Perhaps the more accurate question isn't about need, instead it might be about want. Generally speaking, home-based Linux users are seeking choice on their desktops. They have the option to customize within their comfort zone, perhaps even jumping from one desktop environment to another.
So when we see distributions such as Ubuntu, pushing Unity, it's easy to see why. They want to provide the same consistent experience from work to home. It's a sound idea, unfortunately I don't think Unity is going to be the success Canonical envisioned.
I think it's possible that those who like Unity will continue to use it. However I find it unlikely that Unity is going to offer Canonical any sort of foothold in the enterprise space. The idea of offering a stable, duplicable experience for enterprise users is a good idea. But what Canonical and others are missing on the desktop is less about the UX/UI experience and more about compatibility and hardware buying options.
The entire experience matters
Before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I love using Linux. I enjoy the challenges on the desktop and on the server. It's been a fun ride over the years.
Unfortunately there are still issues that are not only being ignored, they're being superseded by concerns that are of much less importance. Quite frankly, the desktop environment issue shouldn't even be an issue until basic wireless networking bugs are hammered out first.
Add to that, Dell has dropped Linux computers and other alternative large, in-store Linux options are nowhere to be seen. Now OEM options only amount to a handful of terrific vendors doing everything possible to make their PCs available to the masses. Unfortunately, you won't find any of these PCs on Amazon.com or in most big box shopping establishments.
Will a new desktop fix this enormous issue? Of course it won't! Canonical alone has done a terrible job at promoting the fact that there are great vendors out there willing to sell their OS pre-installed. Their partner links are a joke, only highlighting consultants and varied server offerings.
The most mind blowing part is that when you go to Ubuntu.com's shopping area, you only find T-Shirts and hoodies. Seriously? Yes, because this is exactly what I'm looking for when I'm on a website researching an operating system!
But wait, it gets better. Canonical even goes the extra mile to promote their OEM partners like Dell. You know, the same company that stopped selling Ubuntu PCs in the first place! The entire situation is just sad and avoidable.
And while Ubuntu is featuring certified hardware from some of these vendors, you still have to dig for it because it's not actively being promoted. Worse, much of the certified hardware is dated.
Linux distributions looking to attract new users don't need to spend their time reinventing desktop environments. Instead, these distributions need to work hard at promoting the vendors that are already using these distributions in the first place!
This provides the community and the enterprise space alike proof that Linux is just as capable as proprietary operating systems on the desktop. Best of all, it's also supporting worthwhile smaller businesses trying to do what so many of us fail to do – put our money where our mouth is.
So enough with the concern over which desktop experience is better. Let's focus on making sure we are getting as many pre-installed PCs out the door as possible. It's this, not a new desktop environment, that will keep desktop Linux adoption growing.