Friday, April 10, 2009

What happened to my desktop?

In a comment about my last post about Windows Explorer, reader NoobixCube mentioned that his desktop icons seem to re-order themselves:
I find it amazing I put up with it so long, when I was using Windows. It seemed every time I went into my pictures folders, I'd have to change the view from slideshow to thumbnail. The desktop never stays ordered any sane way - I could rearrange it manually, and the icons would seem to randomly switch places whenever I restart, or I could auto-arrange, and they'd be in different places again when I restart. I hope someone from Redmond is reading your blog.
I see the same thing on my system, but I thought it was just me. Specifically, it seems that choosing an order for my desktop icons when I'm docked (and have a larger monitor) doesn't apply to the icons when I'm undocked (and have the smaller laptop display.)

When they installed Windows on my laptop, I had a few default icons on my desktop. I immediately repositioned my most-commonly accessed icons so I could spot them more easily:

Interestingly, this only seems to work when I'm working at my desk, using my external monitor (1280x1024). If I boot the laptop using the internal display (like, when I'm at a meeting) my desktop icons move back to the left-hand side of the screen (1280x800). Worse than that, the icons completely change their order:

I never had these kinds of problems under Linux. With a Linux (GNOME) desktop, my desktop remains the same no matter what display I'm using. Sure, Linux may display your desktop differently if you use a different resolution monitor. But at least it all made sense! I understood that putting a desktop icon on the very right-hand side of my screen in 1024x768 mode meant the icon wouldn't really be on the extreme right edge when I booted in 1280x1024.

But with Windows, it appears you get a different desktop altogether when booting at different resolutions (for example, using an external monitor, or the laptop display.) My wallpaper preferences remain the same, but my icons move. This makes no sense. I am continually amazed at some of the weird stuff I find in Windows.


  1. Nice to see I'm not the only one this happens to :)

  2. Try Iconoid. It saves and restores the relative positions of your desktop icons for each screen resolution.

    I run this on my work computer. My Windows PC at work has a 1600x1200 screen, but my MacBook at home has a 1280x800 screen. When I RDP to my work PC from home, since the resolution is lower, my desktop icons are rearranged. However, with Iconoid, once I log in at my desk, my icons go back to where they were.

  3. Anonymous said:
    >>> Try Iconoid. It saves and restores the relative positions of your desktop icons for each screen resolution.

    People sometimes tell me to go download some third-party add-on to make Windows better. Cyberax made a similar comment in my post about Windows Explorer.

    It's interesting to me that Windows users rely on these add-ons just to get Windows to "work". Why shouldn't we expect Windows to work properly in the first place?

    But I can only comment on the tools that are provided with the operating system. I want to make a fair comparison with an out-of-the-box Linux distro, like how I used to run my Linux laptop at work (running Fedora.) For example, I never had to run a third-party tool just to keep my Linux desktop from getting messed up.

  4. Yep, it is annoying.

    If you want to arrange icons manually, auto-arrange must be off. But, indeed, if the resolution changes, icons will move if they approach the bottom of the desktop at all. Changing the resolution back does not re-sort them however, as edge-detection is not in play when you increase the screen real estate. Dumb? Yes.

    The issue with the laptop vs. external monitor, is that these are per-monitor settings. Not that Explorer will necessarily remember the external monitor icon positions between uses of the external monitor.

    The Windows shell is a frustrating place to be sometimes, which is why there is such a lively shell hacking and replacement community.

    Actually, without a lot of the third-party shell modification software / registry hacks out there, I think more users would be more likely to give FOSS a chance.


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