Chapter 5. The GNOME Desktop

Table of Contents

The Desktop
The Icons
The Desktop Menu
The Panel
The Main Menu
Handling Floppy Disks, CDs, or DVDs
Mouse Configuration
Menus and Toolbars
Keyboard Shortcuts
Sound (system alerts)
File Management with Nautilus
Navigating in Nautilus
File Management
Configuring Nautilus
Important Utilities
Managing Archives with File Roller


GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) is a fast Linux desktop. The aim of its development was to make the user interface more uniform while streamlining the various aspects of the look and feel. The basic components for window management and other components enable data sharing among various applications and are based on a uniform operating concept and help system.

The Desktop

The most important elements of the GNOME desktop are the icons on the desktop, the panel at the lower border, and the desktop menu. The mouse is your most important tool.

The Icons

By default, the desktop features three symbols: your personal folder, the start dialog for the configuration of the desktop, and the trash can. If you double-click your personal folder, Nautilus starts and displays your home directory. More information about the use of Nautilus is available in Section “File Management with Nautilus”. All files deleted with Nautilus are sent to the trash can.

Right-clicking an icon displays a menu offering file operations, like copying, cutting, or renaming. Selecting Properties from the menu displays a configuration dialog. The title of an icon as well as the icon itself can be changed with Use custom icon. The Emblems tab offers the possibility to add graphical descriptive symbols to the icon. The Permissions tab provides access to the access, read, and write permission settings for this file for the user, the group, or others. The Notes tab offers the management of comments. The menu for the trash can additionally features the Empty Trashcan option. This deletes its contents.

To remove an icon from the desktop, simply move it into the trash can. However, be careful with this option — if you throw folder icons or file icons into the trash can, the actual data is deleted. If the icons only represent links to a file or to a directory, only the links are deleted.

To create a link on the desktop to a folder or a file, access the object in question with Nautilus. Right-click the object and select Make Link. Drag the link from the Nautilus window and drop it on the desktop.

The Desktop Menu

Right-clicking a free spot on the desktop displays a menu with various options. Select New Folder to create a new folder. Create a launcher icon for an application with New Launcher. Provide the name of the application and the command for starting it then choose an icon to represent it. It is also possible to change the desktop background or to reset it to its default setting.

The Panel

The panel contains the window icons of all started applications in the taskbar. If you click the name of a window in the taskbar, it is moved to the foreground. If the program is already in the foreground, a mouse click minimizes it. Clicking a minimized application reopens the respective window.

Beside the taskbar, the Workspace Switcher provides access to additional work areas. These virtual desktops provide extra space in which to arrange open applications and windows. For example, put an editor on one workspace, some shells on another, and your e-mail application and web browser on a third.

If you right-click an empty spot in the panel, a menu opens, offering help, information, and commands for GNOME and panels. Select Properties to open a configuration dialog in which to change the position and background of the panel. If desired, create additional panels or add launchers, tools, and various applets to the existing panels with Add to Panel. Use drawers to organize your favorite applications or important documents. The contents are only displayed when the drawer is opened with a single click. Right-click the drawer and select Properties to modify its size and appearance. Click the icon to change it. Remove panel elements by right-clicking the respective icons and selecting Remove.

The Main Menu

Open the main menu by means of the icon to the far left of the panel. Apart from the applications, which are organized in categories, find default functions, such as Log out and Lock screen. Use Open Recent to gain quick access to recent files. Use Search for Files to find files.

With Run Program ..., enter and run a command, for example, for starting a program instead of navigating through the various program menus. From the main menu, you can also start the GNOME Control Center for configuring the desktop or YaST for installing additional software.

Handling Floppy Disks, CDs, or DVDs

To access floppy disks, CDs, or DVDs, insert the medium in the appropriate drive. Right-click an empty spot of the desktop and select the desired medium from the Drives list. A floppy disk or CD icon appears. Double-clicking the icon launches Nautilus, which displays the contents of the medium. Copy files to your personal home directory by dragging and dropping. Copy files to a floppy disk in the same way.


Do not simply remove floppy disks from the drive after using them. Floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs must always be unmounted from the system first. Close all Nautilus sessions still accessing the medium then right-click the icon for the medium and select eject from the menu. Then safely remove the floppy disk or CD (the tray opens automatically). The icon disappears from the desktop.

Floppy disks can also be formatted from the floppy disk menu. In the dialog box, choose the format and density of the floppy disk. file system type offers a choice between Linux native (ext2), the file system for Linux, and DOS (FAT), because Windows cannot access Linux file systems. Help provides some instructions for the tool.