How to Create Desktop App Launchers in Linux

Open those apps quickly from the Linux desktop

Linux-powered laptop on a sofa

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If you happen to belong to the category of users who prefer to make the desktop a quick access launch point for applications, you’re in luck. Most of the popular Linux desktops allow you to create application launchers on the desktop. With these in place, you have even faster access to opening your favorite apps.

Let’s find out how to add desktop application launchers in three of the most popular Linux desktops: GNOME, KDE Plasma, and Cinnamon. Of these three, only one desktop offers the slightest challenge to making this happen.

Distributions Used

For the purpose of this article, we demonstrated using GNOME on Ubuntu 19.04, KDE Plasma on KDE Neon, and Cinnamon on Linux Mint.

GNOME

We start out with one of the more complicated desktops for this purpose. Although it used to be quite easy to add a desktop application launcher in GNOME, it is now a bit more cumbersome (although not terribly challenging). Fortunately, you no longer have to manually create a launcher using a text editor (which could easily scare off some new-to-GNOME users).

Before we actually create a launcher, the first thing to do is to install the GNOME extension Desktop Icons. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Point your web browser to the Desktop Icons extension page.

  2. Slide the On/Off slider until it’s in the On position.

    Screenshot of installing the Desktop Icons extension.

    If you don't see the ON/OFF toggle, you'll need to install both the GNOME Shell integration extension as well as the native host connector.

  3. If prompted, press Install.

  4. Close your browser.

Next, you need to install the GNOME Tweak Tool and enable the Desktop Icons extension. To do that follow these steps:

  1. Open the Ubuntu Software Center.

  2. Search for "Tweaks."

  3. Select GNOME Tweaks.

  4. Press Install.

    Screenshot of installing GNOME Tweaks.
  5. When prompted, type your user’s sudo password.

  6. Allow the installation to complete.

  7. Open the GNOME Tweaks tool (by opening the Dash, typing tweaks, and selecting the Tweaks icon).

  8. Select Extensions, and make sure Desktop icons is enabled (by sliding the On/Off slider to the On position).

    Screenshot of enabling the Desktop Icons extension.
  9. Close the Tweaks tool.

Now it’s time to add the launcher. Let’s add a launcher for the Firefox web browser. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Nautilus file manager.

  2. Select Other Locations.

    Screenshot of the Other Locations section of Nautilus.
  3. Select Computer.

    Screenshot of the Computer location in Nautilus.
  4. Navigate to usr > share > applications.

  5. Right-click the firefox.desktop file, and choose Copy.

    Screenshot of copying the launcher from within Nautilus.
  6. Close Nautilus.

  7. Right-click on the desktop, and select Paste.

    Screnshot of pasting the launcher to the desktop in GNOME.
  8. Right-click the newly created icon and select Allow Launching.

    Screenshot of enabling the Allow Launching feature.
  9. You can now launch the application from that launcher.

KDE Plasma

The KDE Plasma desktop makes this process significantly easier. How much easier? Let’s find out. From the KDE Plasma environment, follow these steps to add a launcher to the desktop (we’ll demonstrate adding Firefox):

  1. Open the KDE Plasma menu (bottom left corner of the desktop).

  2. Right-click the Firefox icon and select Add to Desktop.

    Screenshot of adding a launcher in KDE Plasma.
  3. You can now launch the application from that launcher.

Cinnamon

The Cinnamon desktop takes a similar approach to that of KDE Plasma. With a few quick clicks, you can add a launcher to your desktop. Here’s how (again, we’ll demonstrate with the Firefox web browser):

  1. Open the Cinnamon menu (bottom left corner of the desktop).

  2. Select the Internet category in the middle pane.

  3. Right-click Firefox Web Browser.

  4. Choose Add to desktop.

    Screenshot of adding a launcher to the Cinnamon desktop.
  5. You can now launch the application from that launcher.

Removing Launchers

Fortunately, removing launchers from the desktop is the same on all three environments. To do this, simply right-click the launcher to be removed and select Move to Trash.

Removing a launcher from the GNOME desktop.

Add As Needed

If you’re looking for a way to make the Linux desktop as efficient as the environment you migrated from, adding application launchers to the desktop is a great way to make this happen. If you’re one of those who prefers a desktop littered with launchers, you can add them as needed, so your Linux desktop works in a way that suits your style.