Chapter 2. Desktop Integration

Table of Contents

Placing Entries in the Applications Menu
Menu Item Names
Menu Item Tooltips
Mapping Document Types to Applications

There are two elements to basic integration with the user environment of the GNOME Desktop.

  1. Place an entry for your application in the Applications menu. This is the primary mechanism by which users discover and run applications.

  2. If your application can open and save files, place entries for those file types in the application database and the document type (MIME) database. This allows the file manager and other applications to automatically launch your application when they encounter files your application can handle.

Placing Entries in the Applications Menu

Figure 2.1. The Applications menu

Screenshot of the open Applications menu on the GNOME menu panel

The Applications menu, which appears on the panel at the top of the screen by default, is the primary mechanism by which users discover and run applications. You place entries in this menu by installing an appropriate .desktop file.

The menu is arranged into a set of categories, such as Accessories and Games. Applications are placed in particular categories by the set of keywords they include in their .desktop file.


  • Assign your application to only one category on the Applications menu

  • For application suites that wrap a number of smaller sub-applications into a single window, such as Evolution or, add a menu item for each sub-application. For example, the mail, calendar, and tasklist in Evolution should each have their own menu item.

Technical details can be found in the VFolder and Desktop file specifications.

Menu Item Names

Include a functional description in the menu name

User testing of MIT's Athena system revealed that users had difficulty finding the file manager because they were unfamiliar with the name "Nautilus". Because users did not associate the word "Nautilus" with the concept "file manager" the menu item did not help them. This is an example of not using the user's language. See the section called “Create a Match Between Your Application and the Real World” for more on this topic.

In the menu item name, include a description of functionality in addition to the proper name of the application. This is especially useful novice users, and to users of systems where numerous applications are installed by default. Users are more likely to find your application if the name that appears in the menu includes a description of its functionality.

Example 2.1. Including functional description in menu names

Original menu itemRevised menu item
NautilusNautilus File Manager

Only put useful information in the menu name

Do not include words like "GNOME", "X WIndow System" or other platform details in Application menu names. The user probably already knows what platform they are using, and if they don't, then application names are not the right place to inform them.

Example 2.2. Removing non-essential information from menu names

Original menu itemRevised menu item
Help SystemHelp
GNOME Search ToolSearch Tool

Do not include technical details when the user does not need to know them, or can infer them from context. Avoid technical jargon unless the application is to be used only by a technical audience.

For example, when both a client and a server for something are listed in the menus, remove the word "Client" from the menu name for the client.

Example 2.3. Removing technical jargon from menu names

Original menu itemRevised menu item
Gnome Batalla Naval ClientBatalla Naval
Gnome Batalla Naval ServerBatalla Naval Multiplayer Server
Gnome VideoLAN ClientVideoLAN Movie Player

Providing the right information

Try to imagine what words users will be looking for when they select your application from the Applications menu. That is the information that should be in the menu name. For example, a user wanting to play a movie will probably not be looking for the word "Client". On the other hand, a user wanting to transmit movies from their computer may well look for the word "Server".

Menu name formats

  1. If your application's proper name is already descriptive of its functionality, and not just suggestive, use the format: Application Name

    Example 2.4. Using application's name as menu name

    Application nameMenu name
    Search ToolSearch Tool
  2. If there is a succinct functional description of your application, use the format: ApplicationName FunctionalDescription

    Example 2.5. Using functional description in menu names

    Application nameMenu item name
    The GIMPGIMP Image Editor
    Evolution email sub-applicationEvolution Email
    AbiWordAbiWord Word Processor
    GaleonGaleon Web Browser
    GrampsGramps Genealogy
    AisleRiotAisleRiot Solitaire
  3. A few applications, particularly games, do not have appropriate functional descriptions (but note that many games do). In this case, use Application Name as the menu name.

    Example 2.6. Using applicaton's name as menu name where no functional description exists

    Application nameMenu item name
    Bomber MazeBomber Maze

Menu Item Tooltips

Tooltips help provide users with enough information to run the right application. Many users use tooltips to explore a new environment.

Provide a tooltip for each Application menu item you add, following these guidelines:


  • Phrase the tooltip as an imperative verb, for example "design", "write" or "check".

  • Describe the most important tasks users can accomplish with your application.

  • While tooltips should not be verbose, they should be longer and more descriptive than the item's name.

Example 2.7. Example tooltips for GNOME applications

ApplicationMenu item tootlip
Character MapInsert special characters into documents
MemprofCheck your applications for memory leaks
Same GnomeArrange long chains of similarly-colored balls to eliminate them
Gnome Batalla Naval ClientFind and sink enemy ships in this networked version of Battleship

Mapping Document Types to Applications

The document type (MIME) database allows users to specify their preferred applications for opening different types of document. This is the mechanism by which Nautilus, Evolution and other applications decide which application to run when they encounter a document they cannot open themselves.

It is important for users to be able to double-click on documents they see on the desktop, such as files and email messages, and have them launch in their favorite application. Therefore, your GNOME application should associate itself at install-time with all the document types it can handle. Technical details on doing this can be found in the GnomeVFS API reference.