I wanted a new distribution that sported a nice Gnome desktop, but without the many additional programs that come installed by default in a standard Ubuntu installation. I thought about giving Debian unstable a go, but I never really got to do it. I spent quite a few days scouting distrowatch for a nice distro. I tried Pardus, a nice Turkish distribution, and it was everything I wanted, except that it used KDE, which was not bad, but I couldn't get acquainted with it.
So, the distro had to be debian based, I'm really fond of apt and the whole package management system, it was a must. What did I do in the end? I re-installed Ubuntu, but I didn't go the usual way. I got a minimal install CD. The main difference between this install disc and the standard one is that it gives you a little bit more control, and it downloads all the packages it needs instead of pulling them from the disc. The image is just 34 MB large, so its a nice alternative for us who like the latest packages from the get go and have a broadband internet connection.
So, I did a "server" install with this minimal CD. This doesn't install LAMP applications as you might think, it justs installs a base system that you can build upon. This, of course, means no fancy graphics or anything, just the necessary to boot and drop you to a terminal screen.
But, I did want a nice Gnome desktop with just the applications that I wanted. So, after getting the base system installed I installed the following packages with aptitude:
sudo aptitude install x-window-system-core gnome-core gdm gnome-media gnome-system-monitor gnome-system-tools gnome-volume-manager gnome-utils gnome-app-install gnome-screensaver synaptic firefox usplash usplash-theme-ubuntu ubuntu-artwork
That got me a very nice and lightweight Gnome desktop with just the essentials that used about 1GB of hard drive space. I installed usplash and usplash-theme-ubuntu to prevent some rather nasty GDM errors from happening. ubuntu-artwork is entirely optional.
As you can see, creating your own flavor of Ubuntu is very simple and has many advantages. You have only the programs that you want, it boots faster and its less bloated. And what's more, you don't depend on those nasty metapackages like ubuntu-desktop. The steps mentioned here is all you have to do to get a lightweight and functional system. I hope this is useful to you or someone out there, cheers!