The Mac OS X Finder will occasionally change the locations of your desktop icons
on its own. This may occur when changing screen resolutions, when plugging in another
monitor, when running certain applications (especially those that temporarily change
screen resolution), and after a reboot when your desktop icon sizes are less than
128x128. There is one program that provides relief to this frustrating situation,
and that is No-U-Turn's Desktility. The Mac version of this simple utility provides
two basic functions: to save and restore desktop icon locations, and to save and
restore application window locations on the desktop. Desktility may appear to be
the OS X version of the OS 9 "Desktop Resetter" application; however, the
OS 9 Finder did not have the horrible spacial bugs of the OS X Finder, so there is
a greater need for Desktility just to maintain desktop sanity.
- Mac OS X version
10.4 or later
Installing Desktility is simple and straight forward. Go to the Desktility web site, and click on the "download"
button for the trial version (or the "buy now" button if you are ready
to buy). Choose the "Download Desktility 2.3 for Mac" button, and the Desktility
download begins (a 620K .dmg file). Once completed, the Desktility image mounts,
and from the Desktility folder, you drag the application to your Applications folder.
The first time Desktility is started, the main window will briefly appear, but the
window will be immediately covered by another window asking if you want to purchase
now, enter a serial number, or try the demo. This is typical of shareware software.
Desktility demo splash screen
You can try the demo for free, or if you want to purchase it, you can click on Purchase
Now, and that takes you to a page where you can buy a serial number. Once you have
a serial number, then you click on the Enter Serial button, enter in the serial,
and this splash screen goes away.
The Desktility main window is where the heart of Desktility can be found. On this
window, you have two primary tabs: Desktop Icons and Application Windows.
Desktility Main Window
The first tab, "Desktop
Icons", allows you to specify whether to save or restore the positions of desktop
icon locations. The Mac OS X Finder has an annoying bug where it can over-reserve
pixel space for icons regardless of the view size of your desktop icons. For instance,
if you are using 36x36 size icons, you'll find that the Finder will never place newly
created files or folders anywhere near existing files and folders. This is because
it doesn't recognize that the current icon view size is 36x36, and instead ensures
that there is enough space around each file and folder as if it were 128x128 in size
(this has been a known bug in OS X since 10.0). You can manually move files on the
desktop, but when the Finder creates new files, or re-orders the existing files,
they get tossed in places far away from where you would expect them to be (and more
importantly, where you want them to be). If you have a number of volumes mounted
(I have 9 volumes mounted on my desktop, 7 for partitioned internal drives, and 2
for external drives), you'll also find that if you place any files within that 128x128
area around the volumes, then after a reboot, the Finder thinks that there's no room
to put the volume icons in those locations, so it tosses them in the first free 128x128
area on the desktop (which is usually somewhere you least expect it to be, making
it a real pain to chase down). If you play games that change screen resolutions,
you may notice from time to time how the Finder gets really confused and dumps most
or all of your desktop icons into the top right corner of your screen. Good luck
manually trying to put all those files and folders back where you want! With Desktility,
you can automatically get them reset to their desired positions.
The first thing you want to do is move your desktop icons into the positions that
you would like them to stay. Move your files, folders, and your volumes as desired,
and then click on the "Save Positions" button in Desktility. Now, if something
screwy happens, like you inadvertently re-order your desktop icons via the Finder,
or you play a game that messes with your resolution and confuses the Finder, you
can then use the "Restore Positions" under Desktility, and voila! They
are all back to where they should be. If you have an issue with Volume icons being
displaced after restarts, then you want Desktility to automatically run each time
your Mac boots up (either by manually adding it to your startup items using Systems
Preferences, or specifying "Add to Login Items" under Desktility preferences).
It isn't obvious in the application or the Desktility help documentation, but Desktility
will automatically perform a restore when the application starts up if it recognizes
that you've already done a "save positions".
Example of Desktility Keeping Desktop Volumes Orderly
In the figure above,
the left side shows where the Finder places all of the volume icons after a restart
by default. As illustrated by the yellow square, because there are folders that intersect
that 128x128 pixel space, the Finder thinks there is no room for the icons (even
though they are 36x36). With Desktility in place, the volume icons are restored exactly
where they should be, regardless of the location of any other icons on the desktop.
This is also a nice feature because it ensures that the volumes are always in the
same order after each reboot. I have found that with this many volumes, that even
when there is ample space to place them along the right side, the Finder arbitrarily
orders the non-system volumes. It's nice to have the volumes always in the same order
(always knowing where everything is goes a long ways in desktop management).
It should be noted that, after a "save positions" is performed, any new
icons that appear on the desktop will be ignored during a restore and left where
they are. A new icon placed at the same location of a saved icon that was subsequently
moved will result in two icons at the same location when the restore button is pushed.
When adding new files to your desktop that you would like to be fixed in location,
it's good to go back to Desktility and click on "save positions" again.
Also, a save must be made for each screen resolution in order to preserve the icon
locations for that particular resolution.
Under the "Application Windows" tab, you can specify whether to save or
restore application window locations as well. This feature saves the position of
all the open windows of all running applications. I found this useful for various
Finder windows that I like to keep open when I'm working on a particular project.
It will move the windows into position, but if you close the windows, it will not
re-open the windows when you perform a restore. That would be undesirable in most
applications, but with Finder windows, when you want to re-establish the windows
you work in for a project, it would be nice to have the windows open upon a restore.
I also found a bug with the Applications Windows restore conflicting with DragThing.
After a save positions, followed by a restore positions, my main DragThing dock moved
from the top of my desktop to the middle of my desktop. This, of course, is a very
The first time the "Save Positions" button is pushed for the application
window option, Desktility will display a box indicating that it requires "Accessibility
API" be enabled (unless already enabled), and ask if System Preferences should
be launched so that access can be turned on. Clicking OK will open the appropriate
preference window. Click the box in the lower-left corner to enable access for assistive
devices, close System Preferences, and then click on the "Save Positions"
button again. Once this initial setup is complete, the application windows save and
restore functions can be used. If a new application has been started since the save,
it's window position will be left untouched by a restore. Any application that has
been exited following a save will not be restarted. Only applications that were active
at the time of the save will be moved (and only if the windows are still open).
If "Enable access" is not checked, Desktility will not work properly
There are a set of three buttons at the top of the Desktility window: About, Prefs,
and Help. Clicking on the "About" button in the Desktility window will
display the version of Desktility you are running. From the About window, you can
also click on a link that takes you directly to the Desktility website.
Clicking on "Prefs" will open the Desktility Settings window.
Desktility Settings Window
to add Desktility to your login items, you can also set other various flags, such
as automatically restoring icons after a resolution change (great if you play games),
not showing the Desktility window when it runs (makes it less obtrusive if you have
Desktility set as a login item), and playing sound effects. The "Accessibility"
warning is good to have on if you use the Applications Windows feature, giving you
a warning if you forget and disable access for assistive devices.
The last button is the "Help" button, and it launches TextEdit and opens
the Desktility help file. This is a 2-page document that provides some information
on the program, including a blurb about how to use Applescript to access the save
and restore functions of Desktility. It was nice to learn that Desktility is Applescriptable,
but the documentation could definitely be expanded to provide a little more insight
on the different functions and features of Desktility.
Desktility provides a simple and elegant solution for saving and restoring desktop
icons. It includes an added feature for saving and restoring application windows,
although this latter feature I didn't find nearly as exciting or useful as the desktop
icons feature. Plus, the restore windows button messed up the position of my Dragthing
dock. Although Desktility is not perfect, it does eliminate Desktop icon aggravation
that has plagued many Mac OS X users for many years. If you have multiple volumes,
it is an indispensable tool for keeping your volumes ordered exactly where you want
them to be. If you play games that change screen resolutions and mess up your Desktop,
leaving nearly all your desktop icons layered on top of each other in the top right
corner, you'll love Desktility for quickly restoring them right back to where they
should be. Once having Desktility in my Mac toolbox, it has become one of those simple
but useful utilities that I wouldn't want to be without.
- Easy to use
- Save and restore
functions performed quickly
- Restores desktop
icons automatically after screen resolution changes
- Keeps volume icons
ordered and exactly where you want them
- Limited usefulness
- Will overlay restored
icons on top of new icons if new icon is at the same location
- Restoring windows
seemed to mess up my Dragthing dock location
- Weak documentation
3 1/2 out of 5 Mice