Steve Dekorte notices that the metaphoricity of modern desktop metaphors has been diluted badly. I know I’ve seen these observations before from someone mourning the passage of OS 9 in the face of OS X — Was it Tog? Zarf? mpt?
I remember someone pointing out that Classic Mac OS took great pains to give the impression that an icon wasn’t just a representation of a file, it was that file, as far as the user need be concerned. And a window wasn’t just a representation of a folder, it was that folder (at least in its open state). You couldn’t have two Finder windows open displaying the same directory because that window was that directory. I understand newer versions of GNOME use this technique, while Apple has long abandoned it in favor of the NeXTy finder windows they have now.
Good design isn’t always what you choose to do, sometimes it’s what you choose not to do.
I’m not sure any Unix-based OS is ever going to have a really good, intuitive GUI, because the GUI is always going to be a construct on top of and separable from the primary underlying text-based system. Although ROX seems like a step in that direction — it integrates the GUI and underlying filesystem better than any other Unix GUI I’ve seen — at the cost of changing the traditional Unix customs about the structure of the filesystem.