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You may not be doing anything wrong. I got two different kinds of errors:

TypeError: Error executing code in Maxima
    sage99 : ('y(x))+(diff('y(x), x, 1))+(-1)$
Maxima ERROR:
     sage99 : ('y(x))+(diff('y(x), x, 1))+(-1)$

stdin:7094:Incorrect syntax: Too many )'s
stdin:7145:Incorrect syntax: Premature termination of input at $.


sage: desolve(diff(y,x) + y - 1, y)

before getting the right answer:

sage: desolve(diff(y,x) + y - 1, y)
(c + e^x)*e^(-x)

Then I did it from a restart and everything worked the first time, and I can't reproduce the errors anymore. Looks like the maxima interface can get itself into a state, whether because of something I'd done previously or not. But this definitely shouldn't happen: were these the same kinds of errors you saw?