Files is an essential application in the GNOME desktop. Many users interact with it daily to navigate, find and open files. Here are some changes in GNOME 3.28 users will see in the Fedora 28 release.
Upcoming features in Files
Each release cycle, GNOME community members improve and enhance the user experience with design and development efforts. For instance, GNOME 3.28 introduces the ability to “star” or favorite files and folders. These starred files are quickly accessible through the sidebar.
The roadmap of new features and improvements also includes significant architectural rewrites. Notably, these changes will improve search performance, so a heavy search does not cause the application to lock up. This new “backend” to Files has other benefits too, including the ability to pause copy and move operations.
Along with performance improvements, new file views are under development. This includes a “flow view” that dynamically adjusts icon spacing when you resize a window. All these improvements are the result of difficult decisions and hard work by developers over the past few months.
Whither desktop icons?
For years, Files has supported the ability to not only browse files in a window, but also add icons to the background of the user workspace (the desktop). However, the concept of desktop icons was never part of the GNOME 3 design. The default GNOME experience has disabled these icons since its release about 6 years ago. As a result, the code that enabled desktop icons has been mostly unmaintained for over 6 years.
About two years ago, the development team did work to preserve desktop icon behavior by isolating it from the main Files application. This was only partially successful. It allowed desktop icon support to remain, but in a poor state. In the meantime, security features like process sandboxing and Wayland’s architecture of process isolation have been introduced.
This means developers can’t acceptably maintain the desktop icon experience in an application that is not the desktop compositor. If you’re curious, you can find a list of technical challenges the team faced on the GNOME development team’s issue tracker. As a result, the development team decided to remove the desktop icon code inside the Files application.
Workarounds for desktop icon lovers
Fedora ships the default GNOME desktop experience. However, desktop icons are a fundamental use case for many traditional desktop users. The Files developers have proposed a few options to find an acceptable, alternative solution to desktop icons.
The long-term solution is to change desktop icons into a GNOME Shell extension. This neatly solves the ownership challenges since GNOME Shell is the compositor. It also opens the door to a much better desktop icon workflow.
A prototype is available today, and already solves one of Files’ longest outstanding bugs: multi-monitor support. Community contribution to the extension is encouraged. You’ll find a list of suggested features on the extension project’s first issue.
The GNOME Shell extension is still in a very early stage and not shipping in GNOME or Fedora yet. For an immediate, short-term solution, users can install the nemo-desktop file manager and set it up to autostart on login. (Read directions for that here.) Desktop icons are an active part of the Cinnamon user experience. As a result, nemo-desktop actually provides a more feature-rich desktop than Files does today.