The poignant post Staring Into The Abyss by the Gtk+3 maintainer Benjamin Otte is a pretty stark admission that Gnome3 is rudderless and in danger of failure or irrelevancy. When asked why he wouldn't be attending the Gnome conference Guadec in a previous post, he replied:
Because a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica is the wrong place to speak out as an Atheist.
I wrote a comment about this post on Reddit which I won't reproduce here. After trying out Linux Mint 13's Cinnamon and MATE distributions, I decided to go and look into whether or not I could contribute some alternatives to the Gnome3 defaults which would make life easier for Gnome2 exiles and perhaps get incorporated into distributions like Mint.
The first thing I did was Google for a Gnome3 Control Center API, only to find a mailing list entry saying that this was present in a deprecated fashion in 3.0 and would be removed in 3.2. In a typical display of hubris and arrogance, the maintainer remarked:
The "System Settings" isn't a random dumping ground for preferences. If we (we being the designers, and then the maintainers, in that order) don't think that the setting belongs in the System Settings, then it won't go in there.
Of course, the designers and the maintainers of the Gnome team actually have no say whatsoever in what goes into any panel in Gnome; since Gnome is a dense nest of 130+ packages, most users who use it will get it from a distribution, who will certainly feel free to modify the Control Center if it doesn't meet their needs. This kind of obstinate stance raises the effort bar for integration and leads to a worse desktop experience. It is absolutely nothing new to Gnome developers.
Way back in Gnome 2.6, Gnome developers changed the default behavior of the file browser from a single browsing window to a spatial mode. Reversable in Gconf, a configuration system editable only by hand or via an obtuse windows-registry like editor, this decision drew the ire of most Gnome users, and was turned off by default by many popular distributions years before the decision to make it default was finally reversed in 2.29.
The Gnome developers continue to develop their platform for an imagined demographic. Pushback from concerned users seems to strengthen their resolve to remove or alter the features they clamor for. When Adam Dingle sent an email to the list concerned about the removal of compact mode from Nautilus, the only acceptable mode for dealing with files that have realistic names, the Gnome UX guru made a hand wavy (and false) statement about the physiology of the human hand, implicitly presuming most users clicked a scrollbar to scroll (a scrollbar that has been shrunken dramatically in recent releases, one that has had its arrow controls removed), and dogmatically dismissed any feature which might result in horizontal scroll outright.
In the original thread about the feature removal, the ultimate reason for its removal was revealed: there was broken behavior when placing labels "beside icons" in the compact view. Although the ticket wrongly states that there's little difference between compact and text beside icons, a reply to the original thread wryly states:
Don't worry about it, the text beside icons bug was fixed by removing the offending feature too.
The astonishing part about this is that labels beside icons was considered a more important feature than two views in the file manager.
The problem isn't so much that Gnome isn't interested in making a desktop environment for me. They've been targeting what I consider to be a mostly hypothetical user base for years. The difference is that, as a platform, it was always easy or possible for the packagers, distributions, or even users to restore the behavior we were accustomed to. Spatial nautilus? Arbitrarily moving window buttons to the left? Neutering configuration applets in the Control center? These were fixable either through Gconf or by hooking a replacement into an API.
But despite its many packages, the new vision of Gnome seems to be non-cooperative and monolithic. Complex and mature pieces of software are duplicated within the Gnome project for political/release maintenance reasons, and then the superior third party software is locked out of integrating as seamlessly. If your application hasn't been vetted by our designers or our maintainers, well then you can sit on it and spin. Want to add font control to the control center? Fork the control center. The modern equivalent of the spacial nautilus decision seems like it would be to remove all modes aside from spatial.