> (and somehow I get the feeling this vision is all about finally getting there with "linux on the desktop"; as if it were a technical problem in the first place)
No, it will never completely be a technical problem, but there can be technical barriers to getting there. Say I'm a third party. I want to make sure that my application start at boot. Distros aren't going to ship it (and do the work themselves) if it's not FOSS. How do I do it? Ship several dozen solutions to cover all the bases? Support only one system/distribution? AIUI, systemd's goal is to create a platform upon which you can rely upon certain features existing such as a way to make sure your application starts at boot, during a user session, on socket activity, after the SQL server started, or whenever.
> Somehow, it doesn't strike me as if having a swanky shiny init system is going to pave the way to sudden success because it turns out *that*'s what has been holding GNU/Linux on the desktop back all these years.
No, a new init system isn't the (whole) solution. Just adding some sanity for cross-distro support is nice though. I'd be happy if I could convert a server from Fedora to Debian and system setup scripts still worked (modulo package names, but directories, commands, and so forth could be the same).