Again a silly questions to the gods of usefull interfaces;
Is the desktop useful (or is it just a relic from ancient times?)
Definitely useful. A relic, yes, but a relic isn't nescesarily useless :).
Most people I know use the desktop (the thing in the background where all these funny icons are) to store data. They create folders with names like "Music" and "Private" and "None of you business" and put stuff into them.
Most people I know use it to store application icons, ie. Internet Explorer, Outlook (yes, most of my friends use Windows). Or links to games, whatever. You get the idea. They rarely, if never, use it as a place to store photos and music files. They go into "My Documents", "My Music", etc.
But whenever they want to access them, they use the file-picker, because the application they are using is concealing those nice folders.
If they want to open a file that is associated with a currently running application, then yes, this is a problem. However, after observing a lot of computer-illiterate people, I have come to the conclusion that very few people *actively* multitask (I do not find running Outlook & Explorer at the same time "active multitasking"), or edit multiple documents at the same time. This is different for us powerusers, obviously.
The desktop is the least accessible place on the screen.
Yup. Except on OSX. Exposé all the way (I will get back to that later).
Imagine drag and drop: minimize application, open folder, open folder, open application, move application to the left, move folder to the right, drag file into application, close folder, close folder. Silly.
What are you trying to say with this paragraph?
What about a different to store data? What about a "sidebar" (instinct anti-longhorn reaction expected) with all folders in the home directory? Plus, maybe, some "persistent search" folders (All images, all music-files by Jethro Tull, conversations with ALICE...).
So, what you mean is: instead of putting icons *directly* on the desktop, we simply make a piece of the desktop grey and put the icons on that? :).
I guess there are better ways then the one example above. Do you have any ideas?
I can't get the Expose idea out of my head. Sliding all windows out of place to reveal the desktop in OSX is a simply case of moving the mouse to a screencorner, or pressing F11, and the desktop appears. That way, the desktop is no longer the "the least accessible place on the screen". I believe Kristian Rietveld is interested in working on a Expose like feature using Xgl .
Now, I myself use the desktop very often. It's basically where I put the files I'm currently working on. A lot of people assume that users *first* open applications and *then* open the file using the app. I think it's the other way round: people *first* locate the file, and *then* open the associated application by clicking on it (that's a reason why the spatial metaphor was unusable for a lot of people). Taking this into account, there needs to be a place where people can easily access their 'current' files. This can be done via either Beagle (which poses a problem as then you have to have something to let beagle search for, i.o.w., your keywords must be very effective, else it will *still* take long to find the correct file) or via the desktop. The latter is a concept a lot of people understand, and by implementing a faster way to 'Show desktop' (faster than a button at least), I don't think we need something else.
But, as always, that's just me.