Making Full Use of the Super (Windows) Key in Gnome

I use a lot of different computers. Many of those computers are on different operating systems, or desktop environments. Just when I find myself growing accustomed to a particular way of doing things, I find myself on a different system with a different way of doing things. Key combinations are some of the most common distinctions between platforms, so I try to set each system up to recognize the key combos I need. Normally, that’s not a big problem. You just go into the keyboard settings for that environment and set it the way you like, right? Well not always.

This happened to me recently while trying out Gnome for the first time in a while. I attempted to set the key combo for “Switch workspace” to a combination of Super (aka Windows Key) and an arrow key for left or right. This would allow me to use the same key combo to switch workspaces in all my systems. I was shocked to find that in Gnome, as of the time of this writing, you cannot use Super as a combo key, it only works on its own. Every time I would try to enter “Super + Left Arrow” or “Super + Right Arrow”, it would stop right at Super and not let me create a combo.

Some searching online showed that many others have had this problem, it seems I’m not the only one who wants to use Super in combination with other keys. With that in mind, I decided to share my solution to this problem.

Chances are, your keyboard has two Super keys. They can be easily spotted, usually in the lower row, and bearing the Windows logo. What we’re going to do is tell Gnome to treat the Super key as something else, so that it doesn’t have to follow the rules Gnome has set for how that key should be used.

Open up your Keyboard options (NOT Keyboard Shortcuts) from the System -> Preferences menu. From that screen, choose the Layout tab. On the Layout page should be an icon for Layout Options.

Keyboard Preferences Screen

From within the Layout Options page, choose Alt/Win Key Behavior. From there you can choose to map the Super key to “Meta”, allowing it to bypass normal Super key behavior.

Layout Options screen

Now that we’ve “tricked” Gnome into thinking the Super key is a different key, we can use it for combinations in the Keyboard Shortcuts screen. You can find Keyboard Shortcuts in the System -> Preferences menu. As I mentioned above, my reason for wanting to set this behavior was so that I could use the same key combo to switch workspaces that I use on all my other systems, which is Super + Left or Right.

Keyboard Shortcuts Screen

Now that we’ve remapped the Super key, Gnome will let it be used in combination with other keys. Anytime we hit that key, Gnome treats it as “Mod4″, which it WILL allow to be used in combinations. Now I’m all set, I can use the same key combo on all the computers I use, no matter which operating system or desktop environment I happen to be running.