I've been using Gnome for a few years now. At the beginning there was Gnome 2, with its simplicity and lightness — even though lightness is only apparent, since Gnome is bloated with components and little daemons such as gvfs and the like. Then Gnome 3 came: the Gnome Shell. I tried Unity too, but I really preferred Gnome Shell to it because it allowed more customization and tweakability. And I was happy for a while.
Since the first day I installed Gnome Shell, it was quite slow on startup, much RAM was taken just by it being run, even if I have a good computer (4 GB RAM, 512 MB VRAM, i5 CPU). I didn't like the fact that something I was not using completely was sucking a relatively big portion of my computer memory.
Gnome 2 was not a viable option since it's not actively maintained any more — I know there are forks, but it's not the same.
So I started to seek for alternatives. Actually I did a very quick and superficial research, Xfce seemed to be a good compromise between lightweightness and number of features. It was a good alternative to Gnome 2: it has panels, a fully-capable file manager (integrated with gvfs too!), a settings application for the overall management of my desktop environment.
I'm used to Avant Window Navigator as my dock, so I left that on the bottom side of my desktop. I didn't need the activity screen, but I did need a good way of quickly starting applications and other stuff. I took Synapse for evaluation, it seems to do the job pretty well. I guess I'll stick to it for the moment.
There are indeed drawbacks by using an alternative desktop environment:
- Many Nautilus extensions (e.g. Dropbox, Sparkleshare) don't have their Thunar counterpart
- Evolution calendar applet is not as efficient as the Xfce one (I miss the international clock and weather even on Gnome Shell)
About the calendar applet: Xfce panel has support only for Gnome applets based on Bonobo (that is, very old ones), so it would be a problem to install it because I would have to use an old version of the applet; even if I was actually able to use a newer one, there are dependency issues because of some Gnome 2 libraries deprecated versions.
Other than that, I'm quite happy with Xfce and I guess it will be my desktop environment from now on — until something changes in the Gnome family.