I'm not here to answer the question of what LXDE is. Wikipedia has a very well-written article explaining what LXDE is. I'm also not here to hate on LXDE's functions and capabilities; it is a very nice and capable DE that's great for low-resource environments and environments where speed (and not overwhelming aesthetics) is paramount. What's been bugging me for a long time is that I've felt that LXDE doesn't really have its own identity.
Take WattOS. Its website says that it's a desktop made of Openbox and LXDE. Yet, Wikipedia says that Openbox is but a component (the window manager, in this case) of LXDE, and here the WattOS website elevates Openbox's status from a subset of LXDE to the equal of LXDE. What is LXDE now? Is it just the collection of LX-tools?
Now consider CrunchBang ("#!"). I've reviewed this distribution twice: once in its 9.04.01 incarnation and again in its version 10 (alpha 2). The website itself says that #! uses Openbox as the base desktop, but I've seen in a couple of forum posts that #! could qualify as an LXDE distribution. Furthermore, releases of #! 8.10.02 and prior used LXPanel (an LXDE panel tool) and Thunar (the Xfce file manager), while releases of #! 9.04 and after have used tint2 (a not-LXDE panel) and PCManFM (the LXDE default file manager). Why again is #! being called an LXDE distribution now?
So what exactly am I getting at here? I feel like the modularity of the LX-tools works against LXDE having a unified identity. When I think of GNOME, I have an intuitive sense of what's included — a GDM integrated with the GNOME theme, simpler GTK+ themes for the desktop and windows, Nautilus being the file manager and controlling the desktop, and Metacity or Compiz controlling the windows. Similarly, with KDE, I can picture a standard desktop made of the nice-looking Plasma desktop integrated tightly with Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi, windows managed by KWin, logins managed by KDM, and files managed by Dolphin. (UPDATE: As an anonymous reader points out, Nepomuk, Akonadi, and Strigi aren't so tightly integrated with KDE that they cannot be run outside of KDE. I stand corrected, but I still say that the way KDE integrates them gives KDE an identity that LXDE does not have.) But what is LXDE then? Sure, it uses Openbox as the window manager, but it faces the same problem Acura had with the Legend — the latter, a subset of the former, was overtaking the former in terms of brand name recognition. (Acura therefore renamed the Legend to the RL to ensure that Acura would be the dominant brand name; with that, sales tanked, but I digress.) Sure, it uses PCManFM, but some distributions use Thunar instead and still call the DE "LXDE". Sure, it uses LXPanel, but quite a few distributions use tint2 instead.
So what makes LXDE? On the one hand, its modularity allows for better customization and easier implementation of its tools in other DEs. This comes at a price, however, and that price is an identity as a unified DE.