On Slashdot they have a story about the fall of the Gnome desktop, the team is losing members and the other desktops such as KDE and Cinnamon are taking over. Just as the Unity desktop is the death of the Ubuntu distribution, the Gnome 3 desktop will be the straw that breaks the camels back for the formerly strong Gnome team. I am typing this on Linux Mint 13 using the Cinnamon desktop, I had problems getting those desktops to load, but I created a new user with a fresh /home folder and the Cinnamon desktop works perfectly. Cinnamon is a rewrite of the Gnome Shell desktop code that creates a lovely Windows styled desktop for Linux Mint. It is a fast and usable desktop environment that has some awesome themes available and although it still has the hotspot at the top of the screen for switching desktops like Gnome Shell, it is not as annoying as the Gnome Shell example. Compiz with KDE 4.8.3 is another good desktop alternative, it is more friendly for new users to Linux who have formerly used Windows than the Unity desktop. But Cinnamon is also a good choice. The desktop is extremely configurable as well.
That is important if you wish to configure the layout of the desktop for a specific purpose. Unity does not allow much configuration of the desktop, the dock can not be placed on the bottom of the screen like the Macintosh OSX operating system. The Cinnamon settings window allows much configuration of your desktop, for example you may switch off desktop icons by clicking the Desktop icon, and unticking the “Have file manager handle the desktop” option. And the Applets option allows you to choose which panel applets are running. And the ability to configure the Hot corner to suit the particular user`s preference. At least the MATE desktop for Linux Mint is bringing back the usability of the Gnome 2.32.2 desktop. With Compiz it is very fast and usable. So if you are trying to find a good Linux distribution to install, choose Linux Mint 13.