Another Ubuntu "Community" distribution, Xubuntu is basically the main Ubuntu distribution with an Xfce desktop. This makes it somewhat smaller and lighter than the standard Ubuntu Gnome distribution. I particularly like it for netbooks and sub-notebooks.
The basic desktop will actually look familiar to Gnome users:
It has top and bottom Panels, standard menus for Applications and Places, and various other familiar features. Starting an application, such as Firefox, looks like this:
Once again, those who are not thrilled with Ubuntu's moving the window controls to the left side of the title bar will be pleased to see that Xubuntu still has them at the right.
The desktop at this point still bothers me, because of the large amount of "wasted" space in the empty areas of the top and bottom Panels. There are several things that can be done about this, all of which are controlled by right-clicking on a panel (any panel will do, the control window will then let you select which panel you want to adjust). First, you can change the Panel from "Full Width" to "Normal Width", so it will only be wide enough for whatever actual contents it has. You can also activate "Auto Hide", so the panels will disappear from the edge of the screen, and then pop-out when the mouse moves to that edge. Those two changes give you back a lot of precious screen area on small-display systems.
I go one step further on my own systems, however. There are two general principles that I try to balance. First, on most netbooks there is more screen space in the horizontal than the vertical direction, so why not place the panels at the sides of the screen, rather than the top and bottom? Second, though, there are certain items on the panel which either must have test associated with them, or which clearly look better and are more understandable with text. So I compromise by moving the top Panel to the right edge of the screen, and then placing most of the non-text items on that panel. That means Launchers, network and battery notifiers, clock (changed to analog display), Workspace Selector and Shut Down control are all there. On the bottom panel I have the menus and task list, and I also choose to leave the "show desktop" icon there. The result is a desktop that looks like this:
Of course, I also leave Auto-Hide activated on both Panels, so they are still out of the way when not actually in use. It is easy to add more Launchers to the right Panel for frequently used applications and utilities, and before long you find that you have a really clean, fast, useful desktop - or at least I do.