, these are not "just desktops" but once installed you'll get a complete desktop suite with apps such as text editors, media player, control panel, file manager, Terminal emulator, even office suits, etc thus you don't have have to install any separate applications afterward!.
(please be aware that it's pretty hard to say "everything" using a just pictures and stuff, so I'll try my best).
LXDE vs Xfce
Let's have a look at the desktops...
Anyhow both these desktops actually come with a rich desktop right click which are totally better than in the Gnome classic desktop (the version 3 doesn't even have one!). But in comparison Xfce has a better (not necessarily since these are highly relative terms) right click than the LXDE version.
In the past all they had for a right click was nothing but big application menu if you remember, but it's quite extraordinary how they've evolved within such short period. So basically you can create a folder, new launcher, a text file and access other desktop related settings such as change background, etc.
So the desktop is well implemented, may not be perfect, but it's certainly more than enough for most of us.
|Xfce desktop configuration...|
|LXDE: as you can see with the above screenshot, Xfce has a better desktop configuration window, but it's really not a game changer, so to speak ;-)...|
|This means too much features and getting in the way of the users, from"Gnome's point of view", really is this too much to ask?...|
*. File Managers:
Xfce comes with a file manager called Thunar and LXDE's one is PCMan which is actually one of the founding applications of the LXDE desktop itself. As you can see they both a again look a lot similar in both GUI and functions.
From managing your folders/files (deleting, creating, editing, etc) they also have the ability to display mounted (both local and networked) partitions, zooming, sort files and folders + let you customize few settings such as enabling/disabling thumbnails, changing toolbar icon sizes, switch between views via the "preference" windows.
|Thunar of Xfce...|
|PCMan in LXDE...|
*. Text editors:
This is another important thing. As said both Xfce and LXDE come with text editors of their own called Leafpad in Lxde and Mouspad in Xfce. But Mousepad is actually based on the Leafpad!, thus they both look a lot a-like.
You can do basic text editing such as changing font, colors, underline, bold, etc with them but for serious writers you'll have to either install LibreOffice or the more lightweight Abi-Word suit, etc which enables more advanced features (spell checking, etc) + a lot of file type support as well.
*. Window managers:
If you don't know what this is, then a window manager is one of the most basic and prominent apps that underlies on any graphical user interface (GUI). It's the one that "draws" and manage all those windows/titlesbars/buttons, message boxes, etc.
This is also one of the main applications that has the ability to speed-up things a bit unlike many others. By having a lightweight window manager means better performance and low on system resources but it'll also mean that you'd have to bear not having those fancy effects such as 3D cube, transparency or other whatnots we geeks are up to these days ;-).
LXDE uses a one called OpenBox which is old, quite robust and it's a separate application (not an original LXDE "project"). But most importantly it's known for its speed!. It's simple yet quite powerful + lets you configure a lot of its options by using a back-end called Obconf. Below is a screenshot of Obconf manager in LXDE desktop.
As you can see in comparison it lets you configure a scary amount of options for the good or the worse ;-). Although while I was using the LXDE in my Ubuntu 11.04 the responsive times were excellent but there were few occasions which it was a bit sluggish/clumsy (you know less responsive, etc) and the close/minimize buttons weren't that responsive either. But in general it's a hell lot faster than Gnome and KDE!.
Xfce desktop on the other hand uses a window manager of its own called Xfwm, 4.0 is the current version. As you can see with the below screenshot, it also is pretty rich in features (maybe slightly lesser than Openbox but) and is second to no one (although in the screenshot I've chose a tab with few options but once you choose other tabs there are reasonable amount of features).
Furthermore although I'm not entirely sure whether you can do this in LXDE but in Xfce it you want more control over your desktop just like with Gconf-editor in Gnome, but better in Xfce, you can access a lot of other desktop and applications (file manager, text editor, etc) related settings via a front-end called "Xfce-Settings-Editor/Xconf".
But if you're a bit new to GNU/Linux then most of these settings may not be necessary anyway.
*. Archive managers:
To manage archives of almost every kind you'll get an app called Xarchiver in LXDE and a more simpler one called Squeeze in Xfce. Although they both basically do the same thing but I prefer the Xarchiver since it's a bit rich in features and gives you better control.
|My personal favorite, the Xarchiver! in LXDE...|
*. Music/Video players:
LXDE has a music player which called LXmusic that has a simple GUI and based on XMMS. It loads fast and does it jobs just fine. Although not as advanced as Rhythmbox , Banshee or nowhere near Amarok! (you KDE geek).
Yet for simpling listening to audio files I find it to be more than enough. And since it's job is to remain simple we can't ask for a lot of features either.
|LXDE music player (audio only)...|
Xfce has both an audio player + a separate media player called Parole (based on Gstreamer) which has a very similar GUI as the Totem in Gnome. So when it comes to multimedia support by default I think Xfce do it a little bit better.
|Parole media player...|
Well, Xfce has an excellent one called Xfburn. It comes with reasonable amount of features + loads fast and does its job really well while I used it. LXDE does not have a CD/DVD burner of its own at the moment. So you'll have to install one separately.
*. Web Browsers:
Xfce's version is called Midori which is again quite fast and simple + uses lesser amount of system resources than other major browser such as Firefox, Google Chrome and Chromium.
LXDE does not have a one of its own, yet. So again, you'll have to install one separately.
*. Image Viewers:
Xfce has a pretty simple one called Ristretto and LXDE has one of its own called GPicView. They're both excellent, simple and low on your system resources.
Although both these desktop do come with a lot of other apps such as terminal emulators, etc and lets you configure a lot of settings such as panels, file manages, window managers, etc but in comparison Xfce at the moment feels more likely a completed desktop but that's because it has been there for some time now in comparison with the relatively new LXDE.
And Xfce has some additional features and apps and it's certainly faster than a lot of other desktops but if you want a desktop that closely resembles Xfce still slightly faster (just a little bit :D) Xfce, then LXDE is an excellent choice!.
But that being said, LXDE, I think has to do some interface cleaning. I mean, just right click on your panel in LXDE and in my experience it takes me few seconds to find the option that I was looking for.
|It's a bit "cluttered" don't you think?, perhaps it's those icons... (or maybe I'm just nuts!)...|
But that's doesn't mean Xfce is bad or anything. It may be slightly slower (very little!), but then again that's because it has some additional features than LXDE and once installed it has the ability to act as a "full" desktop thanks to a separate dedicated window manager and applications of their own, etc (other than not having an office suite at the moment). So I certainly don't know which is better when considering LXDE vs Xfce, I'll let you do the "deciding" ;-).
Get More From: LXDE Home page | Xfce Home page.
What do you think ?