I liked the Maximus interface in, what was it, 9.04? I was so pleased with it on my EeePC that I installed Ubuntu Netbook on some desktops too. It was very efficient with space - the only thing that could have improved it further was to rescale those pesky windows which refuse to resize themselves to fit on a small screen.
In every version since then, Ubuntu has gone in the polar opposite direction - towards big Fisher Price buttons and weird launcher concepts that simply don't work well. Some people seem to like Unity, but just as many hate it with a passion.
Mint 12 is an excellent antidote to that lunacy, even in it's default configuration. It's a perfectly conventional desktop which I can find my way around in easily and quickly.
Neither Ubuntu nor Mint are good solutions for a small-memory computer though. I'm still looking for the perfect solution for this old Thinkpad that I pulled out of the office scrap pile. It only has 256MB RAM.
The key to knowledge is not to rely on people to teach you it.