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On the other hand, you can install whatever DE you prefer in plain Ubuntu, I guess. But maybe there's something I am not considering. After all I am not an Ubuntu user.
Using Gnome doesn't make anyone and old unix user. Using gnome just reduces the functionality and configurability of your desktop. Whether that's a good or a bad thing will highly depends on the user, but is not related to being old school or not.
Some people use KDE because they use more KDE apps. Some distro's don't confine you to a single desktop and sync the menu's between them. Canonical gives away CDs so they slimed down what they offer on that CD to a single desktop environment by design. Which makes sense for them.