The old UNIX CDE desktop is a very interesting and useful desktop environment. The modern desktop environments such as Gnome 3, Unity and the KDE 4 desktops are focused more on eye candy instead of actual fast and usable window management that the older window managers offered. This is a commercial desktop environment that was formerly available on the SUN Solaris UNIX distribution. There is a theme for the fvwm-themes package that emulates the CDE desktop environment very well, since this venerable window manager is under a commercial license and would not be available for Linux these days. It uses the dtwm window manager to draw the window borders and this is available for Debian as part of the OpenCDE packages. http://devio.us/~kpedersen/forums/viewtopic.php?id=1217 This will be interesting if you wish to have a retro UNIX styled desktop. With the possible move away from the old but stable Xorg to the new Wayland OpenGL system, the Linux desktop will be undergoing a significant change in the future. I hope that it can retain some stability and not lose the famous hardware support that Linux is famous for.
With the recent creation of the OpenCDE desktop environment, this desktop environment can live again in the modern age, with the proprietary icons removed, although new ones can be made. The xwm window manager is considered to be the first ever window manager for UNIX systems, it dates from 1985, so even predates the Xfree86 system. The twm window manager is the first ever ICCM compliant window manager to be written and now is still included with all sensible Linux distributions since the beginning of Xfree86, which is now Xorg. Another window manager that has been around for a while is the sawfish window manager, this was used in the old Gnome 1.0 desktop environment. The Sawfish window manager is perfect when used with the Gnome desktop environment, it does not really provide much in the way of features desktop wise, but can be configured easily by coding in the LISP programming language. Most of the old window managers that have been around since the very early days of Linux are still around today and are available for the modern Ubuntu and Fedora distributions. The aforementioned twm window manager is extremely fast and usable, not to forget it may be themed by modifying the ~/.twmrc in your home directory.
The old Enlightened window manager 0.16 is another one that has the most eye candy in a fast and very attractive window manager for X11. The Enlightenment E16 alien theme was quite creative, with the HR Giger styled window borders. Nowadays Canonical are famously moving the Ubuntu Linux distribution to the tablet and mobile telephone platform and ignoring the desktop. At least the Linux Mint distribution has kept the MATE fork of the Gnome 2.32.0 desktop environment that has kept the same desktop design for a very long time. I remember building the Gnome 2.10 desktop from source on an old Zenwalk installation with kernel 2.6.12 a long time ago. That Linux distribution was awesome, it came with a Xfce desktop, but I wanted the Gnome desktop installed, so I installed it from a whole bunch of source tar-balls I had to hand. Then I had a very nice and usable Gnome installation that was just what I wanted. The Wayland Xorg replacement has to work just as well or better than the Xorg and the previous Xfree86 system did in the past. Xorg has very good hardware support and the need to edit the Xfree86.conf with vi to set up your particular hardware. Now most things are automatically configured and there is no need to do things manually anymore.
But do we need to dump Xorg and take up something else instead? Why not fix up what you have at the moment? Linux needs to have better performance on the desktop and things need to “just work”tm to make it more popular on more desktops. Especially in the mainstream. This article on benchmark-reviews.com is comparing the performance of Ubuntu to the Windows 7 operating system. http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9995&Itemid=99999999 But comparing the boot-time is not the same as comparing how fast and usable the desktop is. The Unity desktop on Ubuntu 12.04 is slower and clunkier than the Windows 7 aero desktop, but the KDE 4.8.0 desktop and Xfce 4 are as fast as Windows 7 and faster respectively. it does not matter if your computer is a little slow to boot if you use the suspend mode on Linux. You may use this with any Linux distribution by typing sudo pm-suspend and the machine will go to sleep.