Fedora - I had used Fedora at my prior work and while I liked it when I used it, exposure to apt-get goodness cured me of that desire. It also is a little too bleeding edge for me
Mandriva - We used to use this at my current work, and it was alright. Consensus among developers led to our switch to Ubuntu, and I was a part of that consensus. :D I've always liked Gnome more than KDE, but KDE does have it's niceties.
Ubuntu - This was the tried and true choice. Basically, I didn't like it, but I disliked everything else more. But the Unity shell is atrocious and Gnome 3.0 doesn't seem any better. Less can be more.
Xubuntu - Going into this process this is what I was thinking of using. I know Xfce is lightweight and it's based off of Ubuntu so I will be largely compatible with work.
Linux Mint - Heard it was getting popular, but didn't know anything about it. Figured I'd check it out. (Mainly) based on Ubuntu and is desktop agnostic. Might be interesting to be able to test drive a large number of different desktops
Bodhi Linux - Found this while looking at distribution lists. Caught my eye because it had Enlightenment. That was a blast from the past. I remember looking at all the cool artwork that was going into Enlightenment when I was in high school ('96-'97 ish). I could never get it to run very well back then, maybe I could try it out now.
Pinguy Linux - This looks like what Ubuntu should be. Full featured, pleasant on the eyes, and with intelligent choices made throughout. Only concern is it doesn't seem to lighten the footprint of Ubuntu any
Crunch Bang Linux - Based on OpenBox which has a tiny footprint and claiming to provide a good amount of functionality, seems like an interesting distro to try out.
I listed both what distributions I've had experience with and which I was interested in trying. The bottom line is that I needed to determine which of the Ubuntu derivatives I should try. I could sit there and fully install and then test all of these choices, but that seems overwhelming and requires much more time than I have (also, I am lazy). So I figured I'd leverage the hard work of other critics. In evaluating my choices, I relied on these third party opinions:
Desktop Comparison Guide (this guide goes over the memory and baseline CPU footprint of each desktop, which is a very cool experiment to see)
7 Good Ubuntu Derivatives (so this is actually written by Jeff Hoogland, founder of Bodhi, so there might be some bias. Of course Bodhi is not on the list, but is suggested in the 7th choice)
20 Ubuntu Derivatives You Should Know About (big list, although the top is laden with direct desktop variations of Ubuntu)
Time to make some choices
So after some thought I have ordered my selection of distros in the following manner:
4. Linux Mint
5. Crunch Bang
My plan is to get as far as I can with a choice, until I am happy with it, or I am not satisfied and need to start over and try again.