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You jumped too early. It's a pretty cool time in alternative DEs and WMs, since a lot of what you used to need GNOME or KDE for is being re-implemented in code that doesn't need 400MB of dependencies. Some good examples are udisks for easier mounting, ConsoleKit for multiseat support, cpufreqd and cpufrequtils for power management,and wicd and its two UIs (ncurses and Gtk) for easier network management. Lash those together with a good window manager like Window Maker, Fluxbox, or Awesome, and you have a pretty complete desktop environment without all the cruft. Three years ago I used to lament the fact that I had to use GNOME to get more than 90 minutes of battery life on a laptop capable of twice that. Now I can get my charge's worth without even running startx if I'm feeling extra-nerdy.