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. 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. 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. 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. Aug 17 '16 at 23:54

Desktop environments supporting Super+number

These support task switching via Super+number out of the box, and require (almost) no configuration.

KDE Plasma

This was implemented in Plasma 5.9. You still need to uncheck "Keep launchers separate" in the Task Manager Settings to preserve the 1..9 order, otherwise the numbers will be reassigned as you close/open the applications.

GNOME 3 (Ubuntu 20)

GNOME implemented Super+N app switching in Jan 2019. Here's a screenshot of GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 20:


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.

Unity (Ubuntu 16)

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


Linux Mint Cinnamon

As of version 20, Cinnamon supports Super+number for the "Modern" panel layout.

Cinnamon "modern" Panel Layout

The feature isn't very discoverable because Cinnamon doesn't show any number tooltips over the taskbar icons when you press Super.

Note that the feature was tricky enough to take years to implement after it was first requested in 2015, then by myself in 2016.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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 -.-) 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

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.