How-To Geek

Use the Windows Key for the "Start" Menu in Ubuntu Linux

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Ubuntu has a dropdown menu at the top of the screen to launch applications, which is very similar to the way Windows has the start menu at the bottom of the screen. If you are a windows user new to Ubuntu, you may prefer to have the windows key launch the applications menu. Thankfully this is an easy thing to do in Ubuntu.

Go to the System \ Preferences \ Keyboard Shortcuts menu item:

Scroll down till you see the “Show the panel menu” item. Click in the Shortcut column, and when it changes to “New accelerator…”, hit the Windows Key. Click the close button. You’re done!

Now when you hit the windows key, the application menu will pop up. If you hit the right arrow key, you can go to the Places or System menu as well.

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 12/10/06

Comments (52)

  1. Blaze Rose

    how will you do this in Kubuntu?

  2. Cristian

    Interesting stuff..
    There’s should be a Linux Key also on the keyboard.. bigger than the windows key :P

  3. The Geek


    While KDE has a much more powerful shortcut key ability, I couldn’t find a simple way to just use the windows key. You have to use Win + anotherkey

    In KDE or even Gnome, you can also just use the Alt+F1 shortcut to pop up the menu… it’s not as quick as the windows key, but it’s pretty close.

  4. Ignatius

    emmm, this is a “Gnome feature”, not only ubuntu…

  5. The Geek

    I know this is a gnome feature, but I wrote this article specifically for Ubuntu users. I figure that experienced gnome users wouldn’t need to read this article anyway.

  6. megatux

    Here, doesn’t work neither, needs (Win + anotherkey).

  7. orangekid13

    if i can find someone to laser cut a tiny tux or ubuntu logo stencil i will remove the paint from my start key and replace it with that… and cover the “Microsoft” on the kb with a much cooler looking “ubuntu”

    i have a microsoft wireless desktop elite, so they keys aren’t opaque… If they were i could paint over it, but they aren’t so it would look like shit

  8. The Geek


    That’s a great idea! I’d pay for a keyboard with Tux on it instead of the windows key. =)

  9. lorijt

    Why not just make keyboard stickers to cover the keys. Then take the top off the keyboard and paint it with Krylon for plastics. The keys will pop off with a sight pry and you could paint the selected keys. I am new to Ubuntu but not to case moding.

  10. Tobias

    There is a linux keyboard on the market, to bad it is in German language…

    I just put some chemicals over the start button, ;-) at least there is no windows there any more.

    But most of the button itself is also gone ;-)

  11. Chris

    Tobias: That keyboard comes in many layouts – not just german.

  12. Mr Susan

    I’ve just received the Cherry Cymotion Master Linux keyboard, but unfortunately cannot get all of the special keys to work with Ubuntu.
    Has anyone had any luck with one of these keyboards?

  13. darth_prince

    Hey Mr Susan, give this a try. I haven’t used this one myself but I’ve “glanced” over it…

  14. Peets

    The issue lies in how GNOME and KDE handle ‘keyboard modifiers’ of the underlying server (or client, I always mix them up). Once I have time I’ll boot off an Ubuntu LiveCD and see how it’s set up so I can then put that in KDE (i.e. Kubuntu).

    Having said that, I found the Beryl kidnaps quite a few keystrokes (users of ‘mc’ will find that when they try to erase something and F8 manipulates the windows instead), so being able to do Win-F1..F12 for a quick terminal or Firefox shortcut isn’t a bad thing to have. The nicest thing would be to have the Win key act as a trigger (like the ‘start’ menu) and as a modifier (like Win-E and Win-S under Windows).

  15. Ravi

    I suppose there is a cd with RPMs on?? If there is, use alien. :)

    I really want one.. if it works… looks impressive

  16. PatheticM0F0

    To get the windows key to be interpreted as one key, do this:
    Make a task that starts with the session (I don’t know how you do this in GNOME) by creating a new link to application in your ~/.kde/Autostart directory. Make it so that it runs the following command: xmodmap ~/.xmodmap
    Now we need to create a plain text file in your home folder called .xmodmap and make sure it says the following in it:
    keycode 115 = F13
    keycode 116 = F14

    The second line is only needed if your keyboard has two windows keys. Essentially, this maps these keys to the two imaginary keys F13 and F14, so you don’t need to worry about the Win + something problem anymore. 115 and 116 are the keycodes that I’ve seen most, if not all, keyboards give for the winkeys. Check by running xev if it is the same for you. I got this from somewhere else long ago, so don’t give the credit to me for it.

  17. PatheticM0F0

    Sorry for the double-post, but I forgot something. To actually set the shortcut in KDE, open the Control Center, go to Regional & Accessibility and then to Keyboard Shortcuts. The setting is called “Popup Launch Menu”. For kubuntu specifically, you have to go to System Settings, then Keyboard and then Keyboard Shortcuts.

  18. Subbu

    I tried to change the shortcut. It changed, but the key was not mapped. To show the menu I still hav eot do Alt +F1

    Is there nay reason for it ?


  19. Roger Henderson

    If you assign F13 to the windows key, you lose the ability to use the windows key as a modifier i.e.

    I had Win+R invoke the run dialog, this doesn’t work anymore.

  20. PatheticM0F0

    Yeah that’s true, because this method was for people who wanted to loose that ability. If you don’t want to, then you can just leave one of your win keys without modifying (if you have 2) or modify your xorg.conf to make another key become the win key (I think you can do something like mapping Meta_R to Alt_R or something like that).

  21. Roger Henderson

    Yes, understood.

    It is frustrating that KDE cannot do what both gnome and windows can do though – and it’s been that way for a long time now. If it winds me up enough I’ll have a look at the code.

  22. PatheticM0F0

    How do you mean? I mean the only reason the above does what it does is because you’re telling xmodmap to change what the keys mean, so I’m not sure if KDE has got anything to do with it.

    Of course, since I don’t use GNOME I’m not exactly sure what you mean, and if you can take a look at the KDE code and make heads or tails of it, lol then I think you’re probably much more informed than I am.

  23. Roger H

    I was referring to the main article – gnome & windows can use the win key as a shortcut modifier _and_ as a shortcut key on its own. KDE can’t do both at the same time.

    Heh, I haven’t looked at it for a long time either so I might be in for a nasty surprise :-)

  24. PatheticM0F0

    AH! Of course…that was rather dense of me since that IS what this article is about… Yes… yes that would be a nice feature, lol. Well if you can do it, awesome!

  25. Roger H

    Well, a bit of research has revealed that the feature _was_ in KDE in some prior versions, and was removed.
    According to the FAQ:

    “This feature was removed for reasons of usability and accessibility, as well as keeping the code clean.”

    Nice. And lame.

  26. bluEyez

    nice one :) i love that key, but this MS sign on it suckz… :P

  27. ss

    God i’m so sick and tired of things that are application specific, desktop specific, or hell, even able to be ton on a range of OSes being given credit to for Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu’s community is in danger of becoming just like the Mac community.

  28. matysek

    check this out…
    i modified ugly windows key on my acer travelmate laptop with this cute little tux
    (sorry for the quality, i used a cellphone)

  29. shiraz

    Just a note. If you are running compiz fusion, the Super + Tab function stop working if you make this shortcut.

    I couldent change between different windows by using the Super + “other” shortcuts that are defined by (default settings) compiz fusion.

    Its worth noting for compiz fusion users that the Super key is used abundantly by it.

    So I will stick to Alt + F1 for now :)


  30. Les

    Thanks for that information. I have been looking for a way to do that for some time.

  31. Anjanesh

    This worked for me ! Thanks !
    Im using Ubuntu 8.04 & Microsoft Wireless Keyboard & Mouse !

  32. Robert Marshall

    Now if hitting the Windows key again would close it, I’d be very happy. You have to hit Esc currently.


  33. Ben

    Bad idea, it just messes up your shortcuts! I set ‘open terminal’ as alt T, as in windows (alt R for RUN), Nautilus is ALT E, and for ROOT terminal Super R, and Root nautilus Super E. In fact this messes up any chance of making a whole bunch of Super shortcuts!

    In windows, Super can be pressed alone, AND used as a shortcut key. The problem in Gnome is that it can’t be used alone!

    Why not set up your ‘gnome-do’ shortcut or your ALT F2 shortcut to Super/space and Alt/space instead?

    They’re just as easy to press! Are you people crazy to think this is a problem because it isn’t built in like Vista? If you think this, then start developing =))

  34. albatross

    It IS sort of stupid that the Windows key doesn’t open the K menu in KDE… It can’t be that hard to code support for both a trigger (when released without having pressed any other key) AND a shortcut. Frankly, if Linux/Ubuntu want to crack into the desktop area, they need to provide an experience that USERS expect, not an experience that nerds dictate. In any case, whether there are “usability” issues or not, there should at least be an option to toggle the feature on/off.

  35. scouser73

    Thanks for a great tip, I’ve been wondering about how to do this for a couple of days.

  36. bobo

    thanks for the tip, works perfectly.

  37. sumant

    thank you ‘the geek’!

  38. peace22

    Thank you for the tip – it seemed a shame at first to have a button on my keyboard go to waste and as a former windows user, this makes so much sense. Thank you!

  39. Pasan indeewara

    I set panel programs menu (where I have all my programs grouped under accessories, programming, office, etc. What I need is when I pres the super (or the windows key) it should po the panel programs menu (like start menu in windows) at the next same key press menu should be invisible. Can anyone suggest a good idea to get this working easily. thx :)

  40. ahk

    Hmmm, not working for me. When I hit the “Windows” key, it doesn’t change!

  41. Matthias

    Mapping the windows key alone doesn’t work for me. I’m just going to use Win+S instead…. save myself the trouble of modding.

  42. Brandon

    I’d just like to let you know that while this worked for me on Ubuntu 9.04, it did not work for me on Ubuntu 9.10. I’m not sure if this particular issues is due to GNOME or Ubuntu though.

  43. sunny

    My enter key is not working how can i map it to some other redundant key

  44. Rohan Kapoor


    This doesn’t work due to Gnome update in 9.10

  45. dep

    Is there a way to do this in Ubuntu Lucid (10.04)? Pressing the Windows key when the “New shortcut…” text is displayed does nothing.

  46. dep

    I found a way:
    gconftool-2 –set /apps/metacity/global_keybindings/panel_main_menu –type string “Super_L”

  47. Valent

    Looks like in latest GNOME they disabled this functionality, I put but then it is disabled if no other key is there :(

    GNOME guys really piss me of

  48. Sanjay

    Thanks Dep that worked

  49. davidfryuk

    Great Dep, worked perfect for me also (FYI: I used gconf-editor to manually set this)

  50. DC

    where in gconf-editor, and what did you change?

  51. Sameer

    was quick, easy and helpful.. :)

  52. tejas

    my broadband connection always show problem in ubuntu 11.10 its wire connection tell me how to connect it ?

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