I still can’t run Gnome3 well because it requires 3d accelerated graphics, which my graphics cards don’t support very well, and fall-back mode remains a laughable joke. Canonical made a 2D version of their Unity desktop which I haven’t tried because I’m not particularly interested, but they at least took care of the first and foremost complaint I had about the new generation of desktop environments, being the prerequisite for 3d acceleration.
I would argue that the most interesting things that have happened are the forks, especially centered around the Linux Mint distribution and developers. Specifically, I’m talking about Cinnamon and Mate, forks of Gnome3 and Gnome2 respectively. They are supposedly gaining considerable following and are being used outside of Linux Mint in the spirit of open source.
Another interesting development is the sudden appearance and rapid development of a brand new desktop called RazorQT. I am very interested in RazorQT because it is centered around the QT toolkit but isn’t bound to the enormous load of software dependencies tied to KDE. That said, it’s a very young project still and needs a bit more time to develop into a mature and polished product. Some of the configuration settings are a little inconsistent and in many cases just not there. It’s comparable to LXDE in many ways due to it’s focus on being modular and lightweight. I’m looking forward to seeing some distributions take up the mantle of RazorQT and creating a nice default set of QT packages without using all the heavy KDE software.
KDE continues pushing forward and has made more progress in ironing out bugs, but it remains a rather heavy-weight desktop. I’ve realized that this is in part because of the tight software integration they’ve achieved. Some will see that as a benefit, but for those who opt to not use the entire software suite it’s a waste, especially on older hardware. That said, KDE can be trimmed down to the essentials, I just don’t see the point when there are better lightweight desktop environments out there like XFCE, LXDE, Openbox, and now RazorQT.
For those interested in other, more off-beat desktop environments and window managers I recommend having a look at this forum thread, entitled 30 Window Managers in 30 Days.
I still primarily use Openbox, on top of which I use the tint2 panel and gmrun. You can see an example of this setup in my flickr screenshots, like this one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_mrwizard/6942708285/