I agree with exploder - When I first came to linux (August of 2011) it was going through a lot of changes. I first tried Ubuntu 11.04 (with gnome 2 because I, being a noob, hadn't installed the drivers needed for unity). I liked Gnome 2 even though I had no sense in my mind of customization - I came from Windows where basically everybody has the same setup they had when the bought the computer (meaning in my mind, all Gnome 2 was was 2 bars, one on the top and one on the bottom). I finally installed the drivers, and I got unity. I thought it was okay too, although it was a little buggy and I sometimes couldn't find things (I had to go back to gnome every time I wanted to change a setting - the system menu was really helpful). I then learned about desktop environments and tried kde, lxde, xfce, and even gnome shell (which I somehow managed to install on Ubuntu 11.04 which was still based on Gnome/GTK 2). I thought they all were nice (Most of them had some bug, although it was more my fault than the DE's because I installed all of these on the same system). In the end, I decided I liked Gnome 2 best. I went to Mint 11 (after a very bad experience with Debian 6's installer). The point of this is that I came to linux just as Gnome Shell/Unity/All of those new DE's were coming out. My first impression of linux was just before all of the major distros (besides debian) moved to Gnome 3 or something else. And honestly, all of the distros that I tried (openSUSE, Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Mint) were kind of buggy (Ubuntu because of Unity, Mint because of Ubuntu, Debian because they don't support WPA2 in their installer - not a bug, but it still sucks, Fedora because of Gnome 3/Shell, and openSUSE was actually pretty good except I had some trouble learning it). The same could be said for the DEs - I won't list them, but they had some problems. I was, however content with Gnome 2/Mint, and I was convinced that Gnome 3 wouldn't be very good for me (because I was happy with Gnome 2).
Then came the Fall releases and there were many attempts to get away from (or change) Gnome 3. Mint had MGSE and MATE (which, at that point, were the seeds of an idea, but they were kind of like unity was with 11.04 - buggy and incomplete), Ubuntu had Unity which had matured a little, Fedora and OpenSUSE had Gnome Shell 3.2, and some distros had switched to xfce or kde. I think this was the worst (or close to worst) wave of linux releases in the past few years (I know I wasn't there for some, but I've used Mint 9/Ubuntu 10.04 and Mint 10/Ubuntu 10.10 and they are all solid releases). I think it was also a very important wave (along with the spring 2011 wave). It may have been bad and buggy, but it laid the groundwork for what we have now - all of these distros really started to take their directions. The Mint 13/Ubuntu 12.04/Fedora 17 wave has really defined and polished those directions - Mint is going with MATE and Cinnamon, Ubuntu with Unity, etc. When I was using all of these distros, I was really surprised how far they'd come from their previous releases.
Yeah, they have bugs and problems. And yeah, we could have kept on going with Gnome 2 and we would have been happy. But I think all of the distros and all of the DEs (including Xfce and KDE) have really become different and chosen their own paths - they have a philosophy (or something like that) now. They also are a heck of a lot less buggy than in 2011. I think the loss of Gnome 2 affected everybody a lot, but I think the distros are all the better for it (kind of like "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" - I know that's not true, but I think this did make the distros stronger). Hopefully we will continue to improve and Gnome won't set us back with Gnome 4.
As for interesting distros:
Linux Mint 14 - I know it hasn't come out yet, but I'm curious what the new features will be (now that we don't need to fix gnome).
Ubuntu 12.10 - Same as Linux Mint - they don't need to make unity usable anymore (just give it new features), and it seems like they're going to have interesting features (based on the articles I've read - I haven't used the betas yet)
SolusOS - Both SolusOS 1 and the testing releases of 2 are very interesting
openSUSE - openSUSE 12.2 just came out and I've heard its very good. I've always liked openSUSE, but I've never used it as my main distro because I seem to have this fear of venturing too far from debian/debian-based distros. I could never
Mageia - I think Mageia is a rising star in the linux world (especially for KDE distros). I've never used Mandriva/Mandrake, but it seems it used to be pretty popular, and I have a feeling that Mageia is kind of Mandrake/Mandriva reborn. It's also #2 on distrowatch, ahead of Ubuntu.
PCLinuxOS - I've never used it, but I'm very curious after exploder's strong recommendation.
Sabayon - Sabayon reminds me of mint. Mint was originally started to make linux easier (specifically, in the very beginning, to bring codecs to people) because Ubuntu wasn't user friendly enough. Sabayon takes Gentoo, which is definitely not a user friendly (or at least a new user friendly) distro, and makes it user friendly. It also is in its infancy-ish stages, and I think it could definitely grow.
Swift Linux - Swift Linux by itself isn't too special - it's LMDE (still on update pack 2) with icewm, light apps, etc (and it doesn't look very good). However, LMDE Xfce, while being pretty light, is meant to be a fully featured version, not a light version. If you have an old computer that you want to run mint on, it works really well. I update it to debian testing (which is fairly easy to do because it doesn't have any gnome/nautilus problems) and install Xfce (and other stuff) on it. This customization is my current distro (it is a little bit more complex than what I said, but that's the basics).
Edit: I fixed some grammar mistakes and clarified a few sentences
Last edited by cwwgateway
on Sun Sep 09, 2012 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Dell XPS 15 l502x - Debian Testing 64-bit NetInst Xfce, SolydX 64-bit Debian Testing, SolydK 64-bit SolydXK Testing
Old Gateway Pentium 4 Desktop - Arch Linux 64-bit Xfce and SolydX 32-bit Sid