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Use the Windows Key for the “Start” Menu in Ubuntu Linux 10.04+

Linux distributions like Ubuntu open the main menu with Alt+F1 instead of the Windows key that most new Linux users would be expecting, but it used to be simple to change the shortcut key. Since Ubuntu 9.10 the process isn’t so obvious, but we’ve got the instructions for you.

Just in case you’re a total newb, here’s the menu we’re talking about:

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Change the Gnome Main Menu Shortcut Key to the Windows Key

The first thing you’d normally do is head to System –> Preferences –> Keyboard Shortcuts to change out the shortcut key, but sadly the “Show the panel’s main menu” can’t be assign to the Windows key. You can hit the key as much as you want, but it won’t work here.

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What you’re going to need to do is either open up a terminal or use the Alt+F2 shortcut key to bring up the Run Application dialog, and then paste in the following:

gconftool-2 --set /apps/metacity/global_keybindings/panel_main_menu --type string "Super_L"

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Once you’ve hit the enter key, the Windows key will not only open the main menu, but the Keyboard Shortcuts panel will be updated with “Super L”, which means the left Windows key.

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And there you go.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/30/10

Comments (25)

  1. Matthew

    Thanks so much! I’d been simply trying to press the Windows key, and wondering why it wasn’t working. Awesome.

  2. Aviad

    And this is why Linux will never be “the desktop OS”… too many little things that need changing from the get go… even an experienced user would have a hard time finding this sort of tweak.

    why for the love of god not just give the “windows” button?
    is anyone going to go back to a keyboard that doesn’t have that button?? come on… sheesh…

    Your guide is great and i’m committing it to memory, thanks…

  3. Chris Davis

    Another method would be this:
    1. press F2
    2. type “gconf-editor” (without quotes), click
    3. Navigate to: apps>metacity>global_keybindings
    4. double click panel_main_menu
    5. Change value to: “Super_L” (without quotes), click

    Enjoy!

  4. Chris Davis

    Don’t see how to edit my last post — please ignore post at August 30, 2010 5:08 pm
    had words in between greater than and less than signs that got commented out!

    Another method would be this:
    1. press ALT-F2
    2. type “gconf-editor” (without quotes), click RUN
    3. Navigate to: apps>metacity>global_keybindings
    4. double click panel_main_menu
    5. Change value to: “Super_L” (without quotes), click OK

    Enjoy!

  5. サムマルケル

    10.04+? I realize that is for future reference, assuming that it will be the same in Maverick, but seriously, who is using daily builds consistently? Test Drive is a great tool, but only during the week leading up to a new launch.

  6. Vidula

    thanks…works nice, but my keyboard has two windows keys..and this works only for the left key.. any idea how i can assign both of them for the same function?

  7. mirshafie

    Thanks for the guide! I’m using Z to launch the app menu so that it won’t interfere with other Super-key combinations.

    Aviad, please stop whining. You’re just cranky because Linux does not work the exact same way as Windows. If it’s so horrible, just go back to Windows.

    The general idea that you should fix in your mind in your transition is that THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DO EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE USED TO DOING.

    For example: to run an application, press Alt+F2 and type it’s name. It’s been the standard way to launch apps in Linux desktops for a long, long time, and it’s faster and easier than navigating menus.

  8. herbie

    This is a nice tip, however, because Linux looks a the ‘KeyDown’ event using Super_L will disable all other shortcuts that require Super_L, e.g. Super_L+Tab.
    They, the developers, need to change the behaviour for key presses.
    IMHO this is my take on it.

  9. avar

    how to do this on kubuntu ?

  10. oladim

    AVIAD above was right on ‘button’, if you pardon the pun. Making interaction complex is counterproductive and needless. Linux converts are not increasing.

  11. dexter_greycells

    Before you do this, just a little heads up –
    If you are using the Super L key in combination with something else as keyboard shortcut, the above trick will make things useless!
    For example, I had the Super L+Space bar combination set to invoke GNOME Do and after doing the above key binding I just couldn’t bring up GNOME Do the same way. So, I had to reset the setting which I did by typing the below command –

    dexter@SONYVAIO:~$ gconftool-2 –set /apps/metacity/global_keybindings/panel_main_menu –type string “Alt+F1″

  12. kevb

    Worked perfectly on 10.04 LTS. Thanks from a new Ubuntu user.

  13. cikalaka

    I wished that i could also close that menu when i press the windows key again. But Esc also works for that. Cheers.

  14. Alexander

    Herbie is right, the X server will kick events on press instead of on release, so you’ll lose all your Windows+something shortcuts if you have any. That’s crazy behaviour, IMO. The issue is six years old, and counting http://bugs.launchpad.net/xorg-server/+bug/36812 Talk about fast Ubuntu bugfixing.

    There’s a patch on that page which will save your Ctrl, Alt and Shift in such a situation. Maybe it works for Windows key, too.

  15. Jeremy

    I agree with some previous commenters that it isn’t worth it. To each his own when it comes to tweaking the desktop, of course, but I much prefer having various Super+key combinations to automate frequent tasks. There is nothing in the Applications menu that I can’t access in a few keystrokes with a key combo, gnome-do, or the “Run Application” dialog (Alt+F2).

    Also, sometimes you need your Super key for hacking the Gibson.

  16. Linux

    @Aviad: Actually, the user community is a bigger factor stopping Linux from gaining end-user market-share. If a Windows user goes to Mac, they get a nice welcome and a “here’s how you do the new stuff” with a tutorial video and a pleasing voice.

    Linux, you have to search for the solution, and god help you if you have to ask a question and get a confusing (to a user migrating from Windows) command-line topped off with some snide reply, usually boiling down to “stop whining … If it’s so horrible, just go back to Windows.”

    Be nice to the newbies, Linux users, or we’ll always be scribbling in the margins of the desktop world.

  17. CallicoJack

    Why can’t they make it behave like it does in Windows? By which I mean you can press it once by itself as a shortcut key to do one thing, or you can use it in combination with (an)other key(s) to do something different. I remember reading about how SUSE KDE used to do that by default, but they stopped because, for technical reasons that elude me, it’s difficult and/or causes other problems…I guess it has something to do with what Alexander said about the X server launching events on press instead of on release. Could it really be that difficult to change or work around that behavior? If so, sounds like another reason why it’s high time to jettison X-windows in favour of something that isn’t a long-since fossilised relic of the past.

  18. NickNackGus

    I have been using ALT-F1 for a long time now, and am so used to it, I have trouble using Windows! Ubuntu does so many little things to make things EASIER for their users. Making SUPER (AKA WINDOWS or META) a key modifier (similar to ALT, SHIFT, and CTRL) allows many additional combinations, allowing for fast access to other applications. Right now, I have SUPER-W for my Web browser, SUPER-T for my Text editor, etc. setting SUPER to be a function, such as opening the main menu, would only make it impossible to make such convenient shortcuts.

    Speaking of which, you can create shortcuts by simply going under System –> Preferences –> Keyboard Shortcuts, clicking Add, and typing the command for the application and the name so you can recognise it. You can find the command for your program by right clicking the main menu icon, clicking edit menus, finding you application as you normally would, and clicking properties. now copy and paste. You can do this using the Windows method of selecting text, CTRL-C or right click to copy, and go to your destination, CTRL-V or right click and select paste. However, you can also select your text to copy, and middle click the destination, or left and right click at the same time instead of middle clicking.

    The only reason I came here was to find a way to replace the Windows logo with the Ubuntu logo on my keyboard, but Google didn’t get me to the right page. I need to try different keywords.

  19. Lojjik Braughler

    @Vidula, and anyone else who is looking for the Right windows key control… just replace Super_L with Super_R in the above functions. (Left and Right, respectively)

  20. phil

    I don’t actually care about using the ‘Windows key’, but I was looking at System76 laptops and since they used the Ubuntu symbol instead I figured it should be useful for something.

  21. dragonbite

    Now, how do you do this with KDE?

  22. Kurian

    Thank You.. so much.. :)

  23. LVS

    You can do super key + other key combinations too.
    Have a look here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MappingWindowsKey

  24. John

    Now why would they go and make this process a whole lot harder (judging by the older article)? As much as I’m getting along with trying out Ubuntu (it’s more efficient with my ageing hardware which is great) I sure am seeing a ton load of (albeit smaller and quicker to install) updates that need to be installed with every so often one seemingly knocking out certain features that need to be reset. If it isn’t Firefox losing its previous session it’s GRUB suddenly losing its timeout feature. Oh I’m sure there’s a reason but it isn’t obvious and while code seems cutting edge, frontend GUI support sadly doesn’t. I really wish I understood why serious computer buffs hate interfaces; I love them but then I’m not a serious computer buff… Buff, boff, whatever.

  25. Robert

    I really don’t understand why so many people whine about things in Ubuntu; Ubuntu is not windows or mac, thats why it’s not like windows and mac. Those who do like it stay, those who don’t shouldn’t.
    I love Ubuntu (with all it’s small faults etc) and it has saved me many times where I gave up on windows. (And mac partially).
    Instead of complaining, do something about it and help the community instead of discouraging people who actually put effort into it.

    To all working with Ubuntu, great job! Keep it up! :)

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