When someone mentions desktop effects in Linux most people think of Compiz. If you use Gnome that is your only option. However Linux is all about choice. If you use KDE or Xfce you can have desktop effects without Compiz.
I’m not knocking Compiz here as without doubt it offers the widest variety of effects. Many people may not realise it is not the only option. I’ll give an overview of these other effects as found on Fedora 11. Some of the details may differ in other distros.
Xfce (I have 4.6.1) has some basic effects hidden under Window Manager Tweaks in the Preferences menu. The Compositor tab has some options for different levels of Transparency and Shadows. There aren’t any other effects, no wobbly windows or cubes. It works well on my old Radeon card with little effect on performance. Reducing the Opacity of inactive windows makes the active one easier to use. It may be the only choice on older computers which can’t handle Compiz.
KDE (4.2.4) has much more extensive options. Under System Settings select Desktop and you have the setup screen for KDE Desktop Effects. It appears to be trying to reproduce Compiz in KDE. It isn’t quite there but does a good job. In fact I find it a bit more stable then Compiz in the same environment. The earlier versions were a bit buggy but it is good now. One big advantage is it uses the standard Workspace switcher unlike Compiz. It has all the popular options like the Cube or Sphere, Wobbly windows and of course the standard stuff like shadows and transparency. While not as complete as Compiz and without some of the fine tuning although it gets closer with each update, it is a good choice if you use KDE 4.2 or higher.
So there are some alternatives to Compiz which have the advantage of being native to the Desktop manager. They are worth a look.