Anyone hesitant of upgrading to GNOME 3.28 because of its decision to remove desktop icons need worry no more.

A new extension for GNOME Shell brings desktop icons support back to the GNOME desktop.

It works almost exactly as you’d expect: you can see icons on your desktop and rearrange them; double-click on files/folders/apps to open them; right-click on an empty part of the desktop create a new folders or open a folder in the terminal; and perform basic file operations like copy and paste.

The full feature set:

  • Open files, folders & app shortcuts
  • Drag and drop reordering
  • ‘Proper multi-monitor support’
  • Link to ‘open in terminal’
  • Cut, copy and paste actions
  • Undo and redo
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Select multiple icons at once
  • Wayland compatible

The couple of features remain missing (for now), including the ability to drag and drop files into folders, rename them outside of Nautilus, or resize icons or quickly reorder them based on size, modified date, name, etc.

If you follow this site and Baby Wogue on Twitter you might have seen us chatting about this add-on a few weeks ago. It’s been in development for a while but has, understandably, taken a little while to get a state that one would call “usable”.

But it’s getting there!

the desktop icons extensions via @babywogue
the desktop icons extensions via @babywogue

Nautilus developer Carlos Soriano announced a beta release of this all-new desktop icons extension this week, stating that its development is “good news for […] those used to desktop icons”.

While Ubuntu 18.04 LTS includes the bulk of GNOME 3.28 devs decided to stick with an older version of Nautilus specifically because it had support for desktop icons.

Why did GNOME remove desktop icons again?

Desktop icons are an intrinsic part of most modern desktop operating systems, regardless of whether it’s Linux based or not. The ability to put (or litter, as the case may) files, folders, shortcuts and other junk on the desktop is something that many of us consider to be, well, the whole point of having a desktop.

From Windows and macOS, to ReactOS and Linux distros like Ubuntu and KDE Neon — desktop icons are part and parcel of the way many people use their computers.

So it’s no surprise that many Linux users were left baffled when GNOME — arguably the most widely used Linux desktop out there — chose to “drop” the feature ahead of the GNOME 3.28 release earlier this year.

Nautilus Dev says the desktop icons extension “works better than what we had with Nautilus”

A controversial decision? Certainly! And also not an easy one for devs to make. But in the long term it was considered a necessary one.

In GNOME, Nautilus (the file manager) has handled the job of drawing and managing any and all icons placed on the ‘desktop’ space (and in the ‘desktop’ folder). When upstream GNOME switched to GNOME Shell it disabled this feature (for various ideological and design-led reasons), instead leaving it up to distros like Ubuntu to re-enable it using a setting.

But ignoring the setting could only happen for so long; the code was old, inefficient, and keeping it around was getting in the way of development on new, more important file manager features.

So, last cycle, Nautilus developers chose to drop remove the setting from Nautilus entirely, albeit with a view to providing new APIs in Nautilus that would allow something like this extension to emerge.

And emerge it has.

In fact, Soriano says the new extension “works better than what we had with Nautilus”.

It’s unlikely that GNOME will ship the extension by default, but Linux distributions will be free to add it to their default installs or direct their users to the GNOME extensions website to get it.

Which brings me on to…

Try the desktop icons extensions out

If you use GNOME Shell 3.28 or later, and have the the latest Nautilus nightly build installed on your system, you can help test the desktop icons extension right now.

Just head over to the extensions website, hit install, then launch the Nautilus 3.29 Flatpak to ensure the add-on can leverage the necessary new bits and pieces.

Desktop Icons (beta) on GNOME Extensions

If you encounter any major issues or want to contribute to the development and maintain of the add-on, dive on over to the GNOME Gitlab page.

Will Ubuntu ship it by default?

With the GNOME desktop icons extension in a reasonable, fairly-functional state, the next question is whether will Ubuntu 18.10 ship with Nautilus 3.30 and this extension? Or will devs play it safe for another cycle and stick with Nautilus 3.26 and the legacy code?

I guess we’ll find out shortly as next month brings the Ubuntu 18.10 beta release!

Dev Download desktop icons GNOME Extensions nautilus