The last few weeks I've been shopping for a new Linux Desktop environment. I never do this voluntarily, but my distro, Debian testing (Wheezy) has upgraded to Gnome 3, and the transition has not been smooth. On my desktop machine, Gnome 3 hangs at shutdown (and sometimes at start-up), and the Gnome display manager, gdm3, doesn't work well on my laptop.
I've been using Gnome because at the end of 2009, updates to KDE 4.4 messed up, along with Xorg, probably due to a poor fit between my video chip and the open source driver. I used Kubuntu for a while, but eventually had so many problems that I reformatted my hard drive and installed Debian testing, complete with the default Gnome desktop. I had preferred KDE, particularly for Digikam, the photo management program par excellence, but it was just too much work to keep the KDE eye-candy functioning, and it was easy enough to install "Digikam + dependencies." This produced an unattractive redundancy of libraries, but there's plenty of room on the old hard drive, so what the heck.
Anyway, word on the Web has been that Linus himself has switched to Xfce because Gnome 3 and KDE 4 feature too much "crazy crap," so, even before Gnome 3 hit Debian testing, I installed Xfce on the desktop machine and the laptop, and tried it out. Xfce seemed fine, but I also auditioned some of the window managers, and revisited icewm, which I previously have run happily on pokey old hardware.
When the Gnome3 update finally happened, I discovered that the new Gnome display manager caused all sorts of problems, especially on my laptop, which is also used by a (reluctant) Linux novice. (The Mac mini he used to use bit the dirt a few months back.) I needed an easy-to-understand log-in screen, and the KDE display manager fit the bill best.
What with all the KDE stuff I was using, I gave the KDE 4.6 environment a whirl, and all the compositing features that used to mess up my desktop machine now work perfectly. They also work fine on the laptop. Most of the fancy "plasmoids" and "Activities" seem useless to me so far, but I can ignore them easily enough.
If I were a real, nuts and bolts Linux gal, I'd select a window manager like icewm or sawfish, edit my .conf files to get exactly the user experience I want, and never be bothered by all these fancy-schmancy desktop environments. My ideal user experience would resemble the 1998-era Sun Workstation I used so happily at The Institute. A few terminal windows, Xclock, an Emacs window, and a browser--I'm in business. Too bad I have this yen for shiny visual effects and big chunks of software that install themselves and never make me figure out where the .conf files are. Shallow and lazy--that's me.