You can easily add application launchers to the panel. Or use something like cairo-dock, AWN, .... Or even easier, just use keyboard shortcuts for your favorite applications, so you don't even have to reach for the mouse.And alternatively it's also very easy to click on a application in the favorite bar to open it.
Come on, you prefer Gnome over KDE because you don't like the default theme? Really? Who really uses the default themes?KDE and it's default applications are also pretty ugly compared to gnome 3. Compare this to this. What looks uglier?
So far I can see nothing that can't be done with other DEs/WMs.