Abstract angst

Aloha, Hirsute! It seems you solve my single biggest gripe with modern Ubuntu releases: a poor desktop icons experience.

Ever since upstream GNOME jettisoned the ability to put icons on the desktop — it has its reasons — Ubuntu has opted to ship with a GNOME Shell extension that reimplements the functionality.

Well, sort of reimplements.

The simple ‘Desktop Icons’ extension it uses (and has used since Ubuntu 18.04 LTS) is barebones. Oh sure: it shows icons on the desktop …but that’s kind of it as you can’t do anything with ’em!

Drag and drop from the file manager to the desktop? Doesn’t work. Drag and drop from an app to the desktop? Doesn’t work. Drag and drop a file from the desktop to the file manager? You get the idea.

And if you don’t:

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS demoes the derp

This particularly desktop deficiency has annoyed me enough to get mentioned in my Ubuntu release videos. Yup, each one. While I’m aware that spotlighting something Ubuntu can’t do is a bit odd, there was a point: expectation setting.

GNOME’s dedicated design bods might not see the desktop as a folder but hundreds of millions of people out there, moulded by conventions of macOS, Windows, and other flavours of Linux do.

Ubuntu is right to try and meet the expectations of its existing and could-be user-base, but its band-aid was illusory; it doesn’t work how people will think it does.

Anyway, the point of all this hot air is to say it’s changing — or changed, even.

The latest daily builds of Ubuntu 21.04 ship with the more featured, more versatile, and more useful Desktop Icons NG (DING) extension instead:

It has a tonne of features

For me the desktop space acts as thoroughfare of sorts; a ‘holding place’ for files I’m in the process of using, moving, or (sometimes) forgetting about.

In recent versions of Ubuntu I can’t do this as easily as my muscle memory wants. Simple things like dragging a desktop screenshot from the desktop to Firefox to upload and embed it here is …It’s constant friction.

But with Hirsute adopting DING my moans are now moot!

For instance, when you drag a file (from file manager or an app) the desktop even ‘light up’ as a drop zone as if to say “HEY! I CAN DO THIS NOW! FEED ME!”

It works!

I can’t say the DING extension is perfect. The right-click context menu could use some styling, and the bottom link for ‘settings’ should be labelled more clearly as ‘this extension’s settings’. It doesn’t open the system settings app that the same option in the same location of the old one does.

Minor quirks

DING is above and beyond what we — or maybe just I — have had to put up with until now hence why I’m so enthusiastic about it. This isn’t a game-changing change, but it is a welcome one.

Not that you have to upgrade to Ubuntu 21.04 to benefit from it, though!

You can install and use Desktop Icons NG extension on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and above. You’ll find it on the GNOME Extensions website, just remember to disable Ubuntu’s old desktop icons add-on prior to enabling the new one.

Desktop Icons NG on GNOME Extensions

desktop icons GNOME Extensions hirsute hippo Ubuntu 21.04