1. Install a stable distribution.
The first thing I do is remove Ubuntu and install CentOS/Debian. People expect certain things from an operating system and breaking things after every single update or when something trivial is changed is not one of those. I believe Ubuntu is single handedly giving Linux a very bad reputation, because its the most advertised distribution and hence the first "Linux" that people install or get to use. And most of them never return, due to such bad first experience. It baffles me how Canonical can ship such a broken OS and call it "Linux for humans". Also people just don't care whether they have the greatest and latest versions of the software.
2. Change the system font and icon set.
This is one of those things that just doesn't make any sense. Companies/communities put a lot of effort into building a distribution and then ship with ugly icons from the '90s and system fonts which plain sucks. WTF? The moment I change the system font to Ubuntu (By far the biggest contribution by Canonical) and the icon set to faenza (with my own custom additions), people go "wow, that's awesome!". It completely changes the look and feel of the system. Why don't companies' "get it"? Why don't they do it? Is it so hard for a company like redhat to hire a designer and make the OS visually pleasing?
3. And finally, giving a tour of the system, and explaining how things work in this side of the universe.
Talking about user experience, a lot of the things the "UI experts" (Ubuntu, GNOME et al.) are doing is so disconnected from reality, that they are developing things no one really needs and is pushed down users' throats as "innovation" and "usability". It wouldn't have mattered as much, if what they build is polished enough, and had some sort of synergy with other applications. But, no. It is broken, makes the user lethargic after using the system for a couple of hours, and after wrestling with it all, leaves the user exhausted and frustrated with themselves.
User Interfaces are developed "for humans" and should be improved upon by studying how people use it and what they use it for. It shouldn't be just visual gimmick, especially with inconsistencies and a pain in the ass to use and tweak.
Here is a small list of "real world data" of what people like:
- Fast and stable system.
- Well designed icons.
- Beautiful system fonts.
- Pictogram-style icons in the panel.
- GNOME 2. KDE 4 is really awesome, but no distribution does extensive testing like they do with GNOME, making it unstable.
- To make small changes to their systems to fit their style.
- A good file manager. (How I wish Dolphin be the default file manager in GNOME)
- To get work done and not having to spend 70% of the time fixing things.
And a list of things people appreciate or have asked me:
- Advanced ALT+TAB management.
- ALT+F2 (I re-map it to Windows Key+R).
- Infinite undo and redo (of every system activity).
- The ability to tag files and search files by tags.
- Powerful Clipboard management.
And lastly, something I have been thinking about for a while now has been the desktop area. Currently it houses the wallpaper and icons, but I believe it has the potential to immensely improve one's workflow. But I don't have exact answers to how or what, just vague ideas. But I believe its worth improving or re-implementing.
Edit 7th March, 2014: Some interesting things have happened since. Canonical hired ‘Faenza’ Designer, and elementaryos became my goto distribution for new users and they LOVE it. Goes to show what a small team of talented and passionate bunch can deliver; kudos and major thanks to the people behind elementaryos.