Ubuntu Linux: Arrange your Desktop Icons

Most Ubuntu beginners start with experiences from other operating systems, like Windows, and are used to the way the desktop was arranged in their old operating system. One of the most frustrating first time experiences because of unmet expactations is that icons on the desktop do not snap to a underlying grid. This is because the desktop of Ubuntu does not have a underlying grid. Thus you are allowed to place the icons in every possible way, even overlapping, and when you have finished arranging your icons you simply "freeze" the current positions.

Horizontal Adjustment: Overlapping icons

If this is your first experience with Ubuntu, you might have noticed that icons can be arranged in a way where their file names are overlapping.

overlapping icons

This is not an error, it's a wanted behavior. The user should not be limited in the ways, he can arrange his icons. If he wants the icons to overlap, he should be able to do so.

What you expected is a "snap to grid"-like functionality like you might know from other operating systems. In Ubuntu you are free to place your icons where you want to place them and lock the arrangement. You might call that "lock to place" instead of "lock to grid".

This means you just have to move the icons until they do not overlap anymore. When you are happy with your arrangement, right-click to open the context menu and choose to lock the arrangement.

perfectly aligned icons

Vertical Adjustment: Change the number of displayed lines of icon text

Change the number of displayed lines of icon text

Install dconf-tools

Open up a terminal with CTRL+ALT+T and install dconf-tools with:

sudo apt-get install dconf-tools  

Change nautilus configuration

Start the dconf editor with the command:


Then navigate through /org/gnome/nautilus/desktop and change the value for the field-key


to 0 (if you don't want your file names to be truncated)

or insert a value x > 0 for displaying up to x lines of the file name.

Restart nautilus

nautilus -q  

and then open a file-manager window to start nautilus again.

Icon Adjustments: Change details displayed in the icon text

Open a file-manager window and go to Edit -> Settings in the menu. In the Display Tab you can choose which additional should be displayed when the zoom level (Views Tab) is increased. If you choose None, only the name of the folder or file will be displayed.

See the Nautilus Documentation for more info.