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would a user interface that does not attempt to mimic Windows what would I use?
Try window maker http://www.windowmaker.info/
I have been using it in place of Gnome and Kde for long. The reason I moved to it was speed and I didn't need all those jingle bells that Gnome has to offer.
I've got a couple of lower specced boxes at home and have found LXDE works very well on them. I just did a standard Mepis 8 install on them (So they do run KDE 3 OKish...) and then did an aptitude install lxde.
Last edited by rich_c; 04-09-2010 at 11:47 PM.
Reason: Add further info.
It really does depend on your hardware. If you want a lightweight window manager rather than a full desktop environment, it doesn't get much lighter (or much uglier IMHO) than twm. I was pretty happy with icewm on my AMD K6-300 laptop (64MB RAM, 4GB HDD)
XFCE based Ubuntu called Xubuntu or Dream Linux using XFCE or LXDE based Ubuntu called Lubuntu are all light weight.
It also depends a lot on personal preference. I like XFCE but some hate it. So it has to do with a lot of personal choice as well. Even a full distribution like Debian with XFCE or LXDE should be fine just make sure you do not run services you do not need.