How can I resize the desktop icons?

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They are too big. I tried to use the zoom out option in nautilus, but it didn't work

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Unfortunately, this is a limitation of nautilus with the minimum size being 48px hard-coded within their software. The setting that control this is:

gsettings range org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level

You can see by running this command it's already set to small, so it can't get smaller:

gsettings get org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level

In order to get smaller icons you would have to actually recompile the code, at which point you basically won't be getting updates for nautilus anymore:

It's also worth mentioning that if customization is something you desire the Kubuntu flavor of Ubuntu based on KDE may interest you.

  • +1 to KDE's customization. I don't use icons on the desktop, but KDE flavors offer six icon sizes for desktop icons with a simple GUI to make the changes. – Justice for Monica Oct 2 '18 at 2:20
  • An afterthought: you could ask a question about resizing icons on Kubuntu's desktop and provide the answer as well! – Justice for Monica Oct 2 '18 at 5:46

Following the above hints with the gsettings command I edited the command line to:

gsettings set org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level standard

And my desktop icons popped back to the correct size.

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