Thanks to all who replied. Since I am new to Linux I will wait for VL 6. I would like to know more about customizing the desktop. Specifically, I would like to know how to manually add or remove individual icons. I know about allowing xfce to control the desktop but I don't particularly like that.
At any rate, I will continue my quest to learn more about Linux and VL in particular. Of all the distros I have tried, it seems to perform the best on my machine.
I love XFce and would not consider using anything else. But to each his/her own. To remove an icon, right-click on it and select Delete. There are some icons you can't delete (Trash, File System, Home come to mind). The others can be deleted as I said. To add a desktop icon, right-click on an existing icon, then on Desktop, then on Create Launcher. Fill in the boxes. If you don't know what command launches an application, open a terminal and type
and see what comes up. Or look in /var/log/packages or in /usr/share/applications, which has entries for everything that is listed in the Desktop Menu. The line that starts with Exec tells the command that starts the program.
You have lots of options for starting applications in XFce. You can put launcher icons on the desktop (my least favorite way). You can right-click on the desktop and the Desktop menu comes up--the same menu as you get at the far left of the Panel (like the Windows Taskbar). You can start from a terminal command line. What I do is create Launchers in the Panel under which I include applications of similar types, such as browsers behind one icon, graphics apps behind another icon, file managers behind another icon, etc. You do this by right-clicking on an existing Panel icon and select Properties if you want to add more applications behind that icon. When you do, you get a small up arrow to the right of the icon that reveals what else is there, as there is behind the VASMCC icon when VL is first installed. You can add new icons and launchers to the Panel by right-clicking on an existing Panel icon and selecting Add New Item, then Launcher. Then you just fill in the blanks.
You can put the panel on the top, bottom or either side of the screen. If you go through Desktop Menu, Settings, Settings Manager, you'll get some sense of what is available.
What don't you like about letting XFce manage the desktop? It may be changeable.
If you're noticing a big performance difference between VL and other Linux distros, I wonder if your hardware is a bit behind the times (nothing to be ashamed of). On current hardware the difference isn't that noticeable. As hardware gets older, the difference can be dramatic. If your hardware is older, you probably don't want to use Gnome, which is pretty demanding of computer power.
You could go ahead and install VL6 RC2 now, but be aware that you'll probably be installing VL6 again when it goes Final.