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How to re-enable desktop icons in Elementary OS

The Elementary OS desktop environment is designed to be good looking and functional. For the most part, it works. However, there are certain features that the developer turns off that many users may not be comfortable with, like desktop icons. So, in this guide, we’ll show you how to re-enable desktop icons in Elementary OS.

Note: this technique works best with the latest Elementary OS Juno. If you are using an older release, please upgrade your system before continuing.

Install Desktop Folder

Currently, there is no way to dig into the Elementary OS code and change some things around to re-enable desktop icons. The only way to get desktop icon functionality back in Elementary OS is to install an app known as Desktop Folder.

There are two ways to get access to the Desktop Folder application on Elementary OS. Users can build the software from source, or, install it directly from the AppCenter store if they don’t want to download the source code and compile it.

Desktop Folder in AppCenter

Desktop Folder is in the AppCenter software store on Elementary OS and is free of charge to download. To get the app installed, start by opening up AppCenter by clicking on the AppCenter icon in the dock, or, by searching for it in the Applications menu.

After opening up the AppCenter store, look for the search box, and click on it with the mouse. Then, type in “Desktop Folder,” and press the Enter key to search AppCenter for the app.

When the search results load, you’ll see a ton of different app results, with Desktop Folder at the top. Click on it to load the Desktop Folder app page in AppCenter.

On the Desktop Folder app page in AppCenter, locate the blue “Free” button and click it with the mouse. Selecting this button will initiate the installation process, starting with the password prompt. Enter your password, and Desktop Folder will install on the system.

Build from source

Desktop Folder is available on GitHub and can be compiled from source if you prefer it. To compile the software, start by opening up a terminal window and installing all of the necessary build-time dependencies. To open a terminal, press Ctrl + Alt + T or Ctrl + Shift + T on the keyboard.

sudo apt install meson valac libgee-0.8-dev libcairo2-dev libjson-glib-dev libgdk-pixbuf2.0-dev libwnck-3-dev libgtksourceview-3.0-dev libjson-glib-dev intltool git

Once all of the dependencies are installed on Elementary OS through the terminal window, use the git clone command to download the Desktop Folder source code to your computer.

git clone https://github.com/spheras/desktopfolder.git

When the Desktop Folder source code is done downloading, it’s time to move the terminal session into the source code directory. Using the CD command, enter “desktopfolder.”

cd desktopfolder

Inside of the “desktopfolder,” use the meson build command to generate a build environment.

meson build

When the software compilation is complete, use the CD command to move the terminal into the “build” folder.

cd build

With the meson configure command, configure the source code.

meson configure -D prefix=/usr

Using the ninja command, compile the Desktop Folder code. Please keep in mind that compilation may take a long time, depending on how fast your Elementary OS PC is.

ninja

When the code for Desktop Folder has been compiled, install the software on the system using the ninja install command.

sudo ninja install

Desktop Folder, once built, can instantly be launched by writing the following command in a terminal window.

com.github.spheras.desktopfolder

Re-enable desktop icons on Elementary OS

Re-enabling the desktop icons on Elementary OS means setting up the Desktop Folder to start up at login automatically. To configure the Desktop Folder app to automatically launch when you turn on your PC, start by clicking on “Applications” to bring up the app launcher.

In the app launcher, type in “startup.” Look through the search results for “Startup” and launch it to load up Elementary OS’s application auto-start section.

Inside of the Startup area, look to the bottom left-hand section of the app for the + sign and click on it with the mouse.

Clicking the + symbol will reveal a search box and a list of applications. Look through the list for “Desktop Folder” and select it. Alternatively, type “Desktop Folder” in the search box to add it to the Startup list.

Alternatively, if you prefer to use the command-line, launch a terminal window with Ctrl + Alt + T or Ctrl + Shift + T, and use the following CP command to place Desktop Folder into the “autostart” folder.

cp /usr/share/applications/com.github.spheras.desktopfolder.desktop ~/.config/autostart/
sudo chmod +x com.github.spheras.desktopfolder.desktop

Once Desktop Folder is setup to load on login, reboot your PC. When you log back in, you’ll have desktop icons on the Elementary OS desktop!


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