IMO, the big difference between now and, say, 10 years ago, is that the gap between "real DEs" like KDE and Gnome, and "back to the basics" minimalist DEs and WMs (Openbox etc) has been filled. It used to be that you had to pick between "it just works" - but with all the bells and whistles, too - and hand-editing config files.
Now, though, there's Xfce, LXDE, and even, to some extent, MATE, to fill the it's-not-fancy-but-it-works niche. Xfce in particular is really nice - I would say that feature-wise, it's about where Gnome 2 was (which is a sweet spot for many), except with fewer bundled stock apps, and more configurability with more sensible defaults. So if you just want to get work done, and want a traditional desktop environment, it gives you that with minimal overhead, compared to Gnome and KDE.