Well, now I am getting really confused. After reading some more positive aspects in this thread I decided to give Unity one more chance. I soon ran into problems as I switched between Unity and Gnome for two reasons... first, I haven't got a clue what I'm doing and second, the logon screen is a little ambiguous as to the differences between gnome, gnome classic, et al.
Anyway, what I've ended up with is some sort of a hybrid where I have:
This is exactly what I want but I'm not sure if I should be thankful or suspicious of impending doom when it all goes south and unity or gnome want to be top dog.
~ a unity launcher complete with Dash,
~ a top global panel that now (I could never get the top panel in gnome to do this) has transparency all the way across,
~ a bottom panel that shows what's running, and my 4 cube desktops,
~ and when I try and see exactly what DE is running I get:
myid@myid-OEM:~$ echo $DESKTOP_SESSION