So Gnome 2.8 finally made it to Debian Testing, more or less. In the end I got most of the packages from Unstable.
I have mostly noted two visible changes, though there are many more. The most visible is without doubt the automatic handling of removable media, though the combination of hal, udev, hotplug and gnome-volume-manager. Finally you can just plug in a camera or a cd and it Just Works(tm).
The other change is the way applications are associated with filetypes. It is definitely more intuitive than before, but it is bit difficult getting decent display names shown in the context menu for the chosen applications. It still requires some editing of .desktop files by hand.