Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
GNOME 2 is the Linux desktop environment that refuses to die. Three years after its last release, GNOME 2—or, to be precise, its successors—are collectively as popular as uncustomized GNOME 3. This persistent popularity is both a measure of the initial user dissatisfaction with the GNOME 3 release series and a triumph of branding. Initially, dissatisfaction with GNOME 3.0 caused many users to turn to Xfce. A long-time distant third to GNOME and KDE, Xfce closely resembles GNOME 2 but is generally lighter and faster.
Observers might puzzle over this choice. After all, GNOME 2 was a decent enough desktop in its day, but no more so than KDE 3, which survives in a little-used desktop known as TDE. Yet its reputation today is probably stronger than when it was still being developed.
But the GNOME brand remains a strong one, and there is no refuting success. Today, those who want the GNOME 2 experience can choose between Linux Mint's Cinnamon, which reconstructs GNOME 2 on top of GNOME 3; Mate, Linux Mint's fork of GNOME 2; or a selection of GNOME Shell extensions, possibly starting with GNOME Classic.
However, none of these alternatives is a clone of GNOME 2, and choosing one is very much a case of understanding what you require and what you can do without. If you are looking for a GNOME 2 replacement, you should consider carefully how each fits into your circumstances and preferences.