Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Player vs. Character)
I still haven't read it, so no comments yet.
For things like Perception I prefer skill checks (or even better using passive perception). I don't even mind if my players tell me they 'search everything'. Then I do a little calculation and tell them how long it would take, which may or may not cause them to be more specific.
Hiding secret compartments in particularly devious ways and requiring players to have exactly the right idea is not something I consider fun:
"Poking the statue's right eye at the same time as its left nostril while twisting the ringfinger of its right hand counter-clockwise will open a secret panel behind the fifth row of the third bookcase on the wall left from the entrance of the room two doors down the corridor."
In the worst case you have something REALLY BAD (TM) happening if they pcs do anything differently. Like, say, in the Tomb of Horrors
Nah, I really don't care for this at all. It's just an elaborate variant of "Mother, may I."
How about skill "visas"? If you have visa in a certain skill you are allowed to make in depth question about the subject matter.
I have to say I'm one of those DMs that tends to only have people roll after they tell me what they're doing. I like a sort of combo of the two ideas, which I think is why the system Mearls has been describing has been growing on me.
I think a lot of your experience really has to do with what kind of DM you faced back in the day...
Why? Because that gives a framework to the immersion/pixel bitching divide that the DM can learn to be consistent within. You don't have to ask to look behind the statute because the DM is being a dick. You have to ask because your skill is lousy, but asking in a particular spot reduces the challenge by a rank, allowing you to then roll. Succeed, and you get reasonable stuff. Fail and you get nothing.
Less rules on the players side of things also made things friendlier for new players. A new person could show up, generate a character in minutes and join in as a valuable contributing member of the party. By engaging the environment and describing intentions and actions in plain english (or whatever the spoken language was) the new player could settle in quickly.