That is a very broad question, so let me try to whittle it down a bit. If you're coming to Linux for the first time from Windows or Mac, you're not familiar with the very concept of having different desktops to choose from! The only thing I ever really changed on my Windows desktop was wallpaper and themes. But in Linux, you can choose different window managers and desktop environments.
The two are different things. The window manager controls how the desktop windows are "drawn" by your computer. When we refer to windows in Linux, we don't mean that other operating system by Microsoft, we mean the little boxes that contain the graphics for whatever application you launch. Microsoft did a clever thing by calling their OS "Windows." It sort of suggests that they invented the little things. But in fact, long before there was the Windows operating system, there were windows with borders to separate running applications. Unix and DOS both had windows.
In Linux you can choose between window managers like Icewm, Openbox, Fluxbox, and Xfwm. Openbox is a big favorite because it has a nice "right-click anywhere on the desktop" feature that brings up a whole menu from which you can launch applications, open a terminal, etc. You can even have wallpaper. Many folks with older low-powered machines use only a window manager and no desktop environment at all. Without the extra visual "eye candy" and decorations, computers running only a window manager run very fast! Fluxbox is considered a little less "newbie friendly" than Openbox, but "Mintified," I'm sure that isn't the case with our Fluxbox edition. Google the term "Linux window managers screenshots" to see what can be done with just a bare-bones window manager!
A desktop environment on the other hand includes a window manager but also includes stuff like panels, applets, and applications that are designed to work best in that particular desktop environment. Among desktop environments are KDE, Gnome, Xfce, Enlightenment, and LXDE. Each has it's own special features and applications. The "heavyweight" desktop environments (KDE and Gnome) have all sorts of wonderful features like "plasmoids" and the famous "spinning cube." They're more demanding on resources, but on computers 2 years old or newer, they run plenty fast. Xfce is kinda sorta like "Gnome Lite," if you will. It "feels like" Gnome but offers fewer of the extra fancy features and is designed to work better on modest hardware. LXDE is a very "lightweight" desktop environment - so light in fact that it has been "accused" of being a window manager instead of a full-fledged desktop environment.
este.el.paz wrote:I've played around with the GNOME session in MintPPC and it seems a bit more "Mac-like" in the layout than LXDE, so I was leaning to GNOME, but then since it didn't just load up I've had time to re-think it and give some thought to XFCE--what would be the major differences between the two DE's??
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