Now that I have X up and running on the new/old laptop, I have shifted gears slightly, and installed two of my own suggestions: Musca and e3. You can see Musca running in this screenshot, but e3 is not there; that’s because it really doesn’t look much more different than vim (the version I prefer, that is).
I do believe I may like Musca better than Awesome, or at least Awesome 2.3.4, and at least on this hardware. The memory usage is much smaller, which is a good thing.
But it also feels a lot more intuitive, even just from the default. I like that you move between windows with combinations of the modifier key and the arrows — that I find easier to manage than the j-and-k style that Awesome used. And for some strange reason I like the separation between the bracket for the application, and the application itself.
But probably another reason I like it is because I use screen so much, and movement between and around split screens in screen is completely un-intuitive. If screen allowed you to stretch and slide viewports like Musca does, I’d never use anything else.
If you decide to try it just to get a quick taste, dmenu isn’t really necessary, although it does make some things easier. I find I don’t use it so much, and Musca works just as simply for me without that additional application. There’s also a great tutorial here, and a quick reference page for commands here.
I don’t have a precise number for the memory footprint for Musca, but I see in some htop windows that it’s using about 3.3 percent of the available memory, which means about 400kb, if my calculations are correct.
e3, on the other hand, requires even less, and while it’s a darned good editor, I won’t be supplanting vim with it so long as word wrapping remains an issue. For normal editing, like configuaration files and whatnot, it’s fine, but I prefer vim’s wrapping setting if I can get it.
And vim isn’t so chunky that I can’t get things done with it. It opens quite quickly, although it’s being swapped from the drive most of the time.
In any case if you’re putting together a system that is so light and thin as to be transparent, I would highly recommend either of those. Between the two you’re talking about maybe 1 or 2Mb as system requirements, which means you’ll have gobs of space available for anything else you decide to install. Even if it only has 16Mb to start with. ;)