GNOME2 is ok, when you want to have got at least a few shortcuts on the desktop ;) Compared to KDE it does not allow more than 1 command, KDE can execute something like: command1;command2 and so on in one shortcut without writing an extra script. Also I do not really like that F10 is used to show the menu by default, makes it harder to use mc in a terminal, my favorite terminal app for copy/move. mc is definitely more stable than nautilus or dolphin and easy to use. The new GNOME shell or Unity seems to be optimizied for noobs or tablet users compared to KDE 4 whic is much better. Well i still like KDE 3, but not so much that i would use Trinity by default. The problem with KDE 4 is that when a noob plays around he easyly manages to remove/modifiy toolbars as long as they are not locked but basically it does what it should do. I do not need any special effects, those where fun about 3 weeks when compiz was new, but nobody really needs wobbling windows and other animations. Animations are ok, when they dont take too much time, but thats no killer feature. When i read that a new effect was added as new feature i am sure that 90% or more users do not care at all. When you look at older releases of U then compiz was always enabled, but with so minimalistic features enabled that it was hard to see a difference. But at least it shows that a few effects are fully enough...
In this regard proprietary is mariginally better, at least you aren't told to STFU because you got it for free. The price tag at least gives you a little legitimacy when you dare to complain.
Really, though, wanting the old experience back is not that great. The old experience _was_ tried, and dried up, and kind of at a dead-end.
The problem that I and many others have with GNOME 3 is not even so much the big redesign, but just that the new design sucks. There's a bazillion things in GNOME 2 that drove me up a wall and I wished I had the time to just gut and replace to be less retarded, but at the end of the day, GNOME 2 never got in my way the way GNOME 3 does.
Just maintaining GNOME 2 is kinda worthless. Taking Fallback Mode components and continuing heavy development on them is more interesting, assuming you don't butt heads with the GNOME 3 designers trying to gut said components. Really, though, the old panel sucked (way over-configurable, confusing, and missing several really awesome features like a window list design that didn't come straight out of the 90s -- take a hint from Win7 or OS X at the very least), Metacity got left behind (no real compositor, and compositing is important for basic desktop apps to actually work in many cases these days), Nautilus is clunky and missing most useful features a good filemanager should have (by design, according to all the WONTFIX bug reports I filed, unfortunately), the Control Center was always ugly and missing a ton of options and hard to navigate, etc.
I don't think that this project is necessary. Fallback mode is more-or-less gnome-2, albeit with a few bits of horribleness. They should focus on fixing the horribleness rather than maintaining something that is obsolete.
I would say that my biggest complaint about gnome-shell is its unnecessary dependency on compositing. There is no reason for it. It doesn't actually *do* anything particularly special.
The nice thing about gnome-shell is that its entirely themable, so you really could make it look totally like gnome-2 while still being gnome-shell. The default theme is just death though, in my opinion. Its bad to make the user chase all over the whole screen several times to start a new program. Its bad to force the user into squinty-eyes mode to switch to buried windows. There doesn't seem to be any provision for multiple monitors! I.e., with gnome-panel, you can put panels on every monitor with a separate window list for each monitor. With gnome-shell, one of the two monitors basically becomes USELESS.
So.... ditch the compositing, make it so you can see what's actually running without having to jump through hoops, and make it so you don't have to chase several times across your monitors to do 1 simple thing.
Oh, and quite emulating apple with the settings menus. Every time I see that, I barf a little bit.
That said, Plasma can easily be configured to work the same as Gnome 2, while being technologicaly better. I'd say you need a 'whopping' 2 months to hack and slash KDE4 into a Gnome 2-panel desktop, but with way better technology. In fact: the very purpose of Plasma was to be a canvas for desktops. I don't mean changing panel behavior; I mean creating new ones. Then strip away various options related to KDE4 and you have Gnome 2 classic. Because what exactly is Gnome 2? A couple of menu's, panels and tiny config widgets. That's pretty much it...
And FYI: similar reason to something I mentioned in my previous post... I don't want to make gnome-shell look like gnome-panel (even if it can be done) because it depends on mutter (compositing bloat nonsense). I don't want that compositing.