I don't get the antipathy towards gnome...
Gnome is a nice simple corporate style window manager. It looks familiar to the end user, and does not impede productivity (as long as the machine has the resources to run it properly). It has nice things like online account integration, and dash to dock, that add to ease of use. User sees a consistent interface, i can optimise the underlying system to perform specific workloads. I can deploy any of the major distributions (for reason based on role), whether that be Centos, Debian, Ubuntu, or Fedora.
I, personally, use peppermintos (for the ease of integrating with my web services, as well as the lower resource footprint) on my laptop. I also use gnome (I'm currently a debian house, but that has been and may be again Ubuntu: Just not until unity has been purged. Yuk - in the sense that it has never worked) with dash to dock on my multi-screen powerhouse workstations.
There is a big difference between the individual users preferences on a development machine, and a large scale deployment* and training. For the later, I'd pick Gnome.
*My large scale deployments are only 3-10 users these days, but the consistent interface means that I can write user level training materials that are equally applicable whatever the underlying machine, role, and OS.