How to save your Linux desktop settings in case something goes wrong

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I cannot tell you how many times I’ve approached a fresh install of the Linux operating system and had to remember all the settings from the previous incarnation. 

Sometimes I can fairly easily get that setup back, and sometimes it’s a strain. Or maybe I’ve just made sweeping changes to my desktop, only to find myself wishing I could get the previous setup back.

Also: 8 things you can do with Linux that you can’t do with MacOS or Windows

The good news is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And in this case, the way comes from a handy little app called SaveDesktop. This app saves your desktop configurations — such as icons, themes, fonts, backgrounds, and even Flatpak apps — in a configuration archive that you can reapply latter using the same app.

SaveDesktop is incredibly easy to use and supports the following desktop environments:

  • GNOME
  • Xfce
  • Cinnamon
  • Budgie
  • Pop!_OS (now COSMIC)
  • Pantheon
  • MATE

If your desktop is on that list, read on and find out how to install and use this application, so you won’t have to spend extra time reconfiguring your desktop back to how it was.

How to install SaveDesktop

What you’ll need: The only things you’ll need are a running instance of any Linux desktop distribution that supports Flatpak, which is most of them, and a user with sudo privileges.

sudo apt-get install flatpak -y

If you use a distribution based on Fedora, that command would be:

sudo dnf install flatpak -y

To install apps from Flathub, you must first add the necessary repository with the command:

flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://dl.flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

You can now install SaveDesktop with the command:

flatpak install flathub io.github.vikdevelop.SaveDesktop

To run SaveDesktop for the first time (and add a launcher to your desktop menu), issue the command:

flatpak run io.github.vikdevelop.SaveDesktop

You could also simply log out and log back in, and the SaveDesktop launcher will be automatically added to your desktop menu.

How to use SaveDesktop

1. Configure your first save 

The first thing to do is name the archive that will be saved by typing a filename in the Set the file name space in the main window.

The SaveDesktop main window.

Make sure to give the archive a name that helps you remember what machine it applies to.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. Select the settings to be saved

Next, click Items to include in the configuration archive. 

Also: How to create a bootable Linux USB drive

In the resulting popup, enable any/all items you want to add to the archive and click Apply.

The SaveDesktop item selector popup.

If you use a lot of Flatpak apps, I would recommend enabling this option.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Enable optional scheduled saving

You can optionally enable periodic saving of your configuration archive. To do this, click the dropdown associated with Periodic saving and select from Never, Daily, Weekly, or Monthly.

The Periodic saving drop-down.

If you don’t set a schedule, you’ll have to save your desktop settings manually.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

4. Save the configuration

Once you’ve taken care of the options, click Save. You’ll be prompted to select a location to house the configuration archive. 

Also: How to create a Linux virtual machine with VirtualBox

I would suggest saving the archive to an external drive, or to cloud storage. That way, in case something goes wrong with your operating system, you can apply the archive after you’ve reinstalled the OS.

Importing the archive

Should something go wrong with your desktop, all you have to do is open SaveDesktop, click Import, click Import from file, select the configuration archive you created, and click Open. SaveDesktop will apply the settings and prompt you to log out and log back in. 

The SaveDesktop Import window.

If you want to roll back your desktop to a previous incarnation, import the SaveDesktop archive and you’re good to go.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that’s all it takes to save your current desktop configurations — and to import them back if something goes wrong. 

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