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I would consider that a good thing when your swap isn't being used. That usually means your RAM is doing the job quite nicely the way it should be. I have 128 MB of RAM in this machine I am using and my 100 MB swap is rarely touched ever.
Is there a lot of disc activity when linux is running? If the machine is pretty new with that amount of RAM it should be blasting fast? What processor do you have? If it is GUI that's running slow you might want to see if the X is giving you slow performance.
There's load of different window manager and desktop environments available. A very popular one seems to be BlackBox (or FluxBox, they're principally the same, but where BB is no longer in development, FB is). We shouldn't start a window-manager war here, though...there's already plenty of them around!