How to Customize Chromebook Desktop

The Chromebook desktop has a minimal look. Maybe a bit too minimal without any desktop shortcuts like other operating systems. That does not mean that you cannot customize your desktop’s look and feel. This article will explain how you can customize your Chromebook’s desktop and launcher.

If you usually use your laptop’s desktop to place shortcuts and save files for easy access, you will miss this feature for sure. However, if you are like me and like to keep your desktop as minimal as possible, this will be a welcome change. I cannot make my Chromebook’s desktop messy because it won’t let me.

How to add icons to Chromebook desktop

Can you place app icons on your Chromebook’s desktop? Unfortunately, no. Chrome OS does not have that option yet.

You cannot place app shortcuts on your Chromebook desktop. However, you can “pin” icons to the taskbar. The taskbar is the bottom row of apps on your Chromebook’s desktop.

Chromebook Taskbar

Pin an app to the taskbar, right-click and choose “Pin.”

Pin app to the taskbar

File Shortcuts on Chromebook Desktop

No is the answer here too. Chrome OS does not have an option to add file shortcuts to the desktop.

Open the Files app and navigate to the folder or file to open files and folders. Read more about the Files app here.

The wallpaper app has images organized into a few categories. You will see pictures that you have seen on the Android Wallpaper app and some additional categories.

Change Wallpaper

You can change your Chromebook’s wallpaper using one of the following options:

Right-click Desktop

Just like on your Windows or MacBook, you can right-click your desktop choose “Set wallpaper” to launch the wallpaper app.

Click any image to download and set it as your wallpaper. My favorite source is Unsplash.

Each category also has a “Daily Refresh” option, which automatically changes the wallpaper every day.

If you select “Daily refresh,” click the “Refresh” icon to change the wallpaper. Chrome OS will replace your current wallpaper with another one from the same category.

The Explore button next to Refresh lets you view the source of that image. You can see who took the photo and read other details too.

The “My Images” category lets you access your images and set them as wallpapers. You can also browse pictures from the Files app and right-click to set the wallpaper.

Right Click an Image from the file browser

If you have an image on your Chromebook that you want to use as wallpaper, open the Files app and right-click the image. Now, choose Set as wallpaper.

This option is available for images in the Google Drive section of the Files app. This means you can browse Google Drive using the Files app, find an image, right-click and make it your Chromebook’s wallpaper. You need not download that image to your Chromebook first to do that.

Bouns tip: Learn how to change Chromebook’s wallpaper automatically.

Chromebook Shelf

The bottom bar of your Chromebook’s screen is called “Shelf.” This is similar to your computer’s system tray. Let us take a look at the different features of the Shelf.

Chromebook Launcher

There is a circle icon on the bottom-left corner of your Chromebook’s desktop. This is the launcher icon.

This brings up the search field, which you can use to:

  • Search Google (or your default search engine)
  • Open Websites
  • Search for apps
Chromebook Launcher Expanded View

If your Chromebook supports Google Assistant, you will see an icon to launch the Assistant as well here.

Below the search field, you will see your recently used apps. You will also see a link to the most recent web page you visited on other devices using the same Google account. This feature is called Continue Reading. This helps you continue from where you left off on other computers.

Pinned Apps on the Shelf

You can “pin” your favorite apps to the Shelf to access them quickly. Since we don’t have desktop shortcuts on Chromebooks, these pinned apps will come in handy.

Another helpful feature is the keyboard shortcut that comes with these pinned apps.

Pinned apps on Chromebook Desktop

In the above example, the fifth pinned item is the Twitter app. I can press ALT + 5 to open this app. Similarly, ALT + 1 will open YouTube, and ALT + 2 will open the Files app.

Chrome OS System Tray

On the bottom-right corner of your desktop, you will see:

  • WiFi icon, if you are connected to WiFi
  • Battery icon indicating remaining battery or charging status
  • Time

Click this area to open the system tray.

Time and Battery on Chromebook Desktop

The system tray hosts the following elements:

  • Your profile icon
  • Sign out button
  • Shutdown icon
  • Padlock icon to lock the screen
  • A down arrow icon to minimize the system tray
  • WiFi icon – click this icon to turn on / off WiFi or select another WiFi network from the available list of networks.
  • Bluetooth icon – turn on/off Bluetooth and click the down arrow to view available devices and connect.
  • Notifications icon – Enable or disable notifications. Click the down arrow icon to see all the apps with permission to show notifications. You can uncheck any app from this list to stop receiving notifications from it.
  • Nightlight icon to turn on/off night light.
  • Cast icon to start casting. Click the down arrow icon to view a list of available casting devices.


In Chrome OS, notifications are displayed in the system tray area. Click the bottom right corner of the screen where you see WiFi, Battery icons, and time to see the system tray.

Here is an example notification. This shows up when you take a screenshot.

Did you notice the number one within a white circle? That is the notification count. It shows the number of unread notifications you have.

Each notification comes with its own quick actions. In our example, we have shortcuts to copy the image to the clipboard (to paste into a document) and annotate the image using Google Keep.

Click the “x” icon on the top right corner of the notification to remove it from the notifications list. When there are multiple notifications, you will also see an icon similar to that of Android to clear all notifications with a single click.

Launch Apps

There are three different ways to open the launcher in Chrome OS:

  1. If you have a touchscreen, slide up from the bottom of your screen.
  2. Tap the launcher icon (white circle) on the bottom left corner of your screen.
  3. Tap the launcher key or search key on your keyboard.

At first, the launcher opens half, with the following options:

  • An up arrow icon to slide and open the complete list of apps
  • A search field which works similar to Chrome’s
  • devices, for example, your phone or laptop. (This feature is called Continue Reading).
  • The search box in the launcher has an Assistant icon. If your Chromebook supports Google Assistant, you can launch it by tapping this icon.

Now, let us expand the launcher by sliding up further.

Launcher, Expanded

When the launcher is fully opened, you will see the complete list of apps that you have on your Chromebook. This includes your system apps like Settings, Shortcuts, and Files, etc., Chrome Apps, and Android apps.

If your Chromebook supports Linux apps, and you have enabled it, you will see your Linux apps as well here.

Now, let us assume that you have the web version of the Gmail app installed (Chrome app) and the Gmail Android app. How will you identify them?

All Chrome apps will have a Chrome logo on their app icons. For example, take a look at the Gmail icon here:

Also, notice those four dots on the right-hand side? They indicate how many pages of apps you have. You can scroll up or down to go to all those pages.

Also, you can touch and hold an app and drag it to move it between those pages. So, for example, if my Gmail app is on the second page of the launcher, I can move it to the first page for easy access.

Managing Apps from the Launcher

To open any app from the launcher, tap or click it.

If you touch and hold an app icon or right-click it, you will see a few additional options.

  • Open – of , open the app
  • shelf – lets you pin this app to the shelf (the row of apps at the bottom of your screen) for easy access. If the app is already pinned to the shelf, you will see an option to remove it from the shelf.
  • Uninstall – Remove the app from your Chromebook. (Note: If you have sync enabled for apps, this will remove this app from other signed-in devices too)
  • App info – If you click this for an Android app, you will see a Play Store screen with the app’s details. For a Chrome app, you will see a small popup with app information and an option to uninstall the app.
  • Additional options – This depends on the app. In my example, the Google Play Books app gives me an option to visit the Shop (to buy more books) or open the Library (which is where I see all my purchased books). The Hangouts app gives me totally different options:

Grouping Apps into Folders in Launcher

You might have done this on Android or iOS. Chrome OS also lets you group apps into folders.

For example, I can move all my reading apps into one folder. This saves a lot of space on the screen and makes it easy to manage.

You can also use this trick to hide apps you don’t use often.

To create a folder, drag an app on top of another. A new folder will be made with those two apps in it. You can now drag and drop additional apps to this folder now.

I wish we could do this on the Shelf as well, but we can’t do that yet.

By default, the folder will be named “Unnamed folder.” However, you can click within the folder and then type in a new name, like ‘Reading apps”.

One response to “How to Customize Chromebook Desktop”

  1. First time I read this I thought that I was going to enjoy it more.

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