Put a File on Every Users’ Desktop on Mac

On a few occasions, I’ve been asked if there’s a way to add a file, folder, or icon onto every user’s desktop on the Mac. This is useful for situations like computer labs and is commonly used on Windows machines through their “Public Desktop” folder.

Mac’s have a similar ability, though it is commonly less utilized in favor of things like customizing the Dock. In the event that you need it, let me show you how it’s done.

Before You Begin

There are a couple of caveats with this method.

First, this will only apply to new users created on the machine. Any existing users will not have your file appear on their desktops. That’s because we’re going to be adding our file to the user templates folder which is what new accounts on the Mac are created from. There is no shared desktop folder among all users like there is on Windows. So if you’re going along with this process it best to do this when you’re first setting up the Mac and before you deploy it.

The second caveat is that, like Windows, users can remove this from their desktop. If they delete it from their own desktop, it will not affect any other users of that Mac. I only mention this in case it is something that you want to make sure users always see.

With those out of the way, let’s get started.

What to do

The Go To prompt that lets you type in the folder path you want to go to

First, you’ll need to open a new Finder window and pull up the Go To Folder option either by hitting “Command”, “Shift”, and “G” on the keyboard or by hitting “Go” in the menu bar, and then selecting the “Go to Folder” option which is second from the bottom.

Next, you’ll want to type in the following:

/System/Library/User Template/

You’ll be taken to a list of folders that end in “.lproj” and start with either a language name (e.g. “Dutch.lproj” or “Japanese.lproj”) or abbreviation (e.g. “ar.lproj” for Arabic or “en_GB.lproj” for British English). Which folder you want is dependent on the region you selected for your Mac. If your American using English like me, then you’ll double click on “English.lproj”

You will always see a folder labeled “Library”, but depending on what version of Mac OS you have you may see some others as well, including the “Desktop” folder. If you don’t see those folders, no worries, we’ll break this up depending on what you see.

If you have the Desktop Folder

The Get Info panel with the final permissions.

Older versions of Mac OS will still have this Desktop folder option present, but you won’t have access to it. Not to worry, we’re going to grant your user account access (so long as your account is an admin) and allow you to make changes.

Right click on the desktop folder and click Get Info. A new window will pop up on the left hand side of the screen. Scroll down until you see Sharing and Permissions near the bottom, and hit the drop down arrow to open it up if it isn’t already. It should now show you what accounts have access to it and how much access (Read only, Read and Write, etc.).

Click the padlock icon in the bottom right corner, and type in your admin password to unlock it. Once it’s unlocked, hit the + icon in the bottom left corner of the screen. In the new window, select your account then hit Select in the bottom right corner. You’ll be taken back to the Get Info window, and you should see your account listed as “Read Only” next to the name of your user account. Click Read Only and change it to Read and Write. Once you’ve done that, you can hit the padlock icon again to lock the pane, then close out of this window. Now double clicking on the desktop icon will let you open it and drag files in and out of it. Drag the file or folder you want every account to have into that Desktop folder, and you’re done.

If You Do not have the Desktop Folder

Most modern versions of Mac OS won’t have the Desktop folder present. But that’s ok, because you’re just going to make it. Right click in any of the space within the language folder and click new folder. Name it Desktop. Now, drag the file or folder you want every account to have into that Desktop folder, and you’re done.

Testing

Now that you’ve added your file or folder, all you need to do is test it. As previously mentioned, any user accounts already setup on the Mac won’t have this file enabled, only accounts created from here on. If you want to make sure this works, you’ll need to make a new account. If you’re using a domain login like Active Directory, logging in with a new set of domain credentials will work. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a new user account under the Users and Groups option in the System Preferences app.

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