Keyboard Shortcuts in Ubuntu: No Luck Yet

Trying to Set Up Keyboard Shortcuts in Linux is HardAs my Ubuntu Linux journey continues, I find myself wanting to do the same things I take for granted in Windows. One of the built-in features of Windows that I love is the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to applications. Can I do this in Ubuntu? Not so far. I’m a touch typist who hates moving my fingers off of the home row so I assign all my favorite programs to CTRL+ALT+ some key. For example, I assign CTRL+ALT+M to my e-mail program, CTRL+ALT+W to Word, etc. I always assign CTRL+ALT+ a letter or number, because that combination never interferes with other programs’ keyboard shortcuts. So, after I got Ubuntu up and running (and the oddness with the screen resolution and quit application disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared), one of the first things I tried was to set up keyboard shortcuts for my favorite apps. Despite spending about two hours reading online documentation and fiddling with the command line, I’ve had no luck yet. Here’s what I’ve tried. After doing some googling, I came upon an article on, entitled “Start programs like a pro with XBindKeys” and a thread on the Ubuntu forums called “HOWTO: Create a custom keyboard shortcut.” So I downloaded and installed a program called xbindkeys which is supposed to allow you to assign commands to any key combination. I created a text file to hold my commands and edited it to include my desired keyboard shortcuts. As a test, I assigned CTRL+ALT+s to launch Firefox. Nothing happens.

Xbindkeys Config

I then installed a graphical interface for xbindkeys called xbindkeys-config. I used it to set my shortcut again. I hit CTRL+ALT+s and hoped to see a Firefox window. Again, no dice. I’ll be very satisfied when I finally figure this one out, but I have to wonder why something which is so incredibly simple in Windows (and has been for the past 15 years) is so amazingly complicated in Linux. At the same time, it’s hard to believe that there are so many sites out there with instructions on how to do this and yet the instructions simply don’t work in a fresh install of Ubuntu 7.1, the most popular Linux distribution. In Windows, you’ll recall, all you have to do to create a keyboard shortcut is to right click on an icon in the Start Menu and select Properties. Why can’t it be that easy in Linux?

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Jon Gl Says:

    I can’t speak for Gnome, but I believe this is a simple thing in KDE (Kubuntu) under the K-menu options for applications. I only have KDE running under the Mac’s X11 right now, but it’s there, at least, but it is probably under Kubuntu’s KDE, too. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot, following your struggles with Ubuntu, that you might actually be happier using Kubuntu than the Gnome variant. It’s just a hunch, but you might want to give it a whirl. I think you can install it via Synaptic under the Administration menu, and if you decide you don’t like it, remove it as well. But yes, your keyboard shortcuts _should_ be working. Maybe your keyboard is not properly selected, our you mucked with the meta-key settings at some point?


  2. Federico Almada Says:

    It seems that you started with the wrong foot… :)

    Am using KDE (Kubuntu), and the keybind manager is as easy as drinking water :P

    Have you tried with System Settings > Keyboard Shortcuts? as i see, this is the name of the app on Gnome.

    I have my laptop and desktop PC (the 1st with many keybindings as its nature of laptop, and the 2nd because it has a multimedia keyboard), and both are working with keybindings…

    I leave you my email in the comment.. if you want, just ask… its not that hard, its different


  3. Daniel Says:

    Hey. Just install compiz and there you can assign any type of command to any key combination.

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