I think Ubuntu is a practical joke. After several years of progress, they were finally very very close to the mythical usable Linux desktop. And then they just started fucking with things seemingly at random. At the same time, the GNOME folks started making similarly erratic design decisions.
In response, the Linux Mint folks are making a new UI for GNOME 3 called Cinnamon with the goal of creating a more traditional desktop. They recently released version 1.2. I've been using it for a bit now, and some thoughts are below.