First, how long did you wait after seeing the background? It can sometimes take quite a while for the rest of the desktop to load.
Second, you might want to check your hardware against a Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). While not 100% definitive, it is usually a good place to start (IMO) when diagnosing these situations.
Thid- although you've settled on Ubuntu, other distributions may be more specific and are just as user-friendly. Fedora comes to mind, and they also have Live CDs for the most recent version (Werewolf, 8). OpenSuSE is also an option, though I find it's user-friendliness often extends only to OOTB (out of the box) installations. After that, if you want to do anything besides what you told it to do during setup (or use applications not in the official repositories), it often becomes awkward. It's a good first step, though.
Besides those, look into PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, and Linux Mint.
Ubuntu is not the end all be all of Linux distributions.
Disclaimer: This is all opinion and personal experience. The truth is that you should try many things and decide what is right for you.