GNOME had little choice but to develop something that was radically different because it had been left behind by KDE which moved to a new version in January 2008. Not to say that the path taken by KDE ran smoothly.
When KDE released its groundbreaking version 4, there was a mighty outcry. This, in part, was because it was quite buggy, something to be expected in a .0 release. As time went by, KDE 4 stabilised and is now orders of magnitude better than GNOME.
GNOME learnt from this and was much more cautious in its approach to release day, even pushing back the launch to ensure that things, when they landed, would be more stable. What I saw and fiddled with yesterday works for the most part.
There are a few things which, in my opinion, GNOME could seriously reconsider. One is the use of NetworkManager to control networking - it didn't work for on either of the live CDs. The options button remained greyed out, making it impossible to configure a manual IP. But then, maybe I am a freak in that I do not use DHCP on my network.
Luckily, SUSE still has its wonderful configuration tool called YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool - it was there in 1999, the first time I installed the distribution) and it was child's play to use that to connect to the net. On Fedora, the native application for configuring a network, system-config-network, does not appear to function on the live CD provided by GNOME.
The other thing that the GNOME developers could start doing is being more inclusive and taking their users a bit more seriously. Not the carping critics who make their feelings known on blogs and the like, the ordinary users who ask for this and that, most of them reasonable requests. KDE is miles ahead in this department.
The last thing that one needs to mention is a simple touch - include a step in the shutdown so that one can remove the CD from the drive before the computer powers down. Ubuntu does this and it is a small thing but a very necessary one.
I wouldn't use GNOME but that's a matter of personal habits - I've been using GNU/Linux so long that I have my own favourite applications and I don't plan to switch from them, not as long as they let me be productive. That doesn't however mean that GNOME is a bad choice; it all depends on the individual.
GNU/Linux is a fringe operating system on the desktop; it will always be that way. You don't find as many people buying Mozart these days as they do Lady Gaga. But its quality means that it will endure as long as developers continue to scratch their own itches.