Yes, XFCE is indeed a grand desktop environment - I almost prefer it to Gnome 2 - but recent builds of Xubuntu LTS are now *just* a bit too heavy for some of our ancient hardware - and the E17 WM under Bodhi just works on the same machines. Any suggestions for XFCE on a lighter distro? Be interested in that.
The lowest spec machine we use regularly is a $10,000 (new UK price equivalent) 2001~2 Itronix GoBook
ruggedised laptop that is ideal for outdoor use with a solid aluminium exterior, waterproof keyboard, sealed CD drive port & PCI card port with rubber plugs for all other orifices. We paid some $50 each around 2~3 years back, and bought a crate of them for the grand-kids to play with - after we'd wiped Win2K and installed Linux.
None of them have been broken yet! But the batteries are failing one by one, and it's hard to reload the sealed plastic battery cases successfully.
The CPUs are usually Pentium P3-700s or Celeron 850s, but this is from the days when Intel used a clock/2 divider, so in modern terms they clock x86 instructions at 350 or 425 MHz. eg: v e r y - v e r y - s l o w - i n d e e d
RAM is 128MB typically, and another stick will raise this to 256MB maximum - I cannot find an upgraded BIOS for them. Ahh well... Bodhi/E17 works just fine in either 128 or 256, although 128 will restrict the number of open browser tabs you can use. XFCE/Xubuntu 10.04 would -just-
work in 256MB. Earlier releases were more compact.
They come with a touchscreen, some have a mobile 'phone/modem card, and a standard SIM will get these on the air. No WiFi, but we use a USB dongle.
XFCE was a favourite for a while, but Xubuntu seems to have grown heavier with age. Not as much as I have, though!
Bodhi was the first to get the touchscreen working properly, which was a gas! But I prefer a trackball and keyboard for a GUI, myself. (ymmv)
We have some other P3 desktop boxen that usually chunter away as servers - but we had one on loan to neighbours for a year as a web surfing machine. That had Lubuntu's LXDE on it, which was nice, just enough lighter than Xubuntu to run a bit better in 256MB, but Lubuntu is still not on the LTS program, so it tried to upgrade itself to Nasty Narwhal with tragic results. Installed LXDE/Lubuntu on a P3 with 512MB that belonged for another neighbour, worked well.
At the top end of our puny PCs is this AMD 240 box with nVidia 9800 graphics, 4GB RAM 1.5GB HDD and a 24" Acer screen - all for $500 off eBay AU a couple of years ago. Got to watch the pennies these days!
Even this fairly fat box benefits from E17 vs Gnome 2 or XFCE - it just responds a bit more snappily than under Ubuntu (Gnome 2) or Xubuntu (XFCE4) (both on different partitions) and uses less RAM. It also works far better for us than Unity. Still, there's always XFCE, and we like Xubuntu - but Bodhi's E17 is snappier and uses less RAM.
In the middle there is a slew of stuff, an old P4 box that now runs JWM/Rox in Puppy Linux, an AMD Sempron with everything from SuSE/Gnome2 to U/Xubuntu on its many partitions, a couple of Acer REVOs, one with Xubuntu, the other with Bodhi, a $190 eMachines (Acer brand) ER1401 with the new AMD K325 Atom-killer dual core in it running Bodhi really
well with help from the nVidia graphics. A couple of Celeron Laptops - the AU$389 Acer 4315 that we bought new years ago, and a free-from-a-friend Compaq C300 Celeron 1.5 that is old enough to be well made and boast 740MB RAM.
Both run Bodhi, but the Compaq still has Win XP (in case the friend needs something from it) and Mint Fluxbox CE - hand-massaged to my liking a couple of years back. The 4315 has a slew of stuff on its (replacement) 500GB HDD - Ubuntu Netbook, LMDE Gnome 2 (which is fast, but a bit crashy) and occasional guest OSes.
I nearly forgot, our newest 'PC', bought new this year is a Genesi Efika MX
($130) with single-core ARM at 800MHz. Believe it or not, this drives our 32" TV in the living room with 720p HD and surfs the web with the best of them using the ARM version of Bodhi. I love teasing the occasional visitor with 'find the PC' after bringing up our gorgeous desktop and doing some of the slippery sliding between virtual screens.
This configuration was only just usable with the hand-massaged Ubuntu Maverick ARM with Gnome 2 published by Genesi - changing to E17 via Bodhi was an eye-opener.
So there can be real advantages in changing from a DE to a WM, in some situations.
The Desktop Environment or Window Manager or other software confabulation that sits on top of a *nix base can play a very large part in the weight of software felt by the system underneath. But the underlying OS itself also needs to be lean if a lean DE or WM is to succeed in its objectives.
Long may the search for the ultimate combination proceed!