Essential Keyboard Shortcuts for Ubuntu

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In the Windows environment, keyboard shortcuts help us get things done more efficiently, without wasting time using the mouse to navigate. Part of the difficulty in migrating to Ubuntu is that many of the old Windows shortcuts don’t work anymore. In this post, I’ve hunted out some useful keyboard shortcuts to help you navigate Ubuntu more professionally.

1. Lock the screen

You’ll want to lock your screen when you’re away from your machine for any length of time – it’s common sense security. Simply press CTRL+ALT+L and the screensaver will activate, requiring your password to unlock.

If another user wants to use the machine, they can log on without affecting your session.

2. Flip between workspaces

Ubuntu allows you to use virtual workspaces, so you can arrange different applications between these workspaces. Possibly most useful whenever you want to work on something confidential or you want to keep your web browser/IM tools seperate from your wordprocessing and office applications.

Anyway, to quickly switch between workspaces, use the CTRL+ALT+LEFT/RIGHT ARROW key combinations. If you’ve got the enhanced display settings turned on, the desktop willl literally spin around to reveal the next workspace.

3. Minimize your applications

If your screen is cluttered with applications, it’s sometimes useful to minimize all the programmes and just bring up the one you want. To do this, use the CTRL+ALT+D combination and you’ll be down to your desktop wallpaper in no time.

4. Cycle through your open programmes

Holding the ALT button and pressing TAB will cycle through your open applications in the same way ALT+TAB works in Windows. However, you can also get a more visually appealing effect by pressing the Windows key (the Windows icon between CTRL and ALT) and TAB.

5. Move applications between workspaces

If you want to move an application into its own workspace, you can do this easily by pressing SHIFT+CTRL+ALT+LEFT/RIGHT ARROW. The application will instantly ‘jump’ to the next workspace along. Really handy if you want to isolate an application.

6. Resize and move windows

With a couple of keyboard combinations and the arrow keys, you can resize and move windows. This one’s more handy if you’ve lost control of your mouse, but useful nevertheless.

  1. Move a window by pressing ALT+F7, then using the arrow keys to move the window in question.
  2. Resize a window by pressing ALT+F8, then using the arrow keys to move the window in question.

7. Activate the Applications menu

Again, in the absence of a mouse, you can press ALT+F1 to activate the Applications menu (top left of your Ubuntu screen), then navigate the menus with the arrow keys, using the RETURN/ENTER key to launch the application you want.

If you call this menu up accidentally, hit the ESCAPE button to dismiss the menu again.

8. Minimize/Maximize windows

A quick way to minimize and maximize your application windows:

  1. ALT+F9 to minimize the current window
  2. ALT+F10 to maximize the current window. Pressing this again will restore the previous window size.

9. The ‘Run’ Command

In Windows, there is a run command into which you can type commands and application names to launch programmes. To accomplish the same thing in Ubuntu, you press ALT+F2.

From there, you can launch applications by name or start a command in a terminal.

10. Toggle hidden files in file browser

Quite a useful way to reveal hidden files in Ubuntu’s file browser is by pressing CTRL+H. Pressing the keys a second time will hide the files again.

Any others?

Before I finish, I should mention that most Ubuntu appliations share keyboard shortcuts in common with Windows applications. Selection commands such as CTRL+A will select text on a page. Formatting commands will work in OpenOffice just as they do in Microsoft Word – CTRL+B, CTRL+U and so on.

However, if you’re an Ubuntu veteran and you have more suggestions to add, leave your suggestions in the comments area.

8 comments

  1. On number 7 you forgot to mention that you need to press F1 to open the applications menu in the first place.  Other than that, looks great!

    • You’re quite right – actually, it’s ALT+F1 (I pressed F1 in FireFox and got a help screen!). I’ve updated the article, thanks!

    • How do I use the magic SysRq key?

      On x86
      You press the key combo ‘ALT-SysRq-‘. Note – Some keyboards may not have a key labeled ‘SysRq’. The ‘SysRq’ key is also known as the ‘Print Screen’ key. Also some keyboards cannot handle so many keys being pressed at the same time, so you might have better luck with “press Alt”, “press SysRq”, “release Alt”, “press “, release everything.
      On SPARC
      You press ‘ALT-STOP-‘, I believe.
      On the serial console (PC style standard serial ports only)
      You send a BREAK, then within 5 seconds a command key. Sending BREAK twice is interpreted as a normal BREAK.
      On PowerPC
      Press ‘ALT – Print Screen (or F13) – , Print Screen (or F13) – may suffice.
      On other
      If you know of the key combos for other architectures, please let me know so I can add them to this section.
      On all
      write a character to /proc/sysrq-trigger. eg:

      echo t > /proc/sysrq-trigger

      What are the ‘command’ keys?

      ‘r’
      Turns off keyboard raw mode and sets it to XLATE.
      ‘k’
      Secure Access Key (SAK) Kills all programs on the current virtual console. NOTE: See important comments below in SAK section.
      ‘b’
      Will immediately reboot the system without syncing or unmounting your disks.
      ‘c’
      Will perform a kexec reboot in order to take a crashdump.
      ‘o’
      Will shut your system off (if configured and supported).
      ‘s’
      Will attempt to sync all mounted filesystems.
      ‘u’
      Will attempt to remount all mounted filesystems read-only.
      ‘p’
      Will dump the current registers and flags to your console.
      ‘t’
      Will dump a list of current tasks and their information to your console.
      ‘m’
      Will dump current memory info to your console.
      ‘v’
      Dumps Voyager SMP processor info to your console.
      ‘0’-‘9’
      Sets the console log level, controlling which kernel messages will be printed to your console. (‘0’, for example would make it so that only emergency messages like PANICs or OOPSes would make it to your console.)
      ‘f’
      Will call oom_kill to kill a memory hog process
      ‘e’
      Send a SIGTERM to all processes, except for init.
      ‘i’
      Send a SIGKILL to all processes, except for init.
      ‘l’
      Send a SIGKILL to all processes, INCLUDING init. (Your system will be non-functional after this.)
      ‘h’
      Will display help ( actually any other key than those listed above will display help. but ‘h’ is easy to remember 🙂

  2. This is where Linux messes up.Windows key; WinKey+L  Lock screen… not the Ctrl+Alt+LWinKey+M Minimize allWinKey+R Run commandWinKey+E NautilusInstead of the crazy shortcuts that they have come up with.   Windows users coming over would expect those to work.  Habitall the above are my take. 

  3. Hi,I really try and avoid the mouse, aside from the number of people who I”ve seen suffering (and I mean SUFFERING) with RSI, the mouse is just so slow. Windows is now becoming impossible to use with just the keyboard, which is one reason I’m looking at Linux, but what is your opinion on using Linux without a mouse?Does Alt+ (initial letter of menu) work as it does in (most versions of) Windows?Is Linux without a mouse as easy to use as say Win 2000? (keyboard support in Windows seems to be reducing since 2000)?And while I’m here, what is the linux desktop which is least ‘graphically orientated? I am getting so tired of Windows and its concentration on flashy graphics… I couldn’t give a damn about ‘themes’ and ‘effects’*, I just want to get work done in the plainest environment possible (when I want some beauty I’ll go for a walk in the countryside!).Many thanks in advance.*I started computing on DOS 2, and in many ways I was just as productive at the C prompt as I am now, perhaps more as now I have to wade around in windows and dialog boxes before I can even start work!

    • Linux is awesome when it comes to the keyboard. Have you ever used a command line? linux has got a pretty powerful one. I have only tried out a few distros so I wouldn’t know which one has the best commands, but it seems that it has some extremely useful tools. For example: vim, latex, shell scripting, the find command, sed, and xargs are some of my favorites. 

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