Desktop Icons NG - Get some icons onto your Gnome desktop

Updated: April 14, 2021

Whenever I see anything Next Generation, my immediate association is of course Star Trek TNG. Hence, you ought to read this review in Captain Picard's voice. Should make everything more interesting. Now, the reason why we're here is to talk about Desktop Icons NG, a Gnome extension designed to give you that most basic of functionalities - desktop icons. For a while, there has been a namesake extension, but now it's been deprecated and a new version be born. NG. Engage.

I decided to try using it in this or that flavor of Gnome, to see how it affects or, ideally, improves my Gnome desktop experience. While I normally like to keep my desktops tidy and clean, and only use it for application launchers (primarily in Windows) and occasional reminders slash TODO notes, I am also aware that people do need the desktop space, and for many, it's a convenient place to keep files for quick use. So let's see how this new version improves the experience. Make is so.

Teaser

Attempt 1: Ubuntu

I decided to install the extension in Ubuntu 20.04 first. Normally, this distro ships with Desktop Icons installed, so you do get Home and Trash icons. I enabled the NG edition, and moved a couple of files onto the desktop. Suddenly, they duplicated themselves. I had two instances of each, one large, one smaller, and only the latter clickable. I quickly figured the reason for this was that both versions of the extension were active, but only the NG was responding to my desktop games. Hence, also the difference in sizes.

Extensions list

Settings

Double icons

I disabled Desktop Icons (non-NG), but this didn't help really. The icons kept showing up in pairs - twice - like in Catch 22. I was seeing everything twice! And I realized that Ubuntu, with its already heavily modified Gnome setup, isn't the best choice for testing this extension. So I decided to try Fedora 33 as my next choice.

Double icons, more

Attempt 2: Fedora

Here, the behavior was more in line with what I expected. But still a bit buggy. The extension breaks the convention of ... well, extensions, by having a Settings button in Gnome Tweaks - if you read my Gnome 40 review, you know the functionality has been moved to a separate app - but this is merely a notification. It tells you to right-click the desktop and make changes via a menu option there. Weird.

Changing icon sizes works well - but you can't change spacing, so if you go for tiny, which kind of makes sense if you also use something like Dash to Panel, the icons are bunched too close together. You can either use larger icons, but then you have elements of two different sizes on your desktop, or you can use small/tiny, but they feel crowded.

Standard icons

Small icons

By default, the icons also shown their preview slash thumbnails. Say you want to show something on your computer to someone. You could have a couple of photos on the desktop. Their names might be generic, like IMG_01.jpg and IMG_06.jpg, but the thumbnails will actually show the contents. You could "expose" something you might not necessarily want. Luckily, Desktop Icons NG allows you to set the right policy. You can enable thumbnails for all files, including remote sources, only local files, or never. Very neat.

You can also delete the icons - Trash, Home, etc. And they will be permanently gone. It would be nice if the extension had an option to restore defaults - and by that I also mean re-creating deleted icons. If this exists, and me wonky brain skipped over the option, mea culpa.

Other than that, Desktop Icons NG worked largely as expected. It allowed me to restore a basic piece of desktop usage to Gnome. This is something so baffling - a UI that does away with so many common things that people need in a classic desktop. But there you go, the extension does it. Now, the tricky part is actually setting up your Gnome desktop to allow you to install and use extensions in the first place. A-ha.

Conclusion

Desktop Icons NG is a handy tool. It's versatile, it comes with a lot of nice options, and it allows people to be efficient. Compared to the original versions, it definitely has more features. A useful, even necessary addition to the Gnome desktop. Ironically, these various third-party bits and pieces actually help Gnome, because without them, I really would have zero reason in using it.

The extension can benefit from some small improvements, though. It would be nice to save the default layout, so if one changes too much, they can easily go back. Icons spacing is another feature. Icons sorting? Yes please. Finally, I wonder if this extension could allow the creation of new files (of any type) so it's aligned to what Files does, now that the desktop is a usable workspace. Anyway, not bad at all. I can't imagine Picard saying not bad at all, so instead here's a tug on the uniform and a gruff hmm. We're done. WARP 9.

Cheers.

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