Aside from Unity, which of the many desktop environments support switching among the currently open windows using Super+1/2/3/.../9?


This is especially handy if you often switch among the same few apps, e.g. a browser, a file manager and an editor, but also have other apps open, so Alt+Tabbing to the desired window would take more time.1

That keyboard shortcut saves me probably 5 seconds per minute on the average, so ~40 minutes a day, and it's supported by Windows 7 as well. Adding custom keyboard shortcuts for the app doesn't work, because pressing the shortcut will launch a new instance of the app.2

1. The DE will order the most frequently used windows first, but you have to first look and see how many times you have to press Alt+Tab; while with Super+1 or Super+2, you always know which shortcut goes to one app or the other.

2. Some apps have an option to allow only one instance, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and even in that case, there will be a noticeable flicker of launching the new instance and seeing it exiting immediately.

  • You can write a script using wmctrl, see my blog post. Also there are wrappers such as my wmctile. – mreq Aug 17 '16 at 22:21
  • You can easily do it with Unity and XFCE but preventing multiple instances of an application depends solely to the applications' code. You will have to put together a script that could do that. A mild solution would be to use Alt+Tab and before releasing, use the mouse to select the desired application. – Panagiotis Tabakis Aug 17 '16 at 22:49
  • @PanagiotisTabakis: using the mouse is totally out of the question if you want any productivity gains. In Unity, the application code doesn't need to support anything - the shortcut simply gives focus to the window (I think that's called "raise"); it doesn't launch the app again. – Dan Dascalescu Aug 17 '16 at 22:51
  • @DanDascalescu I see. So, until now Unity is the only option. I'm running XFCE and while pressing the key combination of the -already running- desired app, it spawns a new instance. – Panagiotis Tabakis Aug 17 '16 at 22:57
  • I think I may have an idea for a script that can sort of do what you want . . . As Dan pointed out in his answer , in Unity you can switch to a program by using Super + num shortcut only if the program is running. If you want, i could write a shortcut that reorganizes the launcher in such way that you can use Super+number starting from 1,2,3 to N. Let me know if this is something that you would be interested in. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Aug 17 '16 at 23:54

Desktop environments that support Super+number out of the box:


Supports the key combo by default. If the app is running, Unity will switch to it. If it isn't, it will be launched.

Unity rocks

Ubuntu 18 GNOME

Ubuntu's tweaked version of GNOME supports Super+number, with one annoyance: when switching to an application with more than one window (often the case with Chrome/Firefox), you have to further choose which of the windows to switch to.


GNOME has just implemented Super+N app switching in Jan 2019. I haven't tested it yet.

KDE (no default support, but easily configurable... for a while)

KDE Plasma 5.6.5 doesn't support Super+number by default, despite a ridiculous amount of shortcuts you can configure (Dekstop "20"? Srsly?):

KDE thinks users tend to have 20 desktops

This should be possible in Plasma 5.9.

However, if you go to a Window's "Operations Menu" (click on its icon in the top-left, or press Alt+F3), you'll find More Actions -> Window shortcut.... That will let you assign any shortcut you want, including Super+number to activating that window!

Assign any keyboard shortcut to any window you want

You may notice Meta+0 assigned to that action - this is a custom setting from the ridiculous list above, which makes it easier for me to change the 1, 2, 3, ... applications I want to switch to.

Two big downsides:

  1. After you close the window (or it crashes), the shortcut will be forgotten. You have to create it again.
  2. If you don't have the app running, KDE won't launch it for you. Unity and Windows will.

An annoying downside of KDE's keyboard handling in general is that it doesn't open the launcher after releasing the Super/Meta/Win key, and that it apparently forgets shortcuts after logging out.

It's a bit mind boggling how broken KDE is anyway, after only a couple hours of playing with it.

DEs with support via extensions/plugins/applets

Note that letting plugin authors build such a feature is fraught with problems. In several years, I haven't found any plugin/extension/macro/whatever that gets this right. This sort of feature needs to be well-integrated into the window manager, and this was confirmed by one of the authors of MATE Desktop, who agreed with me.

Cinnamon has an applet that does switch among open windows with Super+1..9, though with some issues.

Cinnamon applet Window list with hotkey

DEs that don't support Super+number out of the box

  • Just to clarify: XFCE does support Super+number key combination for applications out-of-the-box but if the application is running it doesn't switch to it, but prefers to spawn another instance. – Panagiotis Tabakis Aug 18 '16 at 1:41
  • @PanagiotisTabakis: I'm curious what the point of that could potentially be; why choose to launch a new instance of the very same apps over an over, instead of switching to them? Sounds more like a half-baked feature or a bug. – Dan Dascalescu Aug 18 '16 at 1:48
  • I don't think it's a bug, rather a simple function designed without productivity in mind, or else it would have an option to choose your preferred way. Also there is a fair amount of users that prefer this way due to the nature of their work done. By the way I think you should have a look at this run-or-raise application. I think it does what you want for any X11 desktop. – Panagiotis Tabakis Aug 18 '16 at 2:01
  • And for some weird way I can't mention your name with @, even if I type it, it disappears on save. (missed the 5min edit window on previous comment -.-) – Panagiotis Tabakis Aug 18 '16 at 2:08
  • The DE will order the most frequently used windows first <--- In Unity, you can easily order apps by locking them to Launcher. – vdudouyt Jun 27 '17 at 5:36

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