Linux: Use Ctrl+Esc for Activities Overview

This blog post, intended to assist readers transitioning from Microsoft Windows to Linux, explains how to configure at least Ubuntu 20.04.4 LTS to show the Activities Overview when the user presses Ctrl+Esc, providing functionality that matches existing Windows usage patterns.

In the days of Windows 95, keyboards had no “Windows” key (called the “Super” key on Linux). The keyboard shortcut to bring up the Windows Start menu was Ctrl+Esc, which still works in Windows 11. I have learned to use Ctrl+Esc sequences for a variety of tasks on Windows, and it is hard for me to unlearn some of those sequences. For example, pressing Ctrl+Esc and then typing a search term shows results for that term.

Linux can have features similar to the Windows Start menu, but Ctrl+Esc may not activate those features. On Ubuntu specifically, the Super key, Super+S, and Alt+F1 all bring up the overview, which is approximately what I would expect from Ctrl+Esc.

My problem is that Ctrl+Esc does nothing on Linux. The UI does not let me add a keyboard shortcut for a command, but it does allow me to replace the existing keyboard shortcut. As Super+S seems more intuitive, I can replace Alt+F1 with Ctrl+Esc. To do so:

  1. Press Super to show the overview. I couldn’t figure out how to screenshot this step.
  2. Type “keyboard” and then select Keyboard shortcuts when it appears under Settings.
After searching for overview
  1. Click Show the activities overview. I couldn’t figure out how to screen shot this step.
  2. Press Ctrl+Esc.
After pressing Ctrl+Esc, before clicking Set
  1. Click Set.
After clicking Set

To revert to the default Alt+F1, click the x in the circle to the right of the Ctrl+Escape.

While on the topic of Linux keyboard shortcuts, after troubleshooting some issues that were causing my system to not resume after locking to a blank screen (for which a workaround was apparently sudo apt install lightdm, possibly after changing nvidia drivers and some other seemingly random tweaks), the Super+L keyboard shortcut did not work to lock the screen.

In the Keyboard Shortcuts UI:

  1. Search for lock.
  2. Click the existing Lock screen command and change its keyboard shortcut to something you would never use, such as Alt+Ctrl+Shft+L.
  3. Clear the search field.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the list.
  5. Click the Plus.
  6. Set Name to Lock Screen
  7. Set Command to dm-tool lock
After entering Name and Command, before clicking Set Shortcut
  1. Click Set Shortcut.
  2. Press Super+L.
After pressing Super+L
  1. Click Add.
After clicking Add

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