TL;DR : what is the easiest way to create desktop shortcut to a program ?

When I first started using GNOME with Ubuntu I immediately tried to find ways of creating desktop shortcuts/launchers to launch common programs.

My attempt to get desktop icons into GNOME lead me to pages like this one which describe several hacks to get desktop icons for common programs.

I've found that these solutions are convoluted despite this being a common request.

There is already a question which attempts to ask the same thing, but it was closed, presumably because it wasn't particularly clear:

Why isnt there a create launcher on desktop right click?

  • 4
    You should ask the devs.
    – muru
    May 2, 2015 at 5:02
  • 2
    @muru Is this not the place to ask questions about Ubuntu?
    – quant
    May 2, 2015 at 5:27
  • 4
    Not all kinds of questions are welcome. "Why is X so difficult?" sounds like a rant inviting opinionated answers.
    – muru
    May 2, 2015 at 5:29
  • 1
    @muru, please read the question again. This isn't a rant. Usually when something is needlessly difficult it is because the architects had a different workflow in mind. I thought this might be one of those situations and I'm asking for the way it's supposed to be done in Ubuntu.
    – quant
    May 2, 2015 at 5:29
  • 1
    If the emphasized part is your actual question, ask that. This looks like (mild) rant to me. We don't need to hear the epic saga of you trying creating desktop launchers. If you tried something and got an error, post that.
    – muru
    May 2, 2015 at 5:33

2 Answers 2


[W]hat is the intended way to quickly launch common programs in Ubuntu with GNOME?

You use the overview:

enter image description here

To reach the overview, you can do any one of:

  • Press Super.
  • Press AltF1.
  • Move your mouse to the top-left corner.
  • Click on the Activities on the top corner.

From here, simply type (part of) the name of the program, or something in its description, and press enter when it is highlighted:

enter image description here

The list of icons on the left is customizable. If you want to add an icon to it, for commonly-used applications, you can go to the Applications overview and drag an icon to it:

enter image description here

Or right click an icon and Add to Favourites:

enter image description here enter image description here

To get to the Applications overview, you can do any one of:

  • Click on the matrix of dots:

    enter image description here

  • Press SuperA.

If you use an application often enough, it will get added to the Frequent section in the Applications overview.

enter image description here

So, the short answer is:

You don't use the desktop for launchers.

It might take some time getting used to this.

Check out:

The only times the desktop is faster to reach than the overview are when you login or switch to a new workspace (in both cases the desktop is displayed by default). You can have the overview shown on startup.

  • Muru, check my answer please. What do you think ? May 2, 2015 at 13:55
  • @Serg well, put concisely, you are saying: ln -s /usr/share/applications/foo.desktop ~/Desktop?
    – muru
    May 2, 2015 at 13:57
  • Yes, but because OP is used to windows and probably not command line - I do it through nautilus May 2, 2015 at 13:58
  • I mean . . . .windows explorer just creates .lnk file . . . . unix-like creates symbolic links . . . . I can't see difference here as far as regular user is concerned . . . . May 2, 2015 at 14:01
  • @Serg Jacob said pretty much the same thing, dunno if OP read that far though. It's up to the OP, I suppose.
    – muru
    May 2, 2015 at 14:01

TL;DR : Linux calls it "Create a link", Windows calls it "Create a Shortcut". Same stuff, different wording. It's not hard, it's just how everything was designed. Windows' design is actually what's confusing users, because what it does is named different from what it shows in right click. And back to basics from this Wikipedia article

If you ever have tried opening windows partition with linux you will see that essentially, a windows desktop shortcut is nothing more than a link file. Now, just because windows days "create a shortcut" doesn't mean that unix-like file system has to call their way of doing think "create a shortctu",too.

For instance, bellow you will see a screenshot of my windows desktop opened with Ubuntu's default file manager - nautilus. Highlighted is a shortcut to Open Broadcaster Software , which is used to broadcast videos on sites like twitch.tv

enter image description here

Now, unix-like systems have implemented creating links to files and folders long ago before windows existed. If you right click in Nautilus, you will see a line saying "Create a Link". Same idea as windows shortcut ( which is actually a link, but windows calls it shortcut ) !

Now, let's go to /usr/share/applications folder on Ubuntu. You will see there a list of all installed applications on your system. Now you can either copy one of those files to desktop and open with double click; alternatively, press AltF2 and run gksu nautilus /usr/share/applications, which opens file manager in that directory, right click and chose create link. Now you can move that link to desktop.

Bellow you can see my folder, with a link created to a solitaire game.

enter image description here

  • 1
    But what if there is no "Create link" command in context menu? (I am using nautilus in Debian 9)
    – C-F
    Feb 14, 2019 at 1:53
  • @C-F Well, full disclaimer: Ask Ubuntu answers and questions are supposed to only support official Ubuntu releases. That said, if there's no context-menu option like that, options are to use alternative file manager or if you are comfortable with command-line to use ln command and create symlink. Essentially, what you see in this answer is the same thing as ln, just in GUI ways. Feb 14, 2019 at 2:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.