So, I'm using Ubuntu for the first time, and I like it in general. I've got this problem with the launcher, though: I can't drag and drop ANYTHING on to the desktop, only make shortcuts and folders from a menu. If I drag and drop a file into the Desktop folder from the file system, I can then see it on the desktop. I've seen other people discussing this, so I guess it's a known issue -- and responses range from "here's a workaround" to "just use GNOME". I guess what I'm trying to figure out is how the team could decide to make Unity the default UI on a distro made for simplicity and ease of use when it's still missing such an incredibly basic feature. Am I just missing something here? Is there an easy way to make this happen? If not, does anyone know... well... why?
Why Unity was made default in 11.04 despite of obvious short-comings? Easy, although I'm not a representative of either Canonical or anything like that.
In April, Ubuntu 12.04LTS will be released. It'll be supported on the desktop for 3 years. Gnome2 is deprecated and we needed something new. Supporting the old desktop until 2015 was not a real option. It was decided that Unity is the way forward and because of the extra importance of 12.04LTS, it was important to speed up development -- exactly because Unity isn't ready for the masses. The easiest way of doing that, is to get it into the wild as soon as possible, expose it to a large audience and get lots of feedback and bugreports. That way, it can be made rock solid and polished by the release of 12.04LTS -- which is when Ubuntu will hit the fa... masses.
10.04LTS has been quite nice since the day it was released and I'd say it's perfect for most users. However, it is not very appealing. Even if it's a modern operating system, it looks somewhat dated. And that matters to a lot of users. When 12.04LTS is released, it will be just as stable, user friendly and efficient -- but it will be much more appealing. Unity is a lot more efficient to work with too, which is very important to heavy desktop users.
But this was already a difficult cycle because of other changes in the "ecosystem", such as the transition to Gnome3. If the introduction of Unity was to be pushed into the 11.10-cycle, then that would leave absolutely no margin for error when it comes to 12.04LTS, which after all is much more important. If you gamble that nothing goes wrong, then I will take your bet.
So in essence, you might say 11.04 is something like a beta for 12.04LTS and the LTS-es have to have significantly higher priority. That's what most end-users will stick to, and that's what nearly all businesses will use. That's what third-party software developers will develop for, what computer manufacturers will bundle, etc. But even if non-LTS versions get a lower priority, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be of high quality. Going from 10.04LTS to 12.04LTS is likely to be much, much harder than from 12.04LTS to 14.04LTS, so even if 11.04 isn't quite as rock solid as we would like, I'm confident that it is an exception.
All things considered, I'm really impressed by how well Unity works. It's come a very long way in a very short time.
As you can see, I picked one of your questions and answered it. As to the other ones, I didn't really understand them. But the launcher is for applications, not for files, folders or other things. You have the files and folders lense for that.
With Unity, Desktop shortcuts are a thing of the past. You now have the Favorites Launcher.
The suggestion to "just use GNOME" is technically correct.
You want desktop shortcuts? Use GNOME 2.3x
You can create a link and just move it to the desktop, but I don't recommend it, just for the sake of cleanness. Personally I store the most frequently used apps to the left. All other apps are launched through the Search in Dash.
I have the same problem as you. In my case, I have several applications that I run from my home directory, which I downloaded as tar.gz, so they do not add shortcuts to the menu that you can find with Dash or Synapse or anything.
The following gave me the solution: http://www.liberiangeek.net/2011/11/create-desktop-shortcuts-icons-in-ubuntu-11-10-oneiric-ocelot/
Basically, it says to do:
(You may have this installed already).
Then run the following for each new shortcut you want to create:
It opens the shortcut dialog that you know and love and allows you to edit the settings, and saves it in the given directory (~/Desktop in this example).