Cairo dock not only offers plenty of widgets and controls to get things exactly how you want them, it mirrors the kind of experience that many Linux enthusiasts prefer in the first place. It provides an experience where you can “get your hands dirty,” setting things up to meet your own desktop preferences. I've found it to be a very powerful tool.
Docks/Launchers vs. another desktop environment
For many users, the easiest approach might simply be to look for another desktop environment. After all, if you'd rather use something else besides Gnome/Unity, why put yourself through the extra hassle of trying to make it conform to your whims and desires!
But in the end, balancing functionality with appearance is a decision each of us has to wrestle with. I submit to each of you that merely switching to another desktop environment is really nothing more than throwing in the towel. Think about it. If you're already content with an existing Gnome experience, why allow something like Unity to drive you away?
The real challenge is making the desktop experience something that's unique to each of us. I've found that we can begin the personalization process with themes. This of course includes icons, wallpapers and other minor changes to the desktop.
However, without doing away with the default desktop environment provided by Gnome, KDE, etc., we're limiting ourselves by simply running away from one default user experience to another. Switching desktop environments isn't a failsafe solution to those yearning to create their own ultimate desktop experience.
Through careful thought and planning, I've crafted a desktop Linux experience that reflects the way I'd like to use my computer. By using a carefully selected application launcher and a highly customized dock, I've found that my desktop layout is one I wouldn't want to give up on easily.
Sadly, however, it seems that future releases of my go-to desktop distribution are not going to make this kind of customization as simple as it once was.
Ubuntu's no longer the ultimate desktop
Recently, I dropped Ubuntu and switched to Linux Mint as a compatible alternative. I did this not in protest or because Linux Mint offers a vastly different experience. Actually I've found that Linux Mint offers me a proxy to Ubuntu's huge software repositories without the Ubuntu related hassles. < P> Let's face it, Ubuntu deb packages are everywhere these days and this is a huge time saver for users.
The really neat part is that I can still run the cutting-edge software I enjoy, but I can do so without ever needing to worry about losing my existing user experience. The developers behind the Linux Mint project have made it expressly clear that they will continue the same experience using Gnome, without relying on the Gnome Shell.
Linux Mint also offers Ubuntu users some great time-saving utilities not found in Ubuntu by default. The Linux Mint menu is fantastic to use. Plus my Awn dock(s) bundled with the Synapse Launcher frees me from both Unity and those tired old Gnome panels. Another advantage to using Linux Mint is avoiding the nightmare that'll be the Ubuntu switch from X to Wayland.
Don't get me wrong, Wayland sounds incredibly promising, but if fighting with Unity has taught me anything, I'm done playing Ubuntu's guinea pig.
There will be big issues as NVIDIA isn't going to be supporting Wayland. They may not have shown their face just yet, but I promise you that video card issues will be plenty as Wayland is still finding its land legs.
My switch to Linux Mint isn't absolute. In the past I've been very happy with other distributions like Fedora and will be spending some long overdue time with Arch Linux in the near future. I see Arch as being a natural fit for me in many areas.
Perhaps this is one of my greatest assets that I enjoy using open source software and the Linux desktop as a whole. I'm not locked into a single user experience. Unlike OS X or Windows, when something goes terribly wrong with the user experience along the way, I can easily move on to another Linux distribution that better fits with my vision of the ultimate desktop.