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Could you give us a general idea of the hardware? (I coulnd't find the specs for the laptop in your sig). If you have a very old computer (pre-pentium) you could try running puppy linux, or damn small, or install a netBSD. as for apps, if it's not too old you can always install Xorg and a lightweight WM like fluxbox so you can have graphical stuff.
Did the author of the article even use KDE3 in the first place? Once you start to dig a little bit, most of the customization options from KDE3 are still there. The article mentions a very specific feature thet isn't used a lot as a scrapegoat for "kde4 is less efficient" ¬¬ About memory usage, some hard numbers: I run my KDE4 over an Arch Linux using the kdemod repos, and it takes ~200 MB on memory without opening fancy stuff. If I open kopete (IM), konversation (IRC), and ktorrent it still remains under 400MB, maybe under 300MB. GNOME and KDE have different designs, different "visions", so they're bound to be different and not be liked by the users of the other desktop. It's not about which one is "better", because that can't be measured. you can compare efficiency, or memory usage, o feature completeness, but "better" is ultimately something the each one decides form themselves.