In Ubuntu 20.04, on the desktop, there is a number of actions I wish I could do, such as, by order of importance :

  • use keyboard shortcuts such as select all, copy / paste.
  • use drag & drop with icons
  • deactivate the "mouse over" highlight, and restrict the clicking area to only the icon, not the surrounding square

To put it simply, I'd like to have the exact same features as offered by the desktop of Ubuntu 18.04 (probably related to a specific version of GNOME, and not Ubuntu itself).

Am I missing something obvious here? I actually see no reason why those actions are removed or deactivated on the desktop, since they all work in any Nautilus window.

  • What I have experienced is that regular shortcuts work using right Ctrl, it does not solve the issue, but it can be an option. – Leo May 5 '20 at 16:44
  • See askubuntu.com/a/1248864/827401 for the fix, at least when it come to the Del key – Dimitris Moraitidis Jun 10 '20 at 14:31

Unfortunately, desktop icons are completely broken (which is quite unexpected in a LTS release of Ubuntu) as instead of the file-manager (Nautilus) handling the desktop items, now a GNOME Shell extension handles them.

See this bug report: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons/+bug/1813441

A workaround involving replacing the file-manager is described here: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons/+bug/1813441/comments/14. To do that, follow the steps below.

  1. remove gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons
  2. install nemo
  3. make Nemo handle desktop icons
  • That's opening the Nemo file manager app, which is not the GNOME Shell desktop. – K7AAY Apr 27 '20 at 15:11
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    @K7AAY maybe it's not Gnome Shell, but this way the desktop just works fine. – Raphaël Titol May 6 '20 at 11:26
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    4. install Unity Desktop? I wonder if it works properly??? – WinEunuuchs2Unix Jun 11 '20 at 17:10
  • @WinEunuuchs2Unix, yes it does. – Sadaharu Wakisaka Sep 10 '20 at 0:52
  • @SadaharuWakisaka Agreed, I've been using Unity for 5 years and it's rock solid. – WinEunuuchs2Unix Sep 10 '20 at 3:37

The reason behind this change in experience compared to older Ubuntu releases is that the GNOME developers have relieved recent versions of Nautilus (aka (GNOME) Files, the default file-manager application) from handling the the desktop and the items on it. The rationale behind this decision can be found here: https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/nautilus/-/issues/158. The standard unmodified GNOME desktop comes without the desktop icons feature altogether.

To mitigate the issue, Ubuntu developers have shipped Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (in fact, it's happening since the Ubuntu 19.04 release) with a GNOME Shell extension called 'Desktop Icons' (package name: gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons) which handles the desktop and provides the desktop icons. But currently the extension offers only a limited set of features, so you would find many of the standard desktop features missing.

A workaround would be to use a different and slightly more featureful extension, called Desktop Icons NG (DING) by Sergio Costas (a fork of the Desktop Icons extension). Note that you need to disable the pre-installed Desktop Icons extension first (using the 'Extensions' application, for example).

Desktop Icons NG (DING) offers some extra features compared to the default one, for example

  • Drag-and-Drop, both inside the desktop, between desktop and applications, and nautilus windows.
  • Allows to use the 'Open with...' option with several files.
  • When hovering or clicking on an icon with a name too large to fit, it shows the full name.
  • Usual keyboard shortcuts to cut/copy, paste, select all, delete (both move to trash and delete permanently).
  • Option to show a 'delete permanently' action in the context menu (right-click menu).
  • Option to show removable drives and network drives on the desktop.
  • Option to choose alignment for new icons.

Refer to this to learn more about installing and configuring GNOME Shell extensions: How do I install and manage GNOME Shell extensions?

  • 1
    "Desktop Icons NG" is indeed an improvement compared to the older version, but it's still FAR away from the old Nautilus icons' experience. 1. I see no way to freely move icons: the rigid grid is mandatory. And that applies not only when the icons are positioned, but during the positioning itself: it's super-ugly and feels unnatural. 2. I cannot use arrow keys to move across the icons. 3. No "grayed out" effect when cutting an item (file or directory). Because of that, I think I'll be running away from GNOME. – vvaltchev Mar 17 at 12:43

The current GNOME "desktop" looks more like a pain, not the real desktop. It breaks habits and classic desktop user-experience.

And what is even worse is that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is an LTS release. So you have a good chance of being stuck with anything but a fully functional desktop for the next 5 years.

Thus you may consider ditching the GNOME desktop environment altogether and choose a normal fully functional alternative. My method of achieving this is presented in this Q&A:
How to remove GNOME Shell from Ubuntu 20.04 LTS to install other desktop environment from scratch?
My favorite is MATE DE, but your choice may be different.


According to this push request by GNOME desktop icons dev https://gitlab.gnome.org/World/ShellExtensions/desktop-icons/-/merge_requests/174 it should be working partially. At time of writing, applying the patch results in moving the desktop file/folder to trash, but no difference with shift+delete (it also moves the file to the trash)

To apply the patch immediately instead of waiting to the release of the updated package, you can follow this steps.

If you followed the answer by Mee that pointed to an old workaround here https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/nautilus/issues/158#alternative-solution, you may need these extra steps:

rm ~/.config/autostart/nemo-autostart-with-gnome.desktop
sudo apt-get purge nemo
sudo apt autoremove -y
sudo apt install --reinstall gnome-shell-extension-desktop-icons

Then you need to edit a couple of files following the steps below:

  1. In a Terminal window, run

    sudo -H nautilus
  2. Navigate to /usr/share/gnome-shell/extensions/desktop-icons@csoriano/.

  3. Open createFolderDialog.js with gedit or a similar text-editor.

  4. Copy/Paste https://gitlab.gnome.org/World/ShellExtensions/desktop-icons/-/raw/8ba06e3f456e211dfeace27bb27221cd375b65de/createFolderDialog.js

  5. Open desktopGrid.js with gedit or a similar text-editor.

  6. Copy/Paste https://gitlab.gnome.org/World/ShellExtensions/desktop-icons/-/raw/8ba06e3f456e211dfeace27bb27221cd375b65de/desktopGrid.js

Restart and you're done!

  • 1
    Running a GUI application with just sudo is not a good idea, you should at least use the -H flag or something similar. – pomsky Jun 26 '20 at 16:11

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