I first started using GNOME when GNOME 1 came out. GNOME 1 and 2 weren't ever very satisfactory for me, so I spent a lot of time trying alternate window managers (mostly WindowMaker and openbox, but I also spent a considerable amount of time using awesome).
GNOME Shell is my favorite GNOME so far. I wish the extension system was documented (I would like to write some of my own, but the intitial investment is too high right now). I'm currently just using two extensions (Message Notifier and windowNavigator).