My mother-in-law uses Linux, but she's far from the most savvy computer user in the world. It's tough when you start using Linux in your seventies ;) Anyway, somehow she occasionally deletes her GNOME panel. That's a problem because it prevents her from starting any applications. After much practice, I've narrowed down the list of steps that are the easiest to dictate over the phone: Restart the computer. Don't log in. Rather, hit Cntl-Alt-F1 in order to get to a text-based login screen. Now log in. Type "rm -rf .gnome* .gconf*". Now, hit Cntl-Alt-Delete. Let it reboot and then log in normally. Things should be fixed. Note that this will wipe all of your GNOME settings. However, since it's easy to type, and she doesn't have any settings anyway, it's perfect. The reason I do this delicate dance of rebooting is to prevent gconfd from doing things behind my back.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem.