Even that's a two stage process, if you have music stored internally and on an SDHC card too.
Alternatively, if you use the database, you can long-click on an artist, album or genre, and also choose "insert shuffled" to only hear music from one artist, album or genre of music. This is useful if you have music in random folders on the disk, spread between the sd and internal memory, or want to avoid listening to things like podcasts while shuffling.
What I think I'm finding difficult to deal with here is that Rockbox specifically claims to be playlist oriented but makes managing playlists so unintuitive.
In what sense? Anytime you click on a folder or database query, you get a playlist made for you. You can then edit it, save it, or do whatever. IMO its intuitive enough that you probably didn't realize you were even making playlists when you used it, which is pretty impressive IMO.
The database ought to be the focus of MOST activities
I don't agree with this. Most people don't use the database and don't really want to, so I don't think it makes sense to make it "the focus". Instead, we should allow people to use the software however they want, not force them to use it in one particular way.
but the fact that you can't get an "all" playlist, shuffled or otherwise, out of it seems an odd omission.
The database queries are actually fully customizable. I think by default theres only an option to randomize by artist, album or genre but you can change that if you really want. I don't really think thats all that useful though, since you'll end up with things like untagged files, microphone recordings and podcasts in your random playlist when really what you want is probably just music in it.
One aggravation: saving playlists in Rockbox provides a default playlist name with an .m3u8 extension. You can't edit, you can only backspace over the filename from the end, so you have to first delete the .m3u8 bit and if you don't retype it, it's saved without an extension. Retyping .m3u8 on the Rockbox "keyboard" can't be done without navigating between screens four times.
The volume +/- keys are actually used to move the curser, so you don't have to do that. However, given how difficult text entry is on a device with just a few buttons, I recommend just using the default name and then renaming it on PC once you've finished making the playlist.
But I'd reiterate my previous comment: Rockbox is NOT ready for nontechies, possibly not even techies with no experience of unix, and I'm beginning to get the impression that it was never intended to be easy to use.
1) Firmware replacements will never be ready for non-technical users. Its necessarily a technical process.
2) Not sure if you realize this, but rockbox isn't based on or even related to unix.
3) I think rockbox is quite easy to use if you just use it as an mp3 player. Playback with advanced audio features like replaygain, gapless and many audio formats is downright trivial. Click a file and it plays. Click a folder and everything in it plays. The things you've found complicated (text entry, doom, edit playlists) aren't things an mp3 player generally does. They're things rockbox will let you additionally do if you want.
I'm also a little weirded out that there's a build of Doom in there that just doesn't work. I'm completely unsurprised that it doesn't work -- pretty sure the screen won't even be close to usable even if it rendered the graphics as intended -- but it does rather suggest that the project has suffered a little from feeping creaturitis!
It actually does work, but since the screen can't do grayscale, its almost useless. Removing it has been discussed, but enough people complained that it was left in.