No way to display icons on desktop

Bug #1052152 reported by yeKcim on 2012-09-17
This bug affects 24 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
elementary OS

Bug Description

You cannot put random stuff on the backdrop out of the box, *by design*.

You can still put random stuff, including folders, on the dock. The dock does the same, but it is easier to access and this way does not create additional distractions in the backdrop.

We are aware that there are use cases in which putting random stuff in the backdrop is actually needed. Thus we will document a way to enable putting random stuff in the backdrop by the time of final release. In the meanwhile, a manual on doing that is available at

There are solutions. Screenlets, Plasma, Nautilus, etc. They're just not obvious.
We should probably document some way of doing it in customization guide, that's all.

yeKcim (yekcim) wrote :

running nautilus only for desktop and the beautiful and perfect marlin for files navigation is strange, no? only nautilus is not a solution marlin is beautiful and perfect…

screenlets and plasma to display icons in my desktop directory, really?

« etc » why not but i need more details…

You can also make Marlin/Files open on every boot showing a specific folder. Same effect, no extra apps needed.

I don't understand what's so special about some content that it should overlay the backdrop at all times. Content belongs to windows just as system-wide controls belong to panels. Dumping stuff on the backdrop is only distracting IMO.

But if you have a use case for that, you're free to implement it in any way you prefer, be it Melange or Plasma.

Changed in elementaryos:
status: New → Opinion
PerfectCarl (name-is-carl) wrote :

I, too, think that not having displayed on the desktop is a huge waste of space.
Especially for multiple monitor configuration.

While I love the minimalist approach that drives elementary, I think there is a thin line in removing useful/well loved/expected features.

I respect opinionated design, but sometimes giving the user some choice is fine too.
An option to let the user uses its desktop would be very appreciated.

On a personal note, I felt quite alienated when I discovered that I wasn't able to use my desktop space.

For reference, I asked a question about it, some time ago.

And shnatsel suggested that a better way to access to common files/applications/tasks could be proposed.

Anyway, I still love elementary even when I don't agree with the decision being made.


The better ways of organizing content I've mentioned revolve around and Zeitgeist and will not materialize for Luna.

Viale Fabrice (viale-fabrice) wrote :

You are wrong. Opening a folder with documents inside it IS NOT working with file SPATIALLY ORGANIZED ON THE DESKTOP.
Curious folks want to work with numeric files as they work with papers, books, objects... in the real world. You have the right to disagree but don't negate the cognitive organization that some humans build in the real world and also like to use when they work with their computer.
e.g. : I'd like when I am in the creative process of building a lesson to put everything on the desktop. Some files are added, other are updated... And groups are progressively created and specially organized. Of course I latter move everything inside folder and subfolders. But I always use the same process when I update my work : Nautilus is opened to display old files, but new created - added files are included - organized on the desktop (whatever the meanings : at top, finished files, at right current work...). NONE SOFTWARE (zeitgeist included) can know when I decide to stop, update, select, remove, move to folder... or change organization, or create a new spatial category and so on (I even not have to name it!).
Spatial organization have semantic and cognitive meanings... That all. It's not a matter of opinion. It's the reality. But no one will impose to you to build a desktop to the users that like to use this kind of cognitive behaviors.
My personal point of view. It's just wrong to ideologically limit the use of the desktop. Those we do not want to use it, or want to contemplate their desktop like a mirror of their ego can continue to do and let it empty... The reverse is currently impossible. It is a pity.

ainq (ainq) wrote :

My personal opinion: I do not have any desktop icons on my OSes, as I find it much more convenient to
a) use the built in application search function (keyboard much faster than mouse)
b) stick stuff on my dock/launcher/taskbar, use keyboard shortcuts to launch

Why anybody would put files on their desktop, I honestly have no idea.
While I do agree that the lack of icons on the desktop would aggravate some users, I think it would be a lot better allocation of time and resources to work more on the search functions in slingshot and marlin, and implement shortcuts in the dock (for Windows, I just hit Super+(launcher item number), and it just works.
Depends on your opinion and workflow, but there has to be a compromise between designer decisions and user customization. In this case, I believe that designer decisions should rule.

yeKcim (yekcim) wrote :

In fact, I've got questions: Are you doing elementary for you or a maximum of users? You delete desktop feature of marlin, is that really difficult to reimplement it? You don't need icons on desktop, don't delete the feature, just don't use it and let users choose… Is that so stupid? I work almost like Viale Fabrice and I don't want to change because it works for me. Elementary OS is a project I really like and really want to use and promote, but not without desktop of course… Your argumentation (distracting, more extra apps needed,…) could be use for picture display on desktop, so why this feature is always here?

yeKcim (yekcim) wrote :

No way to work with spatially organized files is a bad news. I've talk about it on a linux french website, a lot of users use desktop for WIP. Have you done a poll to know how many users will not use elementary just because of this lack? (in french)

yeKcim (yekcim) wrote :

Just to understand what is spatial organization

yeKcim (yekcim) wrote : a french poll to know if linux users use desktop or not

Vincent (influence-pc) wrote :

I don't know if it's a solution, but there is effectively a way to do that

I hope that an "Elementary Tweak Tool" will be planned.

tags: added: choice user
yeKcim (yekcim) wrote :

Vincent (influence-pc) → Only available with jupiter, unavailable in luna…

Vincent (influence-pc) wrote :

Elementary is a young project, I totally agree that not leave this option at the discretion of the user, even in a hidden option, can only limit the spread of this great work. It seems so essential to me that I can not imagine use Elementary without this feature, although I am literally in love with the result.

A customization tool must absolutely allow the user to personalize his computer, regardless technical impacts. The end users should not be forced by their desktop environment (like on Unity or Gnome3) but appreciate it and shape to their desires. It is only common sense, be careful not to repeat these mistakes.

Just listen to your users' needs instead of deciding for them, even if it does not prevent you from making choices to define the default guidelines.

Timo Reimerdes (timorei) wrote :

I always liked the ability to put WIP files right on the desktop. A corner / monitor / virtual desktop for a specific tasks.

I never miss it on a single screen notebook where all the screen-estate is used by the applications anyways, but as soon as 2x 1920x1200 are available, not having icons as WIP and status (mounted devices) FEELS cumbersome.

Kathen Brewster (booiscute) wrote :

I think people have been programmed to believe you are supposed to put junk on your desktop. I used to do that and stopped without a problem and I find my time is used much more efficiently and everything just looks neater. Everything is nicely organized in Files and it takes me seconds to find whatever I am looking for. I don't understand the big deal.

Currently Marlin supports icons on the desktop. Unfortunately, Elementary OS migrated to a fork of Marlin (Pantheon files), started before that ability was implemented.

Maybe a temporal option could be a little tutorial explaining how to replate Pantheon files with Marlin...

Uhm, I don't think Marlin can do that. Especially because it's abandoned since August and it couldn't do that last time I checked at about that time.

Let's settle on including enabling desktop in the official customization guide, OK?

probono (probono) wrote :

I second the original request. A "desktop" OS without a desktop is, well, pointless.

Thanasis Naskos (naskoos) wrote :

Sergey have a look at the 8th comment of this bug report

Ammonkey was working on it...

udit mahajan (mahajanudit) wrote :
Download full text (4.5 KiB)

I installed Luna beta, used it and I have to say it is a good solid OS. I would not go as far to use the word "polished" because it is still incomplete at many places. After using it for couple of days and elementary theme os Ubuntu I have realized a couple of things about the OS and the management that drives this OS:
1. There are few features that are very simple to implement, but are left out. A perfect example of this is installing elementary theme on Ubuntu OS. The theme is beautiful but it leaves user is a state of disgust with the white opaque selection background that comes up on desktop icons. Now one would think it is some bug of some kind but I have never seen any theme that would have an opaque background. After searching I realized, that it is removed by simply added two lines in a css file. after more searching I saw a comment by one of the eOS developer that they have not worked on this as eOS does not handle desktop.
2. Files: Files is a very light file manager. Well, it has to be since it is a fork of Marlin. Honestly, anything that ammonkey has started simply has been amazing, light and beautiful to look at. He admitted that one day we would like to see Marlin replace Nautilus as quite simply Nautilus does many things not in right way. And for that, it needs to implement some basic features that nautilus provides. "Desktop Icons". See a feature is something that people may or may not use. Essential feature is something that is vital for majority of users. This feature quite simply is... I have seen so many discussion, debates where the eOS developers advocate it is a waste of time and there are better way to organize files and folders. Admitted.. It is a couple of decade old way of handling files. But it frankly still happens to be an essential feature (see definition above).
3. Yorba Foundation: It is very easy to actually create a fork of Ubuntu. Please don't get me wrong, i am not trying to demean the efforts of Mint, eOS and other such communities. What I mean is creating a fork is not that complicated as creating an OS is. Given that I simply adore Yorba Foundation because they have not tried to do it. They have not forked Ubuntu or any other debian derivative to create another OS. What they are trying to do ( in co-ordination of many eOS developers I must say) is create good applications for such OS. I have to say that makes me admire them more then eOS. I had brief exchange of mails with Adam (founder of Yorba org) regarding the state of Geary and the features it lacks. I have to say I think he was the most modest person I have ever had a conversation with... He admitted the shortcomings of Geary and said they are trying to make it reach the stable 1.0 version which will have all basic features of a modern mail client. And hopefully it will replace thunderbird and evolution in most linux systems.
4. Other projects: Maya, Noise, Scratch. Almost all these projects offer incomplete functionality. Again, I am not trying to crib or demean I am merely presenting my critique.. eOS org already is short of resources as they have pointed it out then why are there so many open ended projects? Can scratch do all that geany/gedit ...


Coeur Noir (coeur-noir) wrote :

We will all agree that it is not a solution but it may work, see :

I still don't understand why developers feel right to enforce their views on the end users.

If many people, or just one, ask for a feature then that feature must exist. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course developers can suggest any kind of new things (and users are just free to use them or NOT) but this does NOT mean developers have the right to forbid anything, to take old-fashionned-things-for-them-but-highly-usefull for normal people.

That said, eOS is instinctive, fast, beautiful, except it lacks a real useful desktop where the work in progress or at the moment folders can proudly be dispayed - as reminders, as spatialized organisation, as mood conducts... it's so easy nowadays on big screens !

Cody Garver (codygarver) wrote :

We're not enforcing anything on the users. We don't use nautilus so it's not present to put icons on the desktop. You can install nautilus if you want.

PerfectCarl (name-is-carl) wrote :

It's a shame that developers don't want to listen to the users on that one.
I see the hubris of Apple and 37signals at its worse.

By the way, has anyone an rough estimate on how hard it would be to implement in files (and do a fork) ?
(For someone knowing its way with vala and linux)

And maybe some pointer (implementation on other libraries/application) ?

udit mahajan (mahajanudit) wrote :

It indeed is a shame that developers are forcing users to have no desktop even after so many users asking for them. I do admit though there are many other ways of drawing the desktop despite file manager and they handle it much better than nautilus does, my point is why are such software not bundled up with the eOS?

Lets do some maths here. Lets say it takes an eOS developer bundle the software in a "Right" way in 'x' amount of time and for a normal user it takes 'y' amount of time to do the same on his system. Obviously its safe to assume x < y (by a great margin).
Now lets assume there are 1000 users using eOs. so it takes in total y*1000 time to implement this feature. Now imagine the developers are wasting 1000 times y time instead of investing 'x' just because of their stubbornness. They keep saying and advocating there are better ways to handle desktop. Then give it with the operating system if users want it. It is as simple as that. If you think one requires nautilus to do this. My humble request is to simply discard "files" as a project and include nautilus as default file manager.

I do not understand why the developers are being so stubborn here. The only choice they are leaving users with is to altogether not use their operating system and stick with Ubuntu. Because clearly this is a must have feature for so many users. So why not implement it? or at least come out and say we are not able to implement this feature because of so and so reason and would love if others could implement it. There are people who would at least give it a try if not actually do it. But this behavior of yours only reaks of stubbornness and nothing else. Sorry to be that rude, but that is the reality here.

Cody Garver (codygarver) wrote :

>Why not implement it? [desktop icons]
There is no one to develop the code and this is a feature that is not default behavior and is not one of the 30 or so random crashes that need attention. Also, "we would love for someone to implement this".

>Why are such software not bundled up with the eOS?
Software that does not follow the HIG is not allowed to be default because it breaks the standardized experience that the elementary OS is meant to create/enforce. However, in some small cases, (Plugs, etc) not every piece of software included explicitly follows the HIG because we don't have the resources to develop an alternative to it. We do have an alternative to Nautilus.

If a software title is pre-installed, it represents elementary and influences the intended experience. We don't want the derived perception that LibreOffice's broken interface and other nuances are acceptable so it, for example, is not included.

>Some math with x and y and stuff.
I'm bad at math.

I don't think this is an accurate (or flattering) description of whatever you think goes on.

I rewrote the bug description for clarity. I hope this will not cause any more shit storms.

description: updated
udit mahajan (mahajanudit) wrote :

Hey guys, I would like to apologize for my burst up above.
Anyways, I am almost nearing implementing this feature in pantheon files and will very soon be sending it to the dev team to review.
But there are still many issues remaining... Hopefully by the end of this month I will have it all figured out.

description: updated
Naatan (naatan) wrote :

Having just installed Elementary Luna Beta 2 I have to wonder - whatever happened to this?

the correct link is

about how to enable nautilus as dektop-handler

Le 29/05/2013 17:08, Naatan a écrit :
> Having just installed Elementary Luna Beta 2 I have to wonder -
> whatever happened to this?

HLFH (hlfh) wrote :

Very bad ! I can't sharing files with Parallels Desktop because of this !

Slav (lazarovslav) wrote :

So...Ok,but i work with GIMP,Illustrator,Photoshop and many other UI programs,i need the desktop is my shortcut,can you make a option in the settings or something like that or second desktop who can be used like a desktop like a in Windows OS.Thank You!Greetings from Bulgaria.

ITPROJECTS (itprojects) wrote :

Actually desktop icons can be handle by pantheon-files.

Here is the code:



The only thing now is if and when the edvelopers will take on board the 2 or 3 files that were changed to achieve that.

udit mahajan (mahajanudit) wrote :

I tried building it from your code. I am still not getting desktop icons...

ITPROJECTS (itprojects) wrote :

Can you elaborate please. What commands did you use?

Did you try it with

"apt-get source --compile pantheon-files" ? this makes you a deb package. What were the messages?

did you launch it with "pantheon-files -x" or with "pantheon --desktop"

ITPROJECTS (itprojects) wrote :

Did you have a folder called "Desktop" or in my case the translation is "Плот"

ITPROJECTS (itprojects) wrote :

To sum up for other users from conversation:

1. The startup command is 'pantheon-files -x' or 'pantheon-files --desktop'.
2. This is meant for the pantheon-files as used in Elementary OS Luna.
3. Nautilus or Ubuntu theming may add a gray background, probabliy due to theming
4. You need to have a Desktop folder in your home folde, or it will show your home directory on desktop.This is by design to show you it works.

The idea is that the Elementary Developers will hopefully take the changes and integrate them. It's a proof of concept.

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