I find the Nautilus in recent Ubuntu versions quite irritating. Several nice features have been removed. Thankfully, Nemo, a fork of Nautilus, still has those features.
To make Nemo the default manager:
$ xdg-mime default nemo.desktop inode/directory application/x-gnome-saved-search
To make Nemo handle the desktop:
$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background show-desktop-icons false $ gsettings set org.nemo.desktop show-desktop-icons true
Warning: Do not use exo-preferred-applications utility to set Nemo as default file manager. It works, but disables xdg-open.
Tried with: Nemo 1.8.4 and Ubuntu 14.04