The last post from Ted Gould nails a pretty obvious problem on the GNOME desktop nowadays: the panel is broken.
Not only because of the fact that is one of the remaining bits holding a dependency against ORBit. But also from the ui perspective. The panel is where we throw stuff when we don't know where to place it. The topic discussed in Ted's post is quite interesting, the abuse of the notification area. I kind of disagree that apps tend to use the notification area because is some sort of playground or innovation space or anything like that.
I think applications are leaning towards a better window management handling that cannot be achieved with launchers or the task browser.
Think about it for a moment, we have launchers, like the browser one. You launch your browser, and suddenly, you have to waste, I don't know... 200 pixels for a new task on the task bar? Plus the already wasted space of the launcher of course. Now your app turns out to be so nice, that people want to use it all the time, becoming a persistent app. Well, wasting 200 pixels for each window of your app seems a bit odd, so you end up using the notification area, or creating your own applet to manage your app.
To me, it seems that we could perfectly merge launchers, applets and notifications. Think about it, remove the text from the task manager (which I think that is useless with the amount of windows that people handle nowadays) , allow iconification/minimize from there, allow notifications and rich interaction (showing the album cover for media players, custom context menus...). From the user perspective, this would remove a lot of redundancy.
I think that a dock-like approach such as avant window navigator (with some GNOME HIG+usability+accesibility's sauce first of course) or Karl Lattimers' toy as even would be a much simpler, uncluttered and usable option than our current box of entropy.