desktop icons on the gnome 3 desktop

If you’re among the many GNOME Shell users who like to put icons on the desktop, brace yourself for change

Developers working on the next major release of the GNOME desktop environment have removed the ‘desktop’ feature currently used to display and manage files, folders and attached drives kept on the desktop workspace.

No More Desktop Icons in GNOME 3.28

gnome tweak lets you show icons on the gnome desktop
The option to show icons on the desktop is going away

The ability to plaster our desktop background with an ungodly amount of app shortcuts, files, folders and other clutter is, for many of us, part and parcel of using a computer. It’s a feature that most major operating systems have in common.

‘The desktop in GNOME is provided by Nautilus, the GNOME file manager. But the code is old and unmaintained’

The “desktop” space you may be familiar with in GNOME is actually provided by Nautilus, the GNOME file manager. It’s Nautilus which handles the task of drawing, organising and arranging the icons we toss on to our desktop workspaces – a job I thought it did quite well.

Just not well enough, it seems.

In a detailed rationale arguing for the removal of the desktop feature GNOME developer Ernestas Kulik says: “[The] desktop is blocking us and giving deep issues to further go forward with no direct benefit. Users have expectations for it to work decently and it’s not the case.”

Upstream GNOME 3 has, for as long as it’s been around, shipped with Nautilus’ desktop icons feature turned off. Some Linux distributions turn desktop icons back on, including Ubuntu 17.10.

“We provide this as a optional experience, but we didn’t really fix much in the last years since it’s not part of the default experience, giving users false expectations. Also, nobody really likes to hack on that code, so nobody shown up to fix the big issues behind,” Kulik adds.

And thus, patches to remove desktop icons support from Nautilus have been accepted in to GNOME 3.28, meaning the feature is officially on the way out.

Not the end of desktop icons in GNOME Shell (yet)

News that developers are removing such an intrinsic desktop feature… Well, it doesn’t sound great, does it?

But let’s take a breath, because although the ‘desktop’ feature will no longer be part of Nautilus it doesn’t necessarily mean that support for a similar feature is gone from GNOME Shell altogether.

‘GNOME’s recommended alternative for users who want desktop icons is to install and use Nemo, a Nautilus fork’

Devs are looking at alternative solutions to the task. A prototype GNOME Shell extension has been built that fills the gap nicely, showing app shortcuts, folders and files appear on the desktop as normal (albeit with a few organisational limitations).

But, for now, GNOME’s “recommended” alternative for anyone that wants desktop icons in GNOME 3.28 is — rather bizarrely — to install and use Nemo, a Nautilus fork which has maintained and improved the ‘desktop’ feature over the past few years.

Note the word “recommended” alternative here; GNOME has no plans to ship with Nemo (or any of the Cinnamon dependencies it pulls in) by default. It will be up to users and distro makers to settle on a replacement (if any).

There’s also a chance that this change won’t be that big of a deal. The Pantheon desktop shell in Elementary OS doesn’t support desktop icons at all, neither does Chrome OS, and most of their users seem to cope okay with the design decision.

Do you think you could too? Let us know in the comments section below. It’s what it’s there for!

Gitlab, via WOGUE

gnome 3.28 Nautilus