Desktop icons goes beta

Hi all,

Today I have good news for “classic mode” users and those used to desktop icons.

Context & random thoughts

As you might know, few months ago we removed the handling of desktop icons in Nautilus. As mentioned in the past, the desktop icons code was blocking at that point any further major development of Nautilus, and the quality was not up to our standards that we want to deliver.

The most important responsibility I have as (now one of the two) maintainer is to ensure the project progresses in its main goal, which is being an excellent file manager app. This includes building and maintaining a healthy community of contributors around, which I’m proud to have. I take these points very seriously, and as such, sometimes I have to take hard decisions to make sure this is achieved. When put into a position where either the project stagnates in its main goal and lose all interest from community contributors I have no doubt what is the path to go. And sometimes those decisions has to be taken shortly, after years trying to overcome the problem. Sometimes that happens when no others resources/time/people for providing a complete drop-in alternative are available.

This is also true for users, when put into the choice of having reliable file operations, search not blocking the computer, proper views, etc.  the decision seems clear.

Good news is that this all is paying off! The gtk4 port of Nautilus is now almost ready, we are having a hackfest soon with gtk+ developers to plan putting the new views in Nautilus, the work on the reliable file operations and search is now free to continue, and we had put a testing framework that consolidates this effort. The community of contributors has also been working as ever, and the results are clear in the Nautilus 3.30 release.

Classic mode

For Fedora and RHEL we have had an option called classic desktop, where desktop icons and some shell extensions were enabled.

It’s useful to bring to those users an option that works better than what we had with Nautilus, so as part of that I spent my time at Red Hat working on providing this.

Desktop icons extension

So here we are, I worked a lot lately in Nautilus and in the extension I prototyped few months ago to reach a point where it’s ready to enter a beta phase, now for everyone to use!

It has the regular things someone would expect. Some screenshots:

Screenshot from 2018-08-22 11-23-49Screenshot from 2018-08-22 11-24-00Screenshot from 2018-08-22 11-23-56Screenshot from 2018-08-22 11-23-53

  • Opening files
  • Executing desktop files
  • Drag and drop to reorder (with no more overlapping as the old desktop icons in Nautilus had!)
  • Proper multi-monitor support, another big improvement compared to the old Nautilus code.
  • Open in terminal
  • Cut/copy
  • Integration with Nautilus for all operations
  • Undo/redo
  • Shortcuts
  • Rubber banding selection
  • Pure Wayland

Things that are missing are renaming files popover and DnD to “paste into a folder”.

Try it out

To try it out, you need latest Nautilus. Install from the nightly flatpaks following these instructions. Then you need GNOME Shell 3.28 and to install the extension from the extensions GNOME website. Then make sure to have development nightly Nautilus running and then in GNOME Tweaks enable the extension.

Note: For Fedora it’s needed to disable the “Fedora logo” extension, as it collides with the desktop icons.


Beta also means you may find some visible bugs, please report them. As I get more feedback I will change, remove, introduce stuff to make it ready for 1.0.

Also more importantly, merge request welcome! If you have a feature that would like to implement or fixing a bug or behavior, feel free to download the code and create a merge request in the extensions repository at GitLab. I’ll glad to review your code!

Thanks Antonio, Ernestas, Florian and Didier for helping with review, testing and planning.


29 thoughts on “Desktop icons goes beta

      1. Thanks a lot.

        Another issue I’ve seen is that after doing a relogin the spacial arranging of icons in desktop isn’t preserved. It’s a little disturbing. Just for completeness

      2. Hello. Another thing I’ve seen it doesn’t work is the “Move to trash” option: icon remains in the desktop. Keys like SUPR, SHIFT+SUPR or CTRL+SUPR doesn’t do the job, neither. Thanks, anyway

      3. Ooh, no!… I’m sorry! I’m using version 3.28.1-1 from official Fedora 28 repos (updates-testing enabled). Sorry

  1. Now this is something else entirely. Core GNOME developers heavily involved in the GNOME desktop icons support effort. This is a tremendous shift as in the past (past couple of years) all you had to do is to mention desktop icons support in GNOME in some debate and you were treated like there is something wrong with you and you are doing it wrong and things like that. Like living in the desktop icon dark ages. True some of us didn’t give up but let me tell you it wasn’t pleasant at all. I am honestly glad this era is behind us now and the future looks bright again.

    There i guess is additional bonus in all of this. Finally desktop icons support area in GNOME is getting some attention again. Therefore there is a good chance it will work better in the end than it ever did. Because of the lack of development in this area in the past there is/was much left to be desired in the past.

    Therefore for now all i can say is thank you Carlos. For making the future bright again.

    1. Thanks for the words!

      I want to clarify that for upstream GNOME this doesn fit still, this goes well with the classic session and such, that’s why I did it, but not for upstream GNOME.

      The extension is not attached to GNOME apart of me using GNOME resources and being part of GNOME of course! Which I’m very glad I can use it for this.

      1. Hi Carlos.

        I have seen your work and i know you aren’t satisfied if you don’t do a good job. That is why i have a strong feeling you won’t be happy until desktop icons support in GNOME will be in great condition and position again.

        Sometimes it is hard to go and to try a different path. Compared to your initial ideas and believes. But i am sure that you will notice, based on how widely this work will be accepted, that you will be leaving footprints in people hearts.

        Call me a dreamer, but likely there will come a day, you will re-enable desktop icons on your desktop. That would truly be a remarkable day. Realizing how you gave something to others and got something that seemed lost back in return.

      2. I actually believe in the other design 🙂 . This work is for a different design, called “classic mode”, not GNOME’s one.

  2. Nice job. DnD to “paste into a folder” is not something depend only to you. Or your plan is add fully support for xDnD to the shell and then use it to implement the DnD? I really don’ t know also if the shell have fully support in Wayland for DnD, but in X11 (xDnD) have not. Just recently was added support for Atoms properties as an string in gjs, because apanrently the instrospection won’ t work ok for that.

    Is a shame all this enforce to only keep compatibility with one mode. I really don’ t know what is your idea, but probably add support for desktop icons more that a mode, could be an option for all that modes.

    1. The plan regarding dnd from/to nautilis remains to be seen, as you mention it would need work on mutter.

      Not sure what “enforce to one mode means”, the extension is available in, just try it out 🙂

  3. Is also nice that we can test the extension directly right now, thanks for that.

    In my opinion add support for general DnD will be nice anyway. If not at the level of Mutter, at the level of the Shell. In X11 can be use the overlay window that represent the shell state clutter_x11_get_stage_window (global->stage), as the point for where interchange messages. That way probably will help to avoid Mutter overloads, delegating the DnD to the Shell only. Most of code that is needed can be locate at Blender source:, just need to be adapted to the shell. This was my idea at least, but sure you will find a better way if finally you decide to implement it.

    Good luck and thanks again.

    1. > Is also nice that we can test the extension directly right now, thanks for that.

      Yeah, in the blog post it’s explained how to test the extension, in the last section.

      You sounds to know more than me about Mutter! I have basically no idea, apart of the concepts. If you want to work on that, I will be glad to help out indeed, seems you need it for something else?

  4. Hello, I would like to point out a difficoult situation concerning your gnome extension and ubuntu 19.04.

    When I upgraded my ubuntu 18.10 box to 19.04, as everybody knows, pufff! desktop icons were disappeared. So I read on their release notes about your extension and installed it.

    To my utter scorn icons were pretty unmanagable, so I removed your extension and, finally, jumped on nemo, which excellently substitutes the embarassing nautilus with an intelligent file manager, plus gives the ability to use nemo-desktop to have icons back in business!

    I was happy that I regained my freedom, till a dist-upgrade of the whole system almost a couple of months ago made my icons on the screen duplicated: as I discovered when I got more free time, the usable ones were drawn by nemo-desktop while the duplicated stale ones (no ability to move, click or do whatsoever to them) were drawn by your extension.

    How did it show up again? Probably, because of the wait for gnome 3.30, they were forcibly brought back as a dependence (!) to ubuntu-desktop package by apt, without noticing anyone!!!!

    Disabling the “effects” of your extension from gnome tweaks didn’t sort any effect out…. :O

    So, deleting your extension from /usr/share/gnome-shell/extensions/ directory does the trick but just till… the next (dist-)upgrade :((((

    Also an “apt purge gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons” package is not possible because that would also purge the ubuntu-desktop dependent package.

    The only temporary workaround, for the moment, is to use this script to create a dummy package which installs instead of gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons and then do an “apt-mark hold gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons” to avoid updates.

    This fills the bill, but at the cost of the login time time, which is now extended almost to a minute as there is some part of ubunty destop still looking after gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons and waiting to timeout in the quest.

    When the user is finally logged on, anyway, everything works smoothly.

    NOW: there must be at least two bugs…
    1. gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons is unusable (stale icons) and there are many reports about this over the internet, just google them out
    2. one cannot disable it from gnome tweaks (maybe because it is now a dependency of ubuntu-desktop???)

    If gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons were at the level of nemo-desktop I would switch back to it, but at the moment I want icons because I need to use my computer, so I will stick to nemo-desktop.

    So, please, consider the idea of fixing this extension or deleting it completely, thanks!

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