My grandmother can barely tell the difference between a launcher, the Window list and the Notification area. She was introduced to Linux by my grandfather, who was introduced to Linux by me 2 years ago. They have never used any other OS in their life.
Part of the issue with the notification area is that aMSN sits there constantly. But when it is not running, she has to click on the green people on the left (the launcher). When the window is not open, she has to click on the green people on the right (notification area). When the window is minimized, she has to click on the green people at the bottom (Window list).
This is something MacOS X does much better. The launcher icon transforms itself as a notification area (think of Adium). It is also a way to bring back your windows from that application. And it is rather easy to see which applications are running from a glimpse.
The activities concept proposed for Gnome is interesting. I really like the idea of having a “composé” list of the currently active applications (minimized or not) and that presence (or IM) is integrated in the panel (and probably always running). I really like the fact that there is no launcher area (although I use it constantly). I do think the launcher area only exists because the Applications menu is just too slow to launch apps. Also in an office environment, the launch area is often used to place the sacred company applications. Therefore, we should provide a way in the activities menu to have a set of applications that should always be on the list (before we have to click on more). This is like the activities at the top of the Start menu in Microsoft Windows.
I do find that being unable to raise a minimized window in one click is less interesting. But should the minimize button really exist? The minimize button is just a way to say “get out of the way, I want to see the window behind” for people always working with full screen apps. Why not replace it with a more convenient functionality, like “swap with behind”. More thinking needed
In conclusion, the new design is nice, it should provide a less cluttered desktop for every one. Regular users (my grand-mother) should catch how to manage their windows and apps with more ease while power users should use something like Gnome-do or Deskbar to launch applications faster.