In Ubuntu, Nautilus is the default file manager. It also takes care of drawing the desktop and icons such as folders, files, archives and removable media. Nautilus has the ability to display your computer icon, home folder icon, network icon, trash can icon, and icons for any mounted volumes such as CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, or flash drives.
However, many Linux distributions (e.g. Ubuntu) have many of these options disabled, and if you scroll through the Nautilus settings (a logical place since Nautilus does paint the desktop) there seems to be no way to show or hide them, depending on your personal preferences.
Fortunately, Linux has nothing but customization options, so changing this behavior isn’t that difficult. We only need a terminal (or launch dialog) and a configuration editor.
Depending on your Linux version, the configuration editor launcher may not appear in the application menu. If so, just launch it (it should be in the System Tools menu under Applications).
You can also launch the Configuration Editor by opening the Run dialog box and launching it from there. Press Alt-F2 to open the Run dialog box, then type gconf-editor as shown:
Any of these commands will launch the Configuration Editor, which will look something like this:
To access the settings for the icons displayed on the desktop, we need to access the Nautilus settings. First, double-click the Applications folder on the left sidebar, which will open a long list of program settings.
Now scroll down to the nautilus entry and double-click it to open the full list of Nautilus options.
This will show several options such as compact_view, desktop, desktop metadata, icon_view, list_view, Preferences and sidebar_panels. We want a desktop, so click it and all the various Nautilus desktop options will appear in the main window on the right.
Depending on your system, some checkboxes will be checked and others unchecked. In the image above, you can see that only the checkbox is checked so that the volumes are visible. This means that only external drives, flash cards, CDs and DVDs will be shown. To change this behavior, select the other check boxes. You have the option to make the computer icon, home folder, network icon, and trash can icon visible. So check whatever you want. In this image, we have selected all of them.
When we check each box, the icons are immediately visible on the desktop. Before we checked the boxes for the computer, home folder, network, and trash icons, our desktop looked like this.
However, after checking the boxes, we can now see all the icons that were previously hidden.
That’s all! Some distributions, such as Linux Mint, have created additional GUI tools to make this process easier, but with some know-how, it’s not that hard to change desktop icon settings and more just using the Configuration Editor.