This is also similar to another feature request I made about the swatches panel width...
I think the mid-width restrictions of the panels is a bit ridiculous, don't you? The brushes one, in particular, is extremely wide! We should be able to scale them much narrower. All panels!
You know, a really cool feature of Microsoft Expression products is their ability to scale the entire interface. The whole gui is scalable! How? Because the whole interface is vector! Granted, that still wouldn't solve this problem here, but it's another idea to make the interface nicer.
As for the rescalability of panels I think this is more of a Windows issue, but even on mac these are nowhere near as well designed as they were.
Panel and UI design issues are now unfortunately more complex than just to do with Photoshop. The whole Creative Suite is now unified to some extent in the way it handles panels. Part of these problems stem from the fact that Indesign and Illustrator's concerns are quite different to those of Photoshop. Partly because the designers of these two applications have introduced a great swaithe of additional panels, which now need to be accomodated. Hence the panel buttons, and poorly docking panels.
The design of The Creative Suite interface now seems much more influenced by Flash Web design, and Windows OS. Unfortunately with flashing buttons, icons, and distracting transparency whenever you move anything, Photoshop appears on the surface much more complex than it needs to. This surface complexity will lead to further misguided accusations of "bloat".
Photoshop CS and CS2 in my humble opinion, had much more "solid" and well designed panel (or palette) interfaces. Although here and there there have been one or two useful additions to the overall UI, including more readily accessible workspaces, tiling, and obvious clickable icons for people who can't deal with keyboard shortcuts.
I get the impression that the panels are still a work in progress. They haven't done everything with them that they intend. John Nack has said as much in blog posts on the topic.
Why oh why does everything have to be so "Flashy" these days?