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Why Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Will Use an Older Version of Nautilus

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS won’t ship with the latest version of the Nautilus file manager as initially expected.

‘The most practical option for Ubuntu is to stick with Nautilus 3.26 for the LTS’

Ubuntu devs have decided to release Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with Nautilus 3.26 installed so that users are able to put icons on the desktop.

GNOME removed the option to put icons on the desktop earlier this month. The next release of the file manager, the app which has hitherto handled the job of drawing and managing the ‘desktop’ space, will no longer support this feature.

Ubuntu dev Didier Roche recapped the situation in a recent IRC meeting, explaining: “as most of you know, they [GNOME] are removing the desktop feature in 3.28 this leaves up (sic) for the LTS with some options.”

  1. Stick with Nautilus 3.26 and keep desktop icon support
  2. Ship Nautilus 3.28 and Nemo to support desktop icons
  3. Ship Nautilus 3.28 and use an extension to draw desktop icons

Option 1 was, as one member at the meeting put it, ‘the only reasonable one’. Ubuntu desktop lead Will Cooke was also in favour of this option, arguing that “…we stick with what we know works.”

Besides, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will be a big enough change for 16.04 LTS users as it is. New desktop, new display server, new login manager, new apps. As inconsequential as desktop icons are in the grand scheme of things, keeping them around means there’s at least one less “difference” for upgraders to grapple with.

Plus Ubuntu isn’t willing to introduce a second file manager solely for the sake of having desktop icons, and then be saddled maintaining it for the life of an LTS.

The most practical option for Ubuntu is to stick with Nautilus 3.26 for the LTS and evaluate other solutions for releases thereafter — which is precisely what they plan to do.

The move ensures that the Ubuntu live CD will be able to show the ‘install Ubuntu‘ option, and that users are able to quickly access trash and mounted drives, and scatter files and folders over their desktop as they please.

The feature hasn’t “moved”, it’s been removed

Those of you with working eye balls and a basic level reading comprehension will be aware although desktop support is being removed from Nautilus the ability for something else to draw icons on the desktop isn’t.

‘GNOME recommends those who want desktop icons in GNOME 3.28 install Nemo’

We explained this in our original report.

Which is why other publications’ proclamations that the desktop icons feature has simply “moved in to Shell” are mildly disingenuous.

Desktop icons capability can be provided by a GNOME Shell extension (and this is how GNOME devs would prefer it to be implemented) but the upstream GNOME desktop doesn’t use desktop icons. That creates a rub; is there any impetus for GNOME devs to develop, maintain and bundle an extension that implements functionality it does not itself use?

I don’t think so, which is probably why the “recommended” solution from upstream to those who want desktop icons in GNOME 3.28 install Nemo, a Nautilus fork.

The ‘proof of concept’ GNOME shell extension currently available is a) an extension, not default behaviour, and b) buggy and limited in features (e.g., it doesn’t support drag and drop).

While I’ve no doubt that some sort of ‘desktops’ extension will be created, honed and polished at some point, the lack of Nautilus APIs needed to create a true 1:1 replacement will make it difficult.

But if you are passionate about being able to put icons on the GNOME desktop you need to get involved in developing the GNOME Shell replacement extension as it’s not going to build itself.

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will use GNOME 3.28 Elsewhere

Finally, this decision only affects the file manager. The rest of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is expected to use the latest, greatest GNOME 3.28.

Of course, just because Ubuntu ships with Nautilus 3.26 doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be able to upgrade to 3.28 if you want: Files is available as a Flatpak.