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The processor is a single core AMD Sempron 1.6 GHz. While it is a few years old, workspace switching under Ubuntu Lucid / Gnome to ANY workspace was always instant, even when a lot of apps were open.

Under Xubuntu Oneiric, switching to an empty workspace is instant, but switching to a workspace with 5 open applications takes 8 to 9 seconds. Compiz is not installed.

Since XFCE is said to be more light weight than Gnome, switching should be instant too, isn't it ? How can this be improved ?

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You might want to turn the compositor off - under Settings Manager / Window manager tweaks.

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