this post is mainly for people who want a fast stable usable desktop environment using GTK, which is easy to setup and maintain. the end result is very nice, but comes at a cost of extra (quite big) dependencies. so it's NOT that lightweight, if you're trying to save hdd space or RAM. i limited my choice to native-only applications, so things written in python or perl have been avoided.
i tried many things, and most of them are bullshit, or very crippled, so here's a
list of things to avoid, because they don't (or didn't) work
pcmanfm in any incarnation: can't mount flash drives (this probably can be resolved, but i was looking for simple-to-setup stuff), can't rearrange icons on desktop, some versions are completely broken, e.g. a folder created on desktop via right click menu doesn't show up without restart (pcmanfm-0.9.x), or desktop support simply cut (pcmanfm-mod)
spacefm: it's a fork of pcmanfm. works slightly better, can even mount flash drives, but still the desktop is a joke, and the FM design is weird, for example -- flash drives are not shown in the left pane, there's a special button which opens special panel with the list, and when an item is clicked - it opens a new tab. most pcmanfm issues apply too.
rox-filer: way too basic.
fbpanel: i wasn't able to even start it up, "/dev/mixer not found, quit"
lxpanel: quicklaunch is crippled - no drag'n'drop editing, no custom launchers. can be used if you don't need it
xfwm4: very slow window resize
pekwm: looks good, but default config is weird, and i failed to reconfigure it to fit my needs. configuration was text-file only at the moment when i last tried, maybe it's better now -- it's worth another try.
thunar: very crippled desktop, e.g. files and folders created via right click menu show up in random places instead of mouse position, also quite slow.
gnome-panel: was crippled too much after transition to gtk3/gnome3.
now, we can see the list of
things that work
update from 6.11.2012:
the big thing that is missing is support for launcher buttons which point to specific file pathes -- specifying the path manually doesn't work. i've been using this panel for some time after writing this post, but because of this problem i started looking for another alternative again, and switched to lxpanelx. read below.
xsettingsd: http://code.google.com/p/xsettingsd/ it's good to have. allows configuring fonts, default apps, etc, for the apps that use xsettings protocol (like google chrome).
update from 6.11.2012:
lxpanelx: i was not able to compile it when i originally wrote this post, but then i tried again recently.
it worked very well, but there were 2 quite annoying bugs. now they are both fixed in svn, and it works perfectly for all my needs. setting up is not very user friendly, lacks drag-n-drop, and custom launcher buttons feel like a dirty hack, but once it's setup -- it gets the job done. switched over to it from xfce4-panel.