Ubuntu is changing. From its position as the most well-known Linux distro with its own unique desktop environment, Unity, Ubuntu’s evolution is continuing. From Ubuntu 18.04 onwards, the operating system will abandon Unity and return to the GNOME desktop.
So, what does that mean for Ubuntu’s keyboard shortcuts? Are new ones replacing them?
You may have a very good reason for not upgrading to the latest version of Ubuntu. As such, you might be carrying on with the Unity desktop environment. This shouldn’t cause you any problems, as Unity is expected to be supported for many years yet to come. However, you’ll need to know these keyboard shortcuts, which we’ve grouped by type.
(Incidentally, if you’re looking for more Linux keyboard shortcuts, here are some for KDE and GNOME.)
Switch Workspaces and Windows
If you have enabled workspaces (Settings > Appearance > Behavior), you’ll need to be able to navigate through them. Ubuntu’s workspaces — essentially additional desktop areas — are arranged in a grid, 2 x 2.
To access these desktop spaces, therefore, you’ll need to use the left and right arrows, along with the up and down arrows. These are used in conjunction with CTRL + ALT. So to move to the second workspace, you would use CTRL + ALT + RIGHT ARROW. To switch the view to the fourth workspace, add to this step CTRL + ALT + DOWN.
Meanwhile, you can move the current app window between workspaces almost as easily. Simply ensure the window is active (i.e., that you have clicked it with your mouse) then add SHIFT to the shortcut.
Say I wanted to move my browser to the second workspace: I’d hold SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + RIGHT.
You have a couple of options for issuing commands in Ubuntu, depending on the type of instruction.
To open the pop-up command dialogue, press ALT + F2, or simply ALT. Simply start typing into these boxes — it’s like an instant search feature, where everything you type is instantly matched to an existing native command or app.
Meanwhile, if you require a Terminal window, the old favorite of CTRL + ALT + T will open this for you. These 20 shortcuts will help you save time in the Terminal.
The Application Menu
Various keyboard shortcuts are available for accessing and moving through the application menu without a mouse.
First is the SUPER key. This is the Windows key, renamed for use in Linux. Here, it opens the Overview, the Ubuntu Unity equivalent of the Windows Start menu. Once open, you can enter a command (as above) or use the arrow keys to scroll through what’s initially displayed.
Another option is to use SUPER + ALT then tap F1 to display numbered shortcuts for the first 10 apps listed on the Launcher (the app menu on the left). Release F1 and tap the number of the app you want to launch.
Meanwhile, ALT + F1 can be used in conjunction with the arrow keys to scroll up and down the apps on the Launcher. Tap Enter to open the selected tool.
Finally, you can put everything to bed — well, minimize — by pressing CTRL + SUPER + D to show the desktop. Press the same combi again to restore your app windows.
Display Your Lenses
Ubuntu Unity users have their key apps, utilities and personal files broken down into Lenses (a concept carried into the abandoned Ubuntu Touch). These are usually accessed by clicking the corresponding button at the foot of the Overview.
But did you know that there is also a collection of keyboard shortcuts for this in Unity? SUPER + A will display recently used and installed applications; SUPER + F will display your files and folders.
Meanwhile, you can display your media files easily with SUPER + V for videos and SUPER + M for music!
Switch and Cycle Apps
Switching between your open apps quickly can save a lot of time. You can view what is open in two ways.
The first is to use the ALT + TAB keyboard combination. This displays a box with icons for the open apps on the current workspace. Each subsequent tap of TAB will cycle through the open apps. When you have the one you want to use selected, release both. Meanwhile, to cycle backwards through the apps, press ALT + TAB then add SHIFT into the mix with a third finger.
If you’re using multiple desktops, the second option might be useful: CTRL + ALT + TAB. With this keyboard shortcut, you can cycle through all open apps, even if they’re currently docked on a different workspace.
Replace Your Mouse
Keyboard shortcuts can be employed to replace some mouse functions. Most obviously, you can use the arrow keys to navigate around the desktop, the launcher, and the active window. If you need to view the application menu, hold ALT. Meanwhile, ALT + F10 will open the first menu panel of the current app — use the arrow keys to scrub through the menus and find the item you want.
Also, you can use ALT + F7 to move windows in the absence of a mouse. Once the grabbing hand mouse pointer appears, use the arrow keys to move the window into the preferred location.
Meanwhile, if you need to right-click, SHIFT + F10 will suit you admirably. And if you need a new mouse, buy one as soon as possible!
Screen Capture Shortcut
It’s possible to not make screen captures in Ubuntu, thanks to the preinstalled gnome-screenshot tool. Images can be captured with PRT SC, as you might expect. To capture a snap of the active window, meanwhile, use ALT + PRT SC.
With each option, you’ll be presented with a dialogue asking you where to save the file. Just click Save with the correct destination selected. You can also use Copy to clipboard to use the screen capture with a current application.
Lock Your Profile and View the Trashcan
Accidentally deleted a file you want to restore? It will be in the Trashcan, which can easily be opened using SUPER + T. Select an item and click Restore to put the file back in its original home.
Now is a good time to also mention the CTRL + H shortcut. This is a toggle that, once tapped, will display hidden files in your file manager. It’s useful for finding files that probably shouldn’t be accessed in the overwhelming majority of cases, so use wisely!
Finally, you can keep your Ubuntu PC or laptop secure from unauthorized use by locking the desktop. This is swiftly done by pressing SUPER + L.
Need More Shortcuts? Super!
Many more desktop shortcuts are available for Ubuntu Unity, some of which might be really useful to you, others less so. To check out the full list, simply hold the Super key.
Meanwhile, if you want to configure your own shortcuts for Unity, you can. Tap SUPER, enter keyboard, and select the Shortcuts tab. Here you’ll be able to find the command you want to edit – just click to select, tap the shortcut you want, and close the Keyboard box when you’re done.
So there you have it: more keyboard shortcuts for Ubuntu than you can shake a penguin at. For more fun, see our complete overview to renaming files in Linux.