No, you can’t lock icons to the user’s desktop

In another installment of I bet somebody got a really nice bonus for that feature, I submit this question for your consideration.

My customer wants to know how to lock a specific icon to the upper left hand corner of the desktop.

This company must be writing the most awesome program to end all programs, a program so amazingly awesome that it should appear as the very first thing on the desktop so you won't forget how awesome it is.

I think their users may disagree with that assessment.

And the answer is, no, there is no supported way to force a particular icon to appear at a particular desktop position.

Comments (28)
  1. Eric Mason says:

    Years ago, the company I worked for wanted to do this on <cough> Windows 4.51.

    Basically, a "Start Here" icon to explain what the heck this new NT thing was…

    Didn’t want to lock it, per se, but wanted to put it there every time the user logged in.

    We gave up trying to lock it and were happy we could even just get it to show up regularly.

  2. Gabe says:

    As a software publisher, I would have no excuse for attempting to lock my icon to any place on the user’s desktop.

    As a user, however, I have every right to try to keep my icons in known physical locations despite where other software thinks my icons belong. For example a corporation might want the icon for their corporate portal to always be in the upper-left corner of the desktop so that training documents are accurate. Or I as a user might want to be able to find icons by position even after my screen resolution has changed and Explorer has decided that my icons need to be rearranged.

    [Any power for good can also be used for evil: If such a feature existed, applications would use it to lock their icons to your desktop. -Raymond]
  3. John says:

    Just curious if there exists an unsupported way of doing it.  I remember the story a while ago about installers that wanted to pin shortcuts to the Start menu; you said there is no supported way of doing this, but it is possible none-the-less (even documented on various Microsoft blogs, etc).

  4. Chriso says:

    Hmm….whats about capturing the mouse and moving the icons around on the desktop while installing the app? How evil! :-O

  5. Scott says:

    @Gabe: See Stardock’s "Fences" for desktop icon arrangement. It’s a "why would need this?" program. Until you use it, then it’s a "why wasn’t I using this before?" app.

  6. Joel says:

    You wouldn’t believe the number of default icons on government computer images. Not a single one has been used by me.

  7. Heh.  I also thought of "TheWebsiteIsDown".  I came here to recommend setting the desktop background to a picture of the icon.  That would certainly "lock a specific icon to the upper left hand corner of the desktop".

    …to the letter, if not the spirit…

  8. The request could have meant a lot of things, but since it’s out of context I’ll have to assume it was related to an installer.

    The first scenario that came to mind however, was that the customer didn’t want people removing icons from a shared workstation of some sort so other people using the workstation could always launch an application. You could probably do this via a group policy or the likes.

    [Yes, it was in the context of an installer. “After installing our app, its icon should be placed in the corner of the desktop and the user should not be allowed to move or delete it.” -Raymond]
  9. Andrew says:

    For the kinda legitimate purposes of training or controlling a shared workstation, using an imaged or thin-client type solution is probably better. Just re-image the workstation every night, and have the icon be in the same spot on a freshly imaged workstation.

  10. Dave says:

    I’m using Win2k at work and every time I save a file to the desktop, all of the icons move around by themselves. I really wish I could tell them to stay in one place!

  11. Miral says:

    @Dave: Turn off Auto-Arrange, and/or the sorting options.

  12. ERock says:

    This post reminded me of desktop icon layouts, most notably the one featured by the sales dude in the video at <a href=”” mce_href=””></a> *NSFW*

    [The kicker is the tech guy saying, “You can’t arrange them by p****.” -Raymond]
  13. Ken Hagan says:

    "…a program so amazingly awesome that it should appear as the very first thing on the desktop so you won’t forget how awesome it is."

    Alternatively, the app must be so appalingly awful that the only way it will ever be used if it is rammed hard down the customer’s throat.

    Actually, they could probably add an image of their icon to the poor user’s wallpaper, and then subclass the desktop window to respond to mouse clicks in the appropriate area, and intermittently enumerate the icons sitting on top and move them if a naughty end-user put one over *their* space.

    And then complain about "incompatibility" and "Windows bugs" if Microsoft chose to do anything about it in a future version of Explorer, saying "please fix this now since it is holding up our product development".

    And then when Microsoft decline, giving obvious and excellent reasons, just reply with "Tx. Interesting".

  14. I received a request that originated with an executive at a customer who wanted to ensure that no icons would ever cover the organization’s logo on the mandatory wallpaper.  If a user moved an icon over the logo, the software I was to write was supposed to move it somewhere else.  (Our official response was, "no, there is no supportable way to do that.")

  15. Drak says:

    A nice option (don’t know, maybe Windows 7 has it) would be ‘pin this icon to the desktop’, so that you can’t accidentally delete it when deleting all the other icons that eventually will end up there (by saving temporary files to the desktop, and installing certain programs).

  16. DJ says:

    At a previous job, the VP of Sales visited a customer site and noticed a user who had changed our program’s shortcut icon to be the dynamite icon from pifmgr.dll, presumably because the software crashed so much.

    The request came to me to find a way to address this problem — not the quality of the software, of course, but to stop users changing the icon.

  17. A. Skrobov says:

    Here in the right-to-left word, an application which locks its icon to the leftmost position would look bizarre.

    It’s ironic how even misfeatures need internationalization.

  18. Marc says:

    Agreed, this would be awful it it was allowed. As for the training argument, icons aren’t always going to be in the same place all of the time (different companies, home PC, library PC etc), so why not get users used to looking around for a particular icon? They’re going to need to learn to do that at some point, so why delay the inevitable?

  19. Eric Mason says:

    What about Kiosks?

    Wouldn’t a Kiosk want icons locked in one place (and non-deletable) so that the passerby couldn’t "wreck" the desktop?

    Probably a dumb question…

  20. Worf says:

    @John: Yes, there are unsupported ways.

    Here are some I cam up with…

    1) Explorer needs to ssve icon position information *somewhere*. Hack that location to have Explorer alway put your icon there.

    2) Have an app periodically poll the desktop. If your icon isn’t where you want it, send the appropriate mouse and keyboard events to clear out the space, and make a new shortcut to your app in that space.

    Here’s semi-supported way (the steps aren’t supportable, but you rely on Microsoft to keep your icon there):

    Set the user’s desktop to auto-arrange by name,  create your icon, naming it so it’s first sorted, and the force a sort.

    If the user can do it, then there’s a way to do it.

    The official way is to have the user do it themselves during some tutorial. Chances are, most will keep it there.

  21. Someone You Know says:

    @Eric Mason

    I would argue that most kiosks don’t need to show the user a real Windows desktop at all.

  22. R. Bemrose says:

    Actually, in Vista and 7, Windows "helpfully" puts new icons one space down from the upper left.

    I wish I knew why this was and to make it stop, as I then have to move those icons to get them back in the order I want them.

    (I also need to stop letting apps put icons on the desktop, but that’s a different story).

  23. Gabe says:

    Someone You Know: There are two basic kinds of kiosks. The first is where you run an app full-screen, which nowadays is probably just a web browser in kiosk mode. When the browser inevitably crashes, you want some way to easily restart it.

    The other scenario is where you just want the user to be able to run a small assortment of apps. For example, maybe you have a library with a few computers for patrons to use. Why write a launcher app when Explorer does a perfectly good job of that already? The only problem is that you want to be able to print up a laminated sheet with instructions that say things like “To type a document, click here… To browse the Web, click here… To search for books in the library, click here…”. You want the screenshot on the instruction card to always show the correct location of each icon.

    [In the second case, arrange the icons by name, and apply a group policy to prevent the user from changing the arrangement. But neither of these is the case the customer was looking at. The customer just wanted their app to be super-awesome. -Raymond]
  24. Gaspar says:

    @Raymond, […The customer just wanted their app to be super-awesome. -Raymond]

    I can’t quite decide what to say about your comment.  But it IS super-awesome and I can’t stop grinning.  =)

  25. someone says:

    Yeah right but MS can lock down icon sorting and arranging settings in Explorer. How hyporitical. There have been countless complaints (Bing for Auto arrange Explorer or Auto sort Explorer and enjoy the disaster) and Brandon Live also mentions here: that it wasn’t actively removed which means it was an oversight while designing the new ListView control and MS does not bother to issue a hotfix to fix it.

  26. Neil says:

    Where I’ve worked before, they wanted the entire opposite – they had a mandatory corporate wall paper which included the text containing usual corporate garbage such as "You are not allowed to change the wall paper, install programs, access the internet for any purposes not connected with your job function" etc… along with the usual "Violation of these terms.. blah.. disciplinary action.. blah". They wanted to make sure no icons would ever cover that text.

    After several meetings, it was decided the best way would be to alter the message to include "You may not place any additional icons on this desktop, and you may not move any existing icons.".

    It took a long time to proove to management that using remote desktop can re-arrange your desktop due to resolution changes. The last solution I heard before I last was another policy change "You must access remote desktop connections using the same or higher resolution than that used by the PC normally."

  27. MadQ says:

    Not that I’m endorsing it, but the desktop (at least on XP) is just a ListView32 window. It understands LVM_ messages. It’s still not easy to make to it work correctly, since multiple icons on the desktop can have the same display name.

    [There is no reason every process need to be able to access all windows of other processes.” Assuming that the desktop is a Listview means that Explorer can never upgrade to something better. PS: Try IFolderView instead. -Raymond]
  28. MadQ says:

    I agree that not every process needs to be able to access all windows of other processes, but there are exceptions. Accessibility applications come to mind. IIRC, IFolderView is what I used when I wrote a utility to save/restore all icon position. It has been many moons since I wrote it, and I don’t quite remember.

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