Get Your Desktop Icons Back in Vista

Windows Vista (and Windows Server 2008 and even Windows 7 for that matter) are configured so that after the installation completes and the user first logs on, the desktop is totally empty from any icons, and only the Recycle bin is present. While this setup might fit some users, most users want control over their old desktop icons. I have received countless emails from people asking how to get these icons back.

The good news is that hope is not lost. You CAN get these icons back. The bad news is that unlike in Windows XP/2003, you can’t get ALL of the icons back. For example, in Windows Vista/2008 there’s no equivalent of Windows XP/2003’s My Network Places. Also, you cannot get the Internet Explorer built-in icon back. Sure, you can work around these limitations by creating a shortcut to both special icons, however, these will only be shortcuts and will not have the special properties and functionality of the old icons. So these 2 special icons cannot be returned to the desktop, but the rest can.
For example, right clicking on the Windows XP/2003 Internet Explorer icon and selecting Properties will bring out the Internet Options applet:
This applet can be accessed from the Control Panel or by typing inetcpl.cpl in the Run command. BTW, if you use method 4 below, you will get this icon back!
Also, right clicking on the Windows XP/2003 My Network Places icon and selecting Properties will bring out the Network Connections applet:
This applet can be accessed from the Control Panel or by typing ncpa.cpl in the Run command.
In any case, there are a few methods in which you can return these icons back:

Method 1

On the Start menu, right-click either “Computer” or “Control Panel” or your username and select “Show on Desktop”.
This will only work the above 3 icons.

Method 2

Right-click an empty spot on the desktop (there’s plenty of that, right?) and select “Personalize”.

In the Control Panel\Personalization window, click on the “Change Desktop Icons” link on the left.
In the Desktop Icons Settings applet, click to select any icon you want, and click Ok.

Method 3

If you choose to return the Start menu to the good old Windows 2000 look and feel (which is a thing I personally did prior to Vista), then you also get all the desktop icons included.
Right-click the Start button and select “Properties”.
In the “Taskbar and Start Menu Properties” applet, click to select “Classic Start Menu” and click Ok.

Method 4

Another method is by using a registry tweak.

This document contains instructions for editing the registry. If you make any error while editing the registry, you can potentially cause Windows to fail or be unable to boot, requiring you to reinstall Windows. Edit the registry at your own risk. Always back up the registry before making any changes. If you do not feel comfortable editing the registry, do not attempt these instructions. Instead, seek the help of a trained computer specialist.

Copy the following text, and paste it into a text document by using Notepad. Save the file as settings.reg (replace filename with whatever name you want).

​Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

After doing so, double-click on the .reg file and import the changes to the computer’s registry. You must run this file with administrative privileges (and you might be prompted to accept this fact by User Account Control – or UAC).
Note that unlike other methods, the above trick WILL bring back the Internet Explorer built-in icon, but not the “My Network Places” functionality…
The result will be to get the special icons back to the desktop.