Desktop Icons

When I am using a light-weight wm like Openbox, I like to buy into the minimalist philosophy and not bother with desktop icons. In fact, I am happy with just the right-click menu, but I am aware that many users will miss these common OS functions.

And so it comes to the point in this project where decisions need to be made about desktop icons, whether to have them or not, and then what application to use to create them.

Ever since Windows XP forced users to explicitly enable desktop icons for My Computer, My Documents etc I have thought that icons are on the way out. Modern mobile OS’s have no room for desktop icons, the interface makes up for it (just look at any netbook interface). It also seems that if you have set a nice wallpaper, why cover it up with icons?

Desktop icons can be useful to provide quick access to application launchers and shortcuts, but modern panels make this less of an issue. However, I know personally of many people, including IT professionals, who use the desktop exactly as the name suggests and have numerous files strewn about in a sort of organised chaos.

I am thinking that I don’t want to deny users the chance of using desktop icons, but I need to decide on the best solution. To my mind there are 2 options, each with pros and cons:

1. PCManFM
Pros – will put everything in the ~/Desktop folder onto the desktop. It will also set the wallpaper and provide a more conventional right-click menu.
Cons –  you can reorder the icons alphabetically, but you can’t click and drag to any desired position. PCManFM2 will not autostart with Openbox (currently) and is fairly buggy. Launchers need to be copies of existing .desktop files or bespoke .desktop files.

2. iDesk
Pros – small and very light-weight. Icons can be any size and moved anywhere on the desktop. Ability to set 2 or more commands to each icon eg double-left-click to launch Chromium,  double-right-click to launch Chromium in incognito mode.
Cons – only shows icons with  a .lnk file, doesn’t show documents or folders unless you create a link file. Non-standard syntax to .lnk files (doesn’t follow .desktop specification).

PCManFM probably wins out, but the inability to drag icons where you want them is a real deal-breaker for me. Decisions, decisions…

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