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Change desktop icons in Windows

By , winhelp.us logo. Last updated: 2019-04-05

How to change desktop icons in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10

Many users like to have icons on their computer's Desktop for quick access to their documents or computer or Internet, but Windows has only Recycle Bin icon on Desktop by default.

Selecting which icons to show on Desktop

In Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10, right-click (or tap and hold) an empty area of Desktop and choose Personalize.
Alternatively, Windows 8 and 8.1 users can also use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings Charm and click or tap Personalize.
Windows 7, Desktop right-click menu. Click 'Personalize' to select icons shown on Desktop.

In Windows XP, right-click an empty area of Desktop and click Properties.
Windows XP desktop right-click menu. Click Properties.

In Windows 10, Settings app opens. Click or touch to open the Themes tab on the left, then choose Desktop icon settings from the right, in the Related Settings section.
Windows 10 Creators Update (2017) brings themes back, and the Related Settings section is on the right on higher resolution screens or below the Apply a theme section on lower resolution displays.
Windows 10, Settings app, Themes. To choose icons shown on Desktop, click or tap 'Desktop icon settings'. Windows 10 Creators Update, Settings app, Themes. To choose icons shown on Desktop, scroll down to the 'Related settings' section and click or tap 'Desktop icon settings'.

In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, Personalization window opens. Click Change desktop icons link in the upper left corner.
Windows 7, Personalization. To select icons shown on Desktop, click 'Change desktop icons'.

In Windows XP, Display Properties window opens. Open the Desktop tab and then click Customize Desktop.
Windows XP, Display Properties window, Desktop tab. Click the 'Customize Desktop' button.

Users of Windows Vista and later see the Icon Settings window instead. Select items you want to see on your Desktop. Usually, Computer, User's files, and Recycle Bin are the items users need. Please note that since Windows 8.1, Computer icon on Desktop has been renamed to This PC.
The Network option is again needed only for those who share files or printers between computers over a local network. The Control Panel option is pretty useless because it is easier to find items using the Start menu Search box or Search Charm.
Leave the Allow themes to change desktop icons checkbox ticked.
Windows 7, Desktop Icon Settings. Select items you want to see on Desktop. Then click OK.

Windows XP users usually choose to show My Documents, My Computer and Internet Explorer icons on Desktop. Users in European Union countries might not see the latter option due to antitrust regulations. The My Network Places option is useful only if you have a local network (not the Internet!) and share files or printers between computer.
To prevent the Desktop Cleanup Wizard from appearing every two months, clear the Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days check box.

Click OK when you're done.
Windows XP, Desktop Items. Select items you want to see on Desktop. Clear the 'Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days' box. Then click OK.

Close the settings windows by pressing Alt+F4 on your keyboard or by clicking the red X button on the right top part of the window.

Arranging items on Desktop

OK, so now you have your icons on Desktop. But what about sorting and lining up? Start again by right-clicking (touching and holding on touch screens) an empty area of Desktop.

In Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10, choose Sort by and click Name.
In Windows XP, move the mouse pointer to Arrange Icons By and click Name.

You can also sort Desktop icons by size, type or date the item was last modified.
Windows 7 Desktop. To sort icons by name, right-click on Desktop area, select 'Sort by' and click Name. Windows XP, Desktop. To sort icons by name, right-click on Desktop area, select 'Arrange Icons By' and click Name.

Now you have your icons lined up by name and you can still move them around the Desktop by clicking and holding the mouse button on an icon and moving it to any place you like.

If you want your icons arrangement to be fixed to a setting, right-click an empty Desktop area again.
In Windows Vista and newer, open View and click Auto arrange icons.
In Windows XP, choose Arrange Icons By and click Auto Arrange.

If you want Desktop icons arranged in fixed-size rows and columns plus prevent icon overlapping, select Align to Grid (Windows XP) or Align icons to grid (Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10). If not, deselect it and you are able to move any icon to any position you like.

To clear the whole Desktop and display wallpaper only, deselect Show desktop icons. This will hide all icons on Desktop until you enable Show desktop icons again.

In Windows Vista and later, you can also select Desktop icon size by selecting Large icons, Medium icons or Small icons.

In Windows 7, you can show or hide Gadgets by enabling or disabling the Show desktop gadgets option.
Windows XP, Desktop. To arrange icons automatically, right-click on Desktop area, select 'Arrange Icons By' and click 'Auto Arrange'. Windows 7 Desktop. To arrange icons automatically, right-click on Desktop area, select View and click 'Auto arrange icons'.

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