How do I... Create desktop icons in KDE and GNOME?

Most Linux installs include thousands of applications, but not all those applications get an icon on either the KDE or GNOME desktop. If you want to launch one of those applications from the desktop you are going to have to create an icon for it. Jack Wallen shows you how.

One would think the creation of icons on a desktop would be a simple matter of dragging and dropping or having the icon created upon installation of a program. That's all fine and good, but what about a program that was installed during the operating system installation? (Remember, Linux installs thousands of applications at install.) I have many applications I use on a daily basis that are installed by default but have no desktop icon. Instead of having to scour the menu hierarchy, I would much rather click an icon and have that program launch.

One such program I use on a daily (almost hourly) basis is a terminal. But for some reason, the creators of the major Linux desktops do not, by default, have a desktop icon or task bar launcher set up for a terminal. Why this is I will never know. But never fear; we can set those up fairly quickly in both KDE and GNOME.

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Let's start with a clean desktop. Figure A shows the default KDE (version 3.5.8) desktop. There's nothing there.

Figure A

Average users might not have the slightest idea where to begin here.
The first thing we need to do is right-click the desktop, which will bring up the default mouse menu (see Figure B below).

Figure B

The right choice should be obvious at this point.
The first thing you will do from here is to select Create New, which will bring up a sub-menu (see Figure C below.)

Figure C

Mr. Obvious could easily be lost here.

Now we are at the point where the average user might have no idea what to do. There is no menu entry for Create New Icon,  as I am sure most users would expect. Instead, you want to click on Link To Application. Remember, in Linux you create soft and hard links to files and folders. An executable link is no different.

Once you make your selection, the Link Properties window will open (see Figure D below.)

Figure D

From here on out, it should be obvious what to do.
Now, we are ready to really configure that icon. Let's create an icon to the konsole (KDE terminal) application. The first thing we will do is name the Link in the General tab. Let's call it Konsole. In this same tab, we will want to choose a different icon to represent the Konsole application. Click the icon button (to the left of the text area) and a choose window will appear (see Figure E below) where you can locate a more appropriate icon.

Figure E

Scroll down to the bottom and select the Terminal icon.

Once you have selected your icon, click OK to return to the General tab.

Now let's move on to the Application tab (see Figure F below). This is the heart of the icon.

Figure F

The only required information is the Command.

We are going to fill these in completely. Here is the necessary text:

  • Description: KDE Terminal Application
  • Comment: Konsole
  • Command: /usr/bin/konsole
That is it. Click OK and your new icon should appear on the desktop (see Figure G below).

Figure G

The text under the icon comes from the text in the General tab.

Now a double-click on that icon will open the konsole application.


GNOME makes creating icons a bit easier. Take a look at the default GNOME desktop (see Figure H below). Our Konsole icon is already there. So this time, we'll create an icon for the Gnome Terminal application.

Figure H

The GNOME desktop is only slightly different from KDE.
The first thing to do is right-click the desktop area to open up the default mouse menu (see Figure I below).

Figure I

Very possibly more obvious to the average user
From this menu, select Create Launcher to open up a new window where you will create the icon (see Figure J below).

Figure J

Not much to take care of here
Here are the simple steps. From the drop-down, make sure Application is selected and then click the Browse button next to the Command line to open up the browse window (see Figure K below).

Figure K

Once you click on bin, it will take a while for all of the files to appear (there are thousands of them).

Click on File System (from the upper left) and then navigate through /usr/bin to find the gnome-terminal application. Click on gnome-terminal and then click Open to make the selection.

Now enter "GNOME Terminal Application" for the Comment section. This will be the text that will appear when your mouse hovers over the icon -- to help those newbie users along.

Finally, click the No Icon button to open the Icon Browser window (see Figure L below).

Figure L

Of course, we'll select an icon with good ol' Tux.
Click OK and your icon will appear on the desktop (see Figure M below).

Figure M

Double-click this icon to open up gnome-terminal.

That's it!

Final thoughts

The creation of desktop icons should be a very intuitive task. With KDE and GNOME, it is really only a matter of understanding that Link and Launcher are terms used in place of Icon (from the Windows world). It would be helpful, from a new user perspective, if both the KDE and GNOME developers would adopt terminology familiar to the majority of computer users. But even with a different naming convention, the task is simple -- once you know where to begin.