Cinnamon is a series of extensions developed by Linux Mint that make GNOME 3 look and act like GNOME 2. It is also a major reason for the popularity of Linux Mint in the past year.
One advantage of Cinnamon is that the extensions can be added individually. If, for example, you want to add a bottom panel to the desktop, you can do so while keeping other features of GNOME 3. Alternatively, if you prefer not to have an additional bottom panel, you can turn off that option with a couple of mouse clicks.
Given this modularity, GNOME could save face by presenting the use of Cinnamon as an extension of customization options -- as giving users what they want. However, adding Cinnamon would mean that GNOME was using tools developed in response to GNOME 3's deficiencies, which would be a severe blow to the development team's pride.
If GNOME is having trouble as a desktop environment, one obvious solution is to find new niches. Lopez and Sanchez suggested following KDE's lead and producing a tablet, while Lionel Dricot recently suggested a suite of cloud-based services.
However, the closer you look, the less practical either becomes. Moving into manufacturing is full of obstacles, as KDE is apparently finding out now with its Vivaldi tablet, which is now several months late.
Even more importantly, 2012 is two years late for considering a tablet, and four years late for cloud services. The markets for both are crowded, and to be a success GNOME would need some compelling benefits besides offering free-licensed software. Moreover, in the year or two that GNOME would need to produce either, who knows what the new trendy niches might be?
Both are areas that GNOME might want to explore, but counting on them to restore the project's prominence seems a gamble that has little chance of succeeding.
In theory, GNOME could continue to be stubborn, and make plans without learning anything from the reception of GNOME 3. In public, its developers did manage to ignore criticisms for nearly eighteen months.
In practice, though, being stubborn could have a debilitating effect. To all appearance, it is the toil that such stubbornness takes that has depressed the project's morale and levels of participation. In the end, stubbornness would only continue the decline.
After GUADEC, the unofficial plan is to release GNOME 4 in 2014. Exactly what GNOME 4 might consist of hasn't been announced yet, but a major release would be an obvious time to back away from GNOME 3's design. Yet how does the project get there from here? What guarantee is there that GNOME 4 will be received any more favorably than GNOME 3?
The trouble is, this plan means another eighteen months -- if not more -- of the widely-panned GNOME 3. If morale and recruitment are low in the project now, what will they be like by the time GNOME 4 is ready? You have to wonder how many developers will be left.
Just as important, one of the problems that Lopez and Sanchez identify in their presentation is a lack of direction. If you lack direction to start with, the odds are low that you will easily find one.
True, you can cobble together a few goals and find some rationales for putting them together. Cynics might say that this is what happened with GNOME 3. Seeing KDE beginning a new release series, GNOME developers felt pressured to produce their own next major release, but had little sense of what it might consist. The risk is that GNOME 4 will be developed in the same way with exactly the same results.