Just for the heck of it, I went and grabbed the latest i386 ISO for Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, 10.04.4, to see just how well the old workhorse works for WoW, what with Cataclysm's appdb page suggesting that one should use Wine Stable 1.2 for preference. End of Life for the desktop is going to be April 2013, not far away. But then, I'm used to installing a distro every month or two, so I'm hardly going to go that long without finding something better. And even if I don't, I'm sure some community will step up to keep Lucid going, the way there are communities still supporting Dapper Drake (6.06).
Installation was with Ubiquity. The idea that one should specify partitions first and configuration and account information second, while the system is being copied over, came after this release. There were about 200 GB of updates to download.
This was the release where Canonical moved the window controls to the left from the right, something that annoyed a lot of people. This can be corrected by the simple expedient of selecting System > Preferences > Appearance and selecting any theme besides Ambiance or Radiance. This was the first thing I changed. The second was to start getting some of my favorite packages: abiword, ace-of-penguins, chromium-browser, conky, galculator, gnome-colors, the GIMP, midori, nethack, pidgin, xchat, and ubuntu-restricted-extras. The third was to change the desktop setup from two panels to one.
Gnome 2.30.1 is very RAM-efficient. It starts out using perhaps 120 MB of RAM, better than MadBox 12.04. Even more amazing, it returns to that when you kill all your open apps. I remember other reasons why I liked the Gnome 2.x: it's so easy to set up window decorations, widgets, keyboard shortcuts, the panel, and everything else to suit my preferences. Openbox has OBConf and the GTK appearance setting app to do most of these, but keyboard shortcuts are hacked into the appropriate XML file at ~/.config/openbox/*rc.xml.
I've also installed Mint 13 Maya 64-bit Cinnamon on my laptop. Compared to getting new window decorations in Cinnamon (Cinnamon Settings > Themes > second tab the name of which escapes me > choose a window decoration theme from the appropriate dropdown > go to the Cinnamon control applet in the panel > select Troubleshooting > Restart Cinnamon) it was very straightforward. The keyboard shortcuts manager is equally straightforward. I still have no idea how to effectively set up keyboard shortcuts in Cinnamon, as the GNOME settings manager doesn't seem to do the trick. Perhaps restarting Cinnamon will do that for me as well. I may also install MATE and see how it works.
I understand making the move from GTK+ 2 to GTK+ 3, as it is able to do so many more things, but does the resulting DE (Gnome-shell) have to take up so much more RAM? Does it really have to have compositing? I have yet to see compositing do anything useful. Animating window opens, closes, resizes, moves, desktop transitions, etc. does not count. Having previews instead of mere icons as you alt-tab may be one candidate of something useful that comes from compositing, but only if it doesn't confuse you as to which window you're choosing, or require you to pick one with the mouse. That is something KDE 4.x has done well -- the record flip window switcher is especially intuitive, as is the one that looks like a casement window.
Some apps are kept much more up to date than others. The office suite is OOo 3.2 (well behind LibreOffice 3.5, the current version) while Firefox is current at 13.0.1. Chromium lags back at 18 (as it does in Precise Pangolin; Google has released 22 stable for Windows and OSX).
In order to get the best possible experience, I decided that I would download and install the very latest from the manufacturer's site and install in runlevel 3, instead of using Jockey-GTK to install two-year-old ATI drivers. Then I did some research and discovered the Ubuntu-X team's PPA... which has an fglrx-installer for Lucid dated 18 December 2010. So that's out. I decided to try these instructions instead. Unfortunately, I was unable to download the 12.6 Beta drivers from http://www2.ati.com/drivers/legacy/amd-driver-installer-12.6-legacy-x86.x86_64.zip for the first few days. Later tries worked. I had to run the file with a ./ prefix to get it to work, and.... it offered to install the same 18.104.22.168 Catalyst driver that Jockey did. The limitation appears to be the version of Xorg installed. Since I have no idea how to upgrade that by myself, my journey ends here.
I'll be keeping Lucid as a working environment anyways, for a while at least. I may also cover it over with some other distro not suited to playing World of Warcraft, like #! 11 Waldorf, Linux Mint Debian Edition, or some other Debian-based distro. I found I actually missed using Gedit, Nautilus, and Abiword, instead of Mousepad, PCManFM, and LibreOffice Writer. I've said (and believed) for years that I can readily adapt to almost any desktop environment, but it appears I really am most at home in Gnome 2.x. I have no idea what I'll do next (though you can bet I'm going to try Bhodi 2.0 when Jeff Hoogland gets it done), but odds are I'll look for a distro based on Debian Testing with either a KDE 4 or modified Gnome 3 environment -- except that I just saw that CentOS has released 6.3, and that is a distro with the same sort of basing (kernel 2.6.32, Gnome 2.28) as Lucid, only with End of Life lots further off, in 2017. I will probably stick with the open source Radeon driver, as it can implement 1280x1024 on my monitor properly.