In its last few releases, Xfce has managed to move beyond its geekish past. With each release, it has become more user-friendly, and the latest release is by far the most accessible to desktop users.
However, remnants of the past remain. It shows in some of the features that were given priority in the new release, such as the system editor.
It shows, too, in occasional choices that provide only technical alternatives. For instance, the deskbar panel is simply what the vertically-aligned panel should be by default -- I mean, how many users would want to tilt their heads sideways to read a vertical panel?
Another way that Xfce reveals its past is its emphasis on functionality over appearance. Some design decisions, such as the refusal to space panel contents along the entire space available, look ungainly. Others, like the deskbar panel, are ugly despite their functionality. To be fair, the development team is becoming increasingly aware of appearance, but, despite the improvement in the last few releases, it still has a few paces to go before it is as inviting to new users as the other major Linux desktops.
At the same time, Xfce has the advantage of being instantly familiar to anyone who has used any sort of computer desktop in the last fifteen years. Its classical menu is unwieldy as it sprawls across the desktop, and its emphasis on the panel is obsolete by the usability guidelines of the GNOME 3 series, but what matters is that their functionality is obvious.
Not that Xfce is a clone of GNOME 2 or any other desktop. Its panel applets are basic compared to GNOME 2's, and the panel cannot be shortened and centered as many people prefer. For this reason, a minority of users might find Xfce lacking. Yet the general organization and configuration options are close enough that most users should have no trouble transitioning to Xfce.
Xfce is not splashy. In places, it is almost old-fashioned or crude. But in the end, what really matters for most users is that, as the release notes and tour for the 4.10 release make clear, Xfce is concerned with providing what its users request. It's an attitude that many feel is rare among Linux desktop alternatives today.