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"Unrealistic. The Gnome developers dropped that code because they didn't want to go near it, because they wanted to break with all the accumulated cruft - mistakes they'd been trying to get rid of for years, but were stuck with in the name of compatibility. Even if they offered to pay them, Canonical would have struggled to find developers willing to work on it..."
I think the very existence of Mate is enough to prove it is in fact realistic and 3rd party developers are in fact willing to work on it. However to a user it's not the codebase that's relevant so much as the workflow & feature-set, and that's really why Cinnamon is so promising in returning lost desktop functionality to the new codebase. Mint deserves a lot of credit here.