(Now that I have your attention with that title ... ;)
I just committed a change to the default desktop containment that removes desktop icon support. Yes, it has finally happened ... no more splattering icons from the "desktop" folder across the screen. Buh-bye.
Let me pause while some of you get all worked up and ready to punch the "Add comment" link to flame me to kingdom come.
Ok, so here's what a Plasma desktop looks like with a fresh user account right now (well, minus the trashcan):
In the screenshot you can see krunner doing its thing as well as the new panel layout. There are some icon sizing issues remaining to be worked out in the panel as you can probably see, but it's getting closer.
"Hey!" I hear you say, "I see icons on that desktop!" That's quite right. (And, I must say, you are quite observant today. ;) So what was a mumbling about earlier then when I said the icons were gone?
Well, we now have a folder view applet courtesy of Frederik Höglund. It can view any folder you want, including the desktop folder. You can also set a filter, making it possible to, for instance, view just images or whatever. It uses KIO so you can view remote folders as well. You can drag items to and from it, delete files, scroll, etc. It lines everything up in a nice grid and uses the same drawing routines that Dolphin, Konqueror, KRunner and others use from kdelibs for the icons.
You can have 0, 1 or more of these folder views in your plasma, all viewing different (or the same, I suppose) folders. You can put them on different activity areas (aka "desktop containments") as well.
Chani has been working on the activity area support and now has a rather crazy setup on her laptop with 10 or so containments of various sorts. She's also made it possible to switch around between them (as well as applets in side them) using the keyboard only ... but I'll let her blog more about that herself. Suffice it to say for now that you can easily build project or activity specific sets of files, folders, launchers and widgets and swap between them easily.
In the future we'll have a little label in the folderview telling you which folder you are looking at, it will turn into an icon with a menu listing in horizontally constrained containments (e.g. panels), it will be collapsible on the desktop with a single click (it's already resizable, rotatable and removable) and you will be able to use it as a containment itself.
That last bit is important: it means that you can have an Old Skool(tm) desktop with an icon mess if that's what you really, really want. So don't bother with that flame, nobody has anything to complain about. ;)
In 4.2 we'll be separating context menus and background rendering from containments so that those functionalities can be easily shared; so while in 4.1 you can set the folder view as your desktop containment ... it's not going to be as pretty as it will be in 4.2. In 4.2 it will be completely seamless, whereas right now you'll get a "nice" wallpaper based on the applet background svg. Call it the Model T wallpaper: any colour you want, as long as it's the applet background ;)
This is all yet another set of steps in the move away from a file-centric system and towards one that is flexible enough to work the way you do rather than making you work the way the computer thinks you should.