Well, after having a few too many problems with GNOME within the otherwise-awesome SimplyMEPIS, I ended up switching distros yet again... After a lot of research & trials, I ended up settling on OpenSUSE, which runs faster & cooler than any other distro has on this computer by a longshot. Its version of Nautilus also offers both tabs and an extra pane for working with files, which should come in really handy.
I heard earlier this year that the "new look" for Nautilus, mostly available through custom designs, was an overly-minimalistic (aka "let's blindly mimic OS X") approach that disables the text-based location bar without giving any visible way of turning it back on. OpenSUSE seems to come with the latest of everything, and sure enough, the change was there. BLEAH.
Thankfully, a quick web-search has shown me how to fix it... First, you can use control-L to switch quickly from text-based to buttons... If you want it to always start up with text, start the GNOME Configuration Editor, go into the /Apps/Nautilus/Preferences area, scroll down to Always Use Location Entry, then set it to true.
Voila, no more clicking to get everywhere, which is a huge improvement for those of us that can touch-type rapidly & have a variety of folders/drives active. If they're all within a home directory, clicking is easy -- but if you have a large organized folder hierarchy, it won't. (Do the people that prefer the buttons-only approach not know how to type, or just throw everything into a few directories? Enquiring minds want to know...)