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I've used Ubuntu (like the way they list programs to install), Yoper (quick on my old PII sys), and latest Mepis (worked on desktops and wireless laptop out of the box). I would say Mepis would be my choice for ease of use (everything needed including licensed browser and audio plugins) and good hardware detection.
Voted for Fedora, have tried [K]Ubuntu, Debian, PClinuxOS, ..., but my top choice for desktop OS would be CentOS. It is not just for servers and is well supported by 3rd party repos with applications including multimedia and PVR (MythTV, etc.).
I used Slackware up until the 10 series and more and more things started going pear-shaped.. esp. udev... Im still temped to type checkinstall.. but now pacman -Syu all the way.
Arch is my flavour, makes me thnik of a cross between Gentoo and slackware.. and if your really sadistic you can compile the whole o/s easily.
We dont care about propriety and licenses, just stick it in the AUR.
We use a rolling release system so no dramatic upgrades, very occasionally things go wrong but it has an excellent (and very technically apt) community. The reason I dont visit this site very often anymore.
The main qualities I look for in a desktop operating system are speed/responsiveness, stability, ease of use and software management.
The Debian based distributions seem slow to me. they also have an awkward feel to them, a subtle but annoying thing. Great software management though.
Gentoo and Slack feel great to me but are not so simple to set up and maintain. I use Gentoo. (Must try Arch some day ...)
The rpm distros have their pros and cons, but most are a bit bloated.
The distro that I recommend to newcomers is PCLinuxOS - does quite well on reponsiveness and stability, high marks for ease of use and (clever puppies) they have borrowed a great software management system from the debian camp.