Drive Icons Missing From Your Mac's Desktop?

Turn Desktop Drive Icons On and Customize Their Appearance

Desktop Icons in OS X Yosemite
You can specify which desktop icons you'd like to be visible simply by setting the preferences in the Finder. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

It's the Finder's job to display the desktop and all of its icons, including those for storage devices. The problem is that a default install of OS X renders the desktop without the drive icons. In fact, a default install leaves the desktop with just the default wallpaper and nothing else.

The reasoning behind this default setting is likely lost to history, although if the rumors are to be believed, it involved heated discussions within Apple’s OS X development group.

In the early betas of OS X Puma (10.1), the desktop icons for the startup drive were present, requiring no intervention from the user to make them appear. This default setting that included desktop drive icons continued for some time. But eventually, the developers who prefer a clean, sparse desktop won the battle, and the Finder’s default display of drive and attached server icons was disabled.

Legend has it the change occurred because Steve Jobs wanted OS X to be more like iOS, which had no concept of storage or attached devices. Perhaps in Steve’s mind, if multi-button mice were too much for users, then seeing icons for attached storage devices would cause mass confusion.

If you like a minimalistic approach to your Mac’s desktop, then you're all set; you don't have to change a thing. But if you'd rather have a bit more control over your desktop, and customize it to fit your needs, then read on.

Setting Which Desktop Icons Display

Luckily, changing the Finder’s default settings for how the desktop is displayed is easy. In fact, you can specify which desktop icons you'd like to be visible simply by setting the preferences in the Finder.

Click on the desktop or open a Finder window to ensure the Finder is currently the front-most application.

From the menu bar, select Finder, Preferences.

In the Finder Preferences window that opens, click the General tab.

You'll see a list of devices that can have their associated icon displayed on your desktop:

Hard disks: This includes internal devices, such as hard drives or SSDs.

External disks: Any storage device connected via one of your Mac’s external ports, such as USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt.

CDs, DVDs, and iPods: Ejectable media, including optical devices, as well as iPods.

Connected servers: Refers to any network storage devices or networked file systems that are usable by your Mac.

Place a checkmark next to the items you wish to display on the desktop.

Close the Finder Preferences window.

The selected items will now display on the desktop.

You don’t have to stop there; you can customize the storage device icons to use just about any image you like. If you check our Personalize Your Mac by Changing Desktop Icons guide, you'll discover not only how to change the icons your Mac uses, but also find some nifty sources of professionally created icons to use.

If you would rather use your own photos as icons, there are a number of apps that will convert your favorite picture to the icon format, which you can then use with your Mac.

One of my favorite apps for converting photos to icons is Image2icon: Tom's Mac Software Pick.

Was this page helpful?