How to Fix: Windows 10 Desktop Icons Missing

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Kelly R. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I've been using Windows 10 and so far so good. I took your advice and installed Classic Shell, which I think is a superior Start Menu than the default Windows 10 Start Menu. Everything has been great for the last few weeks, but suddenly all of my icons on the desktop have disappeared! At the same time, my browser window won't minimize or maximize - it only moves left or right. I have no idea what's going on but I'd really like to have my icons back on the desktop! I am going bananas! Can you help? "

My response:

Admittedly I was perplexed by Kelly's question and so I offered to dial into her machine using my remote desktop support service to have a closer look. Kelly agreed to let me dial in, and sure enough, the desktop icons were gone. In fact, the desktop was completely blank with the exception of 3 bars at the top left of the screen. When I clicked the 3 bars, it activated the Start Menu - but it wasn't the Classic Shell Start Menu - it was the Windows 10 Start Menu, which I thought was strange.

I also tried adjusting the web browser, but it would only move from left to right. I asked Kelly if she was using a tablet computer, but she said she was using a PC. As such, I suspected that perhaps "tablet mode" somehow got triggered on the PC.

After a bit of research and some digging around, I confirmed my suspicion - tablet mode was in fact enabled on the PC. As soon as I disabled it, everything went back to normal. I then demonstrated how to enable or disable tablet mode so that Kelly could help herself to undo the change if she needed to again in the future. And, in case anyone else is wondering, I'll explain how to toggle back and forth between tablet mode and PC mode should you find yourself in this very same situation.

Update 20160118: Originally when I wrote this article I pointed out one major possibility that causes Windows 10 desktop icons to disappear. Since then, however, users have emailed me and we've solved this problem using a few other approaches. As such, I will list 3 different ways to get the missing desktop icons back.

Update 20160404: I've also included an article on how to fix the Windows 10 Start Menu, as this question gets asked from folks that stop by to read this article. If your Windows 10 Start doesn't work when you click it, then please read my article on "How to Fix: Windows 10 Start Menu Not Working".

Option #1: Enable or Disable Tablet Mode

Switching back and forth between PC and Tablet mode is very easy to do. Here's how:

  1. In the lower right hand corner of your task bar (near the clock), there is an icon that looks like a speech balloon. This is the Action Center and it's used to display important system messages, but it also has a few other features, such as allowing you to toggle Tablet Mode mode on or off. When it's off, then PC mode is activated.
  2. To demonstrate how this is done, click on the Action Center icon to open the Action Center window on the far right of the screen.
  3. Near the very bottom of the Action Center window are a number of squares; one of them says "Tablet Mode". If you click on Tablet Mode, the system will change into Tablet Mode instantly and icons on the task bar and the desktop will disappear. Don't worry - the tray bar will remain on the screen, including the Action Center, so you can easily get back in to reverse the changes.
  4. To disable Tablet mode (and to re-enable PC mode), click the Action Center icon again and then click on the Tablet Mode square. Your system will then change back to PC mode and the icons on the desktop will reappear.

Option #2: Show Desktop Icons Not Enabled

Another possibility is that the "Show Desktop Icons" feature is been unchecked. This option can be activated or deactivated from the desktop.

To activate it:

  1. Right click on an empty area of the desktop to bring up a dialogue menu.
  2. Select View, then ensure that the "Show Desktop Icons" has a check mark beside it.

Option #3: Windows 10 Desktop Icon Spacing

Yet another possibility is that the Windows 10 Desktop icon spacing has been corrupted. I've written a separate article from another user that reported only 3 icons were displayed on the desktop and the rest were missing. If the above solutions did not work for you, please also read: How to Fix: Windows 10 Desktop Icon Spacing.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Average: 4.7 (47 votes)


Doccus's picture

i also couldn't figure what was wrong, having read her email.. I thought somehow the app had replaced the default shell in the registry..
In retrospect, I had a "V8 moment" when I realized I simply hadn't read the email close enough .. "can only move the browser left to right" ? Er.. DOH! Swiping movements ;-)
Aah well...retrospection grants even the least of us wisdom.. so they say...

robhp's picture

I have two major problems with W10 -
- Start Menu (but I use Classic Shell to fix that)
- Settings - Where are they ?

The settings are either gone (switch off/control auto MS Updates), or are all over the place.
Could you point us to a program that contains all the settings (and perhaps tweaks)
Or write an article for us explaining/guiding where they all are ?

PS I had a third problem (which I mentioned on your 'Edge' article) with the 'Edge' browser. I cannot find the menus.
If they don't have them anymore, I will just use FF. In fact I only feel safe when randomly browsing the web, by using FF with NoScript.

ib.shameri_6436's picture


tpilking1_6472's picture

Thanks, after looking a numerous sites yours was the only one to mention "Tablet Mode" and that was exactly the issue. Corrected in one minute what I had worked on for a couple of days. Yes I feel dumb!

brianfrank_7093's picture

None of these tricks work for me; I can't even set up a new account. Seems Windows usability is dropping faste than panties on prom night! I rememebr a time I could use Ctrl+Alt+Del to shut my computer down. Seems Microsoft doesn't want their users to have a good experience with their products.

Guess I should have taken courses in software development and not website development.

kokopellioh's picture

And I literally would rathZer die and be buried than endure one more Windows operating system GUI beyond Windows 7. However, here we are, and the newest laptop for my wife's business is Windows 10. Even with anti-virus and anti-malware in place, every morning she has to spend up to 4 hours scraping crap off her PC before starting work.

WHat is really annoying, beyond her thinking I actualy know something about this OS, is that desktop icons just diasppear for no apparent reason. Most times she will shut it off, wait, turn it back on and they re-appear.

Oh yeah, this is really business-friendly and helps us to be more efficient.

BTW, written on my Android tablet with an external keyboard. If only the expesive business softare she uses would work on Android.

87pearlgirl_9605's picture

You are a genius! When I went to empty my recycle bin. I noticed my start up menu was set to windows and I couldn't figure out to revert back to my previous start up menu where I was always able to easily find my recycle bin icon. After searching numerous sites and unsuccessfully being able to follow their directions due to being in "tablet mode" which I didn't even realize, you were the ONLY one helped me fix the simple problem with literally two clicks!! Thank you!!