I've just been experiencing the same problem as semidivine reported above.
If you are using the "front page" option from Options > Reading then you do NOT need any home.php template. That's for older versions, and in the newer ones is counterproductive.
Just use a regular Page template to achieve different layout for frontpage.
I don't understand why you say it's counterproductive.
The problems I see with not being able to use home.php to acheive a specific layout for the front page are:
- This contradicts the stated template hierarchy. As we all know, when the docs and the code don't match, developers suffer. Well, I'd been suffering at least half an hour before I stumbled on this forum thread, because I read the docs and trusted them.
- Using a file other than home.php for the "home" page is inelegant: it means that for no good reason, you have to call your home page something other than "home", or call your home page's template something other than home.php, or both… just because home.php's functionality is broken.
IMHO, this is a bug.
That said, I'm still fairly new to WordPress development, so perhaps I've missed the point. If I have, please explain to me what I've failed to understand so far. If not, I'd be grateful for suggestions about where to patch the core files (to fix the home.php functionality) so that I can do this and file a bug report.