I run Ubuntu 18.04 on a Macbook Pro. I like to use two monitors in my office, but when I connect the second monitor my desktop icons "disappear". I say that in quotes because they rearrange themselves and some do disappear, some jump to the second monitor, and others move around on the main monitor (the laptop's screen). The configuration of the main monitor (2880 x 1800) does not change when the connection is made. When I disconnect the second monitor, my desktop icons return to where they belong.

Is there something I can do to regain control? I have read threads about "nautilus" and "nemo", but I a) don't know one from another and b) just use what came with the upgrade from 16.04. Anu actual help will be appreciated.

2 Answers 2


Perhaps the issue can be solved, and someone may bring a solution to the issue, but to my knowledge, I fear that may not be the case.

Gnome Shell moved away from icons on the desktop. Since Gnome Shell 3.28, icons on the desktop are not anymore supported. What you see, is one of the reasons. The technology to draw icons on the desktop is quite old, and does not play well with multiple monitors, high resolution etc. Developers decided the code would hamper further development of Files (aka nautilus, which provided the icons on the desktop) and dropped the support from 3.28 onward. Desktop icon support may return in the future to Gnome Shell, but will then be provided by a Gnome Shell extension,

Ubuntu 18.04 does supports desktop icons. They support this to the extent that the current Ubuntu version, 18.04, which uses Gnome Shell 3.28, ships with an older version of Files that still features support for drawing desktop icons.

There is probably not a lot you can do. Switching to nemo or caja will, besides from being quite complex, likely not solve your issue. Both file managers are forks of nautilus, and thus basically contain the same code to handle icons on the desktop.

An options to work around the issues is to change your working habits, i.e. turn desktop icons off and learn to use the dock to launch frequently used programs, and "search" in Files or the Activities overview to quickly get to your documents.

Alternatively, if you do not want to let go of your workflow based on having icons on your desktop, another desktop environment such as KDE or perhaps xfce (I doubt for the latter) may handle your configuration better . Budgie is yet another desktop, but it is strongly based on Gnome components and thus may also be problematic.

  • Thanks! I've been "changing my working habits" since before GUIs existed, so one more change won't be a big deal. It sounds like you've save me some time spent in fruitless searching. Besides, I've always kept my desktop relatively uncluttered; this just puts me at the limit of unclutteredness.
    – RadlyEel
    Sep 25, 2018 at 21:07

I wrote the iconic script to give control over which monitor icons are placed on. It also insures icons don't get placed into the "black hole" that exists when monitors of different resolutions are used.

Here are a few screenshots of iconic to give you an idea of how it works.

iconic Monitors Notebook General Tab screenshot

iconic monitors general.png

On this notebook tab you can also specify the number of seconds a test will last. Press the Test button to place icons on the Desktop using currently defined settings for number or columns, rows and reserved screen space.

iconic Monitors Notebook Monitor 3 tab

iconic monitors monitor 3.png

Assign a user friendly name to each monitor. Set the number of rows and columnss to utilize for icon placement on each monitor.

Use the Test button to view what icon placement after number or columns or rows are changed.

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