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A DE is a composition of a WM and some other tools that are considered to be useful for everyday work, like file-managers, text editors, calculators and tools for setting up the DE.
For example, KDE comes with KWin as WM, Unity with Compiz, Gnome Shell with Mutter, XFCE with xfwm and LXDE uses Openbox.
Most (if not all) of those WMs can be run standalone.
This effort in assembling a DE is to give the user a complete and consistent feeling. Of course you can do that yourself, like may other Linux users do, and assemble your "own DE", just use the WM of your choice and add the programs/tools that you consider to be useful for your DE.
Most pure WMs are aimed at low resource usage and good performance, so most of those WMs don't come with fancy effects. Besides Compiz, xfwm can do basic compositing, KWin has some effects, I don't know about Mutter, but would consider that it has some effects, too. IIRC, Enlightenment can also do some nice things.
All other WMs don't have effects, for some WMs, like the tiling WMs, it wouldn't even make sense to implement effects.
Distribution: Mint 17.2 MATE 64bit and 17.1, 32bit, TAILS, Mint 17.3, Android, Windows 7
I have two main computers, a desktop with a dual core, and 3 GB ram, 500 GB HDD. I also have a 10 inch laptop, newer, with a dual core, 500 mg ram, and 180 gb HDD.
I liked Compiz on the desktop and on my old Pentium 4 laptop.
I am interested in configuring compiz in MATE that I have downloaded but have not tried. And that would be on my 10 inch which is not so hefty. I tried the in built desktop effects, I know now, they are not compiz, and want to try configuring it somehow.
But I am interested in Xfce and why it rates so well, just after KDE in 2011.
XFCE is almost the same "weight" now as classic Gnome, so it's really a matter of preference. Classic Gnome or MATE runs fine even on older computers. There's too much debate going on over "lightweight" desktops, in my opinion. How many truly "lightweight" computers are there anymore, really?
There's too much debate going on over "lightweight" desktops, in my opinion. How many truly "lightweight" computers are there anymore, really?
If you shift your look away from the first world there are many computers that have to run with lightweight DEs. We in the richer countries often forget that you can't get cheap and powerful new computers all over the world.
But there are also those people that prefer function and performance over look. That is why not only the lightweight desktops exist, but also the whole bunch of window managers. I, for example, prefer the i3 window manager over everything else on any of my my machines, regardless if it is my netbook (10" display, single core Atom N270, 2GB RAM) or my workstation (27" display, AMD Phenom II X6, 16GB RAM)