To answer my own question: it is as less as possible. There is beauty in simplicity.
Now, to take that and analyze how we can make this work for our computer lives is a tricky one. Where do we begin? There is so much that Linux can offer!
First, figure out what you need to do on your computer on a daily basis.
I need to browse the internet, check e-mail, listen to music, write, and code in eclipse.
Now, how can I do these things as efficiently as possible?
I should have a web browser. I will need Wi-Fi support, because my laptop is my main computer right now. Most of what I do on the Internet can be done in the Web Browser; I don't need dedicated applications for chatting or e-mail.
I need a music application. It doesn't need to be complicated. Something light that can play a looping playlist of MP3 or OGG Vorbis files. I also have a Sansa Clip MP3 player, so I'll need a file manager for moving files to and from the device.
I need a text editor or word processor. I will need to spell check it eventually, but that can be done later (I will have to print on a Windows Vista machine with Word 2007, so that's when I can spell check). Therefore, I can get away with having a simple text editor.
I need Eclipse. I'm not a fan of the application (it is much too complicated and gets in my way) but it is essential for my studies.
Now, the Distro that you choose is up to you. I am not here to preach about one Distro or the other. I suggest looking around Distrowatch and finding one that suits your taste, computer, and needs.
Personally, Ubuntu looks nice, but there are a lot of features that I don't need. I could strip them, but that would take time I don't have.
Arch is a nice minimalist Distro (that's their philosophy) but it seems like too much work to get running with my Wi-Fi. I am not as well versed in Linux as I would like to be. Maybe I'll try Arch Linux later.
Those KDE 4 desktops are nice, but they seem too busy and feature filled. I don't think I would be comfortable with them. I'd like to have a lightweight Window Manager, such as Fluxbox, but Gnome or Xfce would work, too. My computer is a powerful beast, so I'm not worried about how fast or slow everything is.
Tiny Core Linux looks cool. I think I will download it and install it on my computers as a backup, in case I hurt my main Distro in some way.
Juggle ideas. Test LiveCD's. Install and try them out for a few hours. Make mistakes. Linux isn't as fun unless you have found the Distro that suits your needs, so do not skimp on your exploration.
I tested Fedora 11 on my laptop. It works with my Wi-Fi without additional configuration. I can add a single repository and it will add MP3 support and the nVidia driver in case I ever want to play a game. Out of the box, Fedora doesn't come with too many features I don't need, so customization will be short and uneventful.
I downloaded the 64-bit version with Gnome, and it works very well. I think I could be happy here. It isn't perfect, but it will become Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, which means I can use the free clones such as CentOS and Scientific Linux for years to come.
Install the Distro and customize.
I install "yum-presto," which uses delta patches so that updates take less time to download. Then I let my computer update itself. Then I set up RPM Fusion, download the MP3 player plugins, and the driver for my nVidia card.
I need Flash for applications in my studies, so I will keep Firefox installed. I go to the Flash website and download the Flash plugin, which Adobe distributes as a repository. If I install several extensions such as Flashblock and Adblock Plus, I can keep it fairly minimal and light.
I can keep Totem as my music application. It plays playlists and works well enough for now. Maybe I will go hunting for a player that allows me to turn off the visualizer later.
The text editor that comes with Gnome is good enough for my uses. I've used Leafpad, an even smaller text editor, before and I might switch back to it, just so I keep myself standardized.
I don't need Abiword, which comes with Fedora by default. Anything I don't like can be removed in the Add/Remove Software program, or done through the Terminal ("yum remove foo") painlessly. I nuked Transmission, Rhythmbox, Brasero, the GIMP, Bluez (bluetooth tools), and Cheese.
I downloaded Eclipse from the Eclipse webpage. The one inside of Fedora's repositories is a little bit old, and I'd prefer not to clog up my Fedora installation with all of its medial dependencies.
Now I delete Gnome's bottom bar and move it to the top. I arrange Gnome to my specifications, showing as few menus, options, or icons as possible.
In the end, my perfect desktop.