I've just installed 12.10.18 on a p4 VAIO laptop, 1GB memory, 40GB hard drive. I'm a server/unix guy, not a workstation guy.
The installation works fine, but after I log in, all I get is the default desktop background. No launcher and no controls at the side or top of the screen. If I unplug the wireless adapter, I get popups that the wireless is disconnected. at one time, I was able to right click on the desktop and get to the control panel, but haven't been able to replicate that.
I've tried going into single user, and trying the safe mode desktop, but the console hangs after reporting the FSCK filesystem clean data.