Ubuntu devs have decided to release Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with Nautilus 3.26 installed so that users are able to put icons on the desktop.

GNOME removed the option to put icons on the desktop earlier this month. The next release of the file manager, the app which has hitherto handled the job of drawing and managing the desktop space, will no longer support this feature. Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

Ubuntu dev Didier Roche recapped the situation in a recent IRC meeting, explaining: “as most of you know, they [GNOME] are removing the desktop feature in 3.28 this leaves up (sic) for the LTS with some options.” Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

  1. Stick with Nautilus 3.26 and keep desktop icon support
  2. Ship Nautilus 3.28 and Nemo to support desktop icons
  3. Ship Nautilus 3.28 and use an extension to draw desktop icons

Option 1 was, as one member at the meeting put it, “the only reasonable one”. Ubuntu 18.04 LTS desktop lead Will Cooke was also in favor of this option, arguing that “…we stick with what we know works.”

Besides, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will be a big enough change for 16.04 LTS users as it is. New desktop, new display server, new login manager, new apps. As inconsequential as desktop icons are in the grand scheme of things. Keeping them around means there is at least one less difference for upgrade’s to grapple with.

The most practical option for Ubuntu is to stick with Nautilus 3.26 for the 18.04 LTS and evaluate other solutions for releases thereafter — which is precisely what they plan to do.

The feature hasn’t moved, it’s been removed

‘GNOME recommends those who want desktop icons in GNOME 3.28 install Nemo’
We explained this in our original report. Ubuntu 18.04

Which is why other publications’ proclamations that the desktop icons feature has simply “moved in to Shell” are mildly disingenuous.

Desktop icons capability can be provided by a GNOME Shell extension but the upstream GNOME desktop doesn’t use desktop icons. That creates a rub, is there any impetus for GNOME devs to develop, maintain and bundle an extension that implements functionality it does not itself use.

The ‘proof of concept’ GNOME shell extension currently available is:

  • An extension, not default behavior.
  • Buggy and limited in features (e.g., it doesn’t support drag and drop).

While I’ve no doubt that some sort of desktops extension will be created, honed and polished at some point. The lack of Nautilus APIs needed to create a true 1:1 replacement will make it difficult.

But if you are passionate about being able to put icons on the GNOME desktop you need to get involved in developing the GNOME Shell replacement extension as it’s not going to build itself.

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will use GNOME 3.28 Elsewhere

Finally, this decision only affects the file manager. The rest of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is expected to use the latest, greatest GNOME 3.28.

Of course, just because Ubuntu 18.04 LTS ships with Nautilus 3.26 doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be able to upgrade to 3.28 if you want.