It was a bumpy ride. Unity, Gnome 2, LXDE and KDE. I tried almost all the popular environments (except XFCE, of which I had heard a lot of bad things).
KDE is perhaps the most attractive of these, but, sadly, it’s too heavy for a netbook. LXDE is light-weight indeed, but I had trouble running several applications with it. For example I couldn’t get gPodder to work no matter how hard I tried, and ibus was buggy.
I was going to test run Gnome 3 but @kau_mad said otherwise, so gave up. Which left me with two options: Unity and Gnome 2.
Unity was originally intended for netbooks. (This was the default environment in Ubuntu Netbook Remix, remember?) Stuff like global menu bars were made with small screens in mind. Unity works, but I found it a bit too sluggish. The solution? Unity-2D.
Unity-2D is a clone of Unity intended for low power computers like netbooks. While Unity has been written with GTK, Unity-2D uses the QT toolkit. It doesn’t require GPU acceleration , something which netbooks and other low-end machines can’t provide.
To install Unity-2D in Ubuntu 11.04, all you have to do is to install the package “unity-2d-default-settings” from the Software Center. Log out and choose Unity-2D as the desktop environment. The interface is quite similar to Unity, but it may not be as slick as Unity is. For example you won’t get those lovely fading effects. However it’s able to provide you with the maximum possible Unity experience.