Ubuntu: Two Ways to Keep A Clean Desktop Without Affecting Your Efficiency

I love placing all the shortcut icons and files on my Desktop because it allows me to access to my data quickly and save me the trouble of searching for it in Nautilus.

On the other hand, I also have a passion for clean desktop. I have a huge collection of beautiful wallpapers and I love to set my desktop to rotate the wallpaper every 30 minutes. It is my source of inspiration and seeing the beautiful wallpaper allows me to relax whenever I am too stress out from my work.

Apparently, having a lot of desktop shortcuts and a clean beautiful desktop together is not quite possible. I need a solution, a method that allows me to clean up my Desktop, yet allows me to access to my shortcut icons and files quickly.

1st Method: Toying with the gconf-editor

Nautilus is the app that is in charge of rendering the desktop icons. By configuring the relevant entry in gconf-editor, you can get Nautilus to show/hide the desktop icons. (I will not go into the detail here)

Ivy.fr has come up with a script that allows you to toggle on/off the desktop icons. Here is the modified version.

Open a text editor and paste the following code into it:

if ( `gconftool --get /apps/nautilus/preferences/show_desktop` == "true" ) then
gconftool --set /apps/nautilus/preferences/show_desktop \
--type boolean false
gconftool --set /apps/nautilus/preferences/show_desktop \
--type boolean true

Save the file as ToggleDesktop.sh and place it in your Home folder.

On your file manager, right click on the ToggleDesktop.sh file and select Properties. Select to the Permissions tab and make the file executable.


Now, whenever you click on the script, it will hide/show the desktop icons.

You can also drag and drop the script to the panel for easy access.

The limitation

While this method seems like a good way to show/hide your desktop icons, it comes with some limitations:

1) Once you have toggled the desktop icons off, you’ll have totally no control over the desktop. You won’t be able to access the context menu (via right-click) and you won’t be able to change the wallpaper. If you are using a wallpaper changing app (such as Drapes), it will no longer work.

2) This is not stable and it could cause the Nautilus to crash occasionally. The problem is, when Nautilus crashed, it does not show any error message. You will have completely no knowledge that it has crashed.

3) Hiding your desktop icon is fast, but getting them to display again will have a time lag (of about 1 second).

2nd Method: Using Compiz and a lightweight file manager

The second method is an idea that I have come up on my own that allows me to maintain a clean desktop and at the same time have quick access to my data. It makes use of Compiz widget layer and a lightweight File Manager.

Unlike the above method, the idea here is not to hide your desktop icons, but to create a folder to store all your Desktop icons/files and make it into a widget where you can access it easily.

The lightweight file manager that I use is Thunar. It will work too if you use Rox-Filer or PCManFM. I avoided using Nautilus as it is the default file manager in Gnome and I don’t want it to mess up my system.


1) Create a folder in your Home directory and name it Desktop_Folder.

2) Move all your desktop shortcuts and files to this folder. In the future, this will be the folder where you place all your shortcuts and files that you want to have quick access to.

3) Install Thunar and CompizConfig Settings Manager

sudo apt-get install thunar compizconfig-settings-manager

4) Open up Compiz Config Manager (System-> Preferences->CompizConfig Settings Manager)

5) Go to the Widget Layer section. Click on the Behavior tab.

Enter the following in the Widget Windows field

title=Desktop_Folder – File Manager & class=Thunar


6) Click on the General tab, on the third row of “Toggle Widget Display”, configure the screen corner to activate the widget. For me, I chose the bottom right corner.


(Check out this article for more detail on setting any applications to be a widget in Ubuntu)

7) Close Compiz Settings Manager. Go to System->Preferences-> Sessions (or Startup Applications if you are using Jaunty). Create a new entry and enter the following:

Name: Thunar
Command: thunar /home/your_username/Desktop_Folder

That’s it. Whenever you startup your computer, Thunar will load up with the Desktop_Folder directory and hide itself behind the screen (in the widget layer). Whenever you need to access your files, simply point your mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen to display Thunar. There you will find all your shortcuts and files.

Let me know if these two methods work for you. If you have any other ways to keep a clean desktop without affecting your efficiency, do let me know in the comments.

Image credit: indra-wahyudi