You can imagine the disappointment that many Gnome fans experienced when Gnome decided not to be Gnome anymore, and Ubuntu decided to enter the desktop environment wars with the ironically named, "Unity", which has divided users into several opposing camps regarding desktop environments. Regardless of your pick, one thing was certain...Gnome was gone and wasn't coming back.
Or was it? From the instant that Gnome decided to become a cell-phone interface, and Ubuntu followed suit, some intrepid developers decided to save the Gnome we knew and loved, or at the very least, a Gnome-like interface. The result is two desktop environments that are very similar to Gnome 2: MATE and Cinnamon.
Cinnamon, tweaked to look like Gnome 2
The default Cinnamon, when running on Linux Mint, follows a Windows paradigm with a toolbar at the bottom and a "start" menu on the left. It can be configured with top and bottom menu bars, and offers an "Applications Places System" menu, just like classic Gnome. You have to configure it this way, but it can be done.
MATE, tweaked to look like Gnome 2
MATE looks almost exactly like Gnome 2, but again, on Mint, requires some changes to replicate the good ol' Gnome desktop. After some tweaking, it feels just like Ubuntu 10.04 or so, and works just like it too. The only difference I could see is that there's not a User menu on the top right that gives you IM, social media, and media player status like the old User menu on Ubuntu did. Not a deal breaker, though, as most other Gnome functions are duplicated rather faithfully.
So, which do you choose? If you want a desktop that replicates Gnome in look, feel, and function, and lots of configurability options, you'll want MATE. I tend to think of it as a "Gnome 2 Legacy" desktop. It seems to be a bit less buggy on my system, although your results may vary. Cinnamon, on the other hand, would be good for someone who would like to use a "Gnome 3 Classic" style desktop - meaning, a desktop that follows the Gnome 2 paradigm, but adds lots of cutting edge features, although you sacrifice some ability to customize (the only option in the Appearance dialog is to reset the wallpaper) You'll still feel like you're using the next, fancier version of the classic Gnome Desktop. And, I expect Cinnamon to be better in the next version.
The only bug I experienced with either was with Cinnamon. Every time I started Google Earth, I got a "phantom window", that opened in front of the tool bar at the top of the application. There was no "x" to close, and the window would not move or resize. The only way I found to fix it was to log out and log back in with MATE. As a result, I've stuck with MATE and it has worked well for me.
The beauty of Linux is that you can try either one. In Mint Linux, you can look for "mate-desktop-environment" or "cinnamon" in Synaptic, or open a terminal and type, "sudo apt-get install mate-desktop-environment" or "sudo apt-get install cinnamon". There are also ways to add either environment to an existing Ubuntu install, but those methods are more involved than I wish to go into here. Use your Google-Fu.
So, if you think that Gnome 3 and Unity are complete wastes of time, install Cinnamon or MATE and start tweaking. You'll be home in no time.