I’ll try to give the OP what they’re asking for. But for each remarks you should try the 5 whys method.
This would need the 5 whys to understand what’s behind.
- Old as “not updated” ? A new release just got out: https://help.gnome.org/misc/release-notes/3.36/
- Old as “looks old”? The looks is made to be the less intrusive possible and let you focus on what you’re doing. By default, almost all your screen real-state is used by your application. The top bar is black and melds into usual black borders of your screen. GNOME 3 is not about whistle and bells, it’s about letting you do what you want to do.
Its restricted (for noobs and kids)
Restricted ? This would need 5 whys too. I’ve heard that complaint for geeks that could feel resticted (and even that way, after talking a bit, it was not by the lack of features, but by the lack of knowledge about existing features). So I have no clue about that one.
Any reference? Bloated in terms of CPU, memory, disk usage?
Until two years ago, I was still using my AMD Athlon XP 3000+ tower to run GNOME 3, and always using the latest version provided by my distro (Mageia). I switched to a laptop since then. I stopped using that machine not because it was too slow, but because it was becoming harder to have distros not building stuff with SSE2 enabled, which is not available on that CPU. I’m using it currently on a second-hand laptop I bought, a Lenovo X230 with a Intel® Core™ i5-3320M CPU @ 2.60GHz. That CPU is from 2012, yet GNOME runs flawlessly, with the default visual effects. The system monitor shows no sign of “bloat”.
Can’t put icons in desktop
You can, just not by default. Search “Desktop icons” on https://extensions.gnome.org . Carlos soriano did that one: https://gitlab.gnome.org/World/ShellExtensions/desktop-icons
However, people should just try not using desktop icons. The flow is so much better. Each time you have to manipulate a file, you run Files. People using desktop icons (I was one of them, no choice back in time) use it as a “dump zone”, which is not ideal for being organized. Now you have to run the file explorer to manipulate the files, and are much more enclined to put your files at the right location instead of dumping them on a buffering zone forever. I’ve had my share of Windows users putting lots of stuff on the desktop that couldn’t be easily backed up because at a separate location, and not knowing what was worth or not. Not having desktop icons is IMHO one of the best moves of the GNOME desktop.
Its icons and theme sucks
All icons and all themes in the worlds ? Default theme ? Themes can be changed and https://www.gnome-look.org/ has existed for ages. The problem with themes is that theme bugs can break apps, and theming is just a complicated thing. It’s also hard to find a theme that is well integrated, so people like me just use the default one (hey, I like it). But themes exist, you just have to try them out and find one you like and that works.
Hope this helps.