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On Ubuntu/Gnome, is it possible to simulate ALT+TAB using a single alternative keystroke?

I would like to simulate ALT+TAB with a single key press (preferably the menu-context key) on my keyboard.

In order to simulate this correctly, it must act like the ALT key has been pressed first and then the TAB key is pressed after a tiny delay - on the other hand, if you simulate both keys being pressed at exactly the same time, I believe the task navigation menu does not appear.

Anyone know how to simulate this on Ubuntu?


Following John T's suggestion, I installed monodevelop, downloaded IronAHK and ran "make install all" and got this error:

/mainline/Scripting/IACodeProvider.cs(100,32): error CS1502: 
The best overloaded method match for
`System.CodeDom.Compiler.CompilerError.CompilerError(string, int, int, 
string, string)' has some invalid arguments /usr/lib/mono/gac/System
/ (Location of the symbol related 
to previous error) /mainline/Scripting/IACodeProvider.cs(100,32): 
error CS1503: Argument `#4' cannot convert `int' expression to type `string'
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Also tried to use gconf-editor as described here:… but it had no effect for ALT-TAB. – lipton Nov 4 '09 at 20:06
Hmm. The way that Alt+Tab works is fundamentally a two-key system. You hold down Alt, and then you press and release tab multiple times to cycle through windows. So if you set a single key to the Alt+Tab key combination, you would only be able to swap between the two most recently used windows. If you want to use a single key for window cycling, you'll have to explain how you want to get around this problem. – Ryan Thompson Nov 5 '09 at 17:34
up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you are using compiz as your windows manager, i.e. if you have enabled visual effects, simply install the compizconfig-settings-manager package. The start the settings manager via System -> Preferences -> CompizConfig Settings Manager. Now find the settings for the Application Switcher module and you can assign any keypress of your liking to the Next and Previous Window commands.

share|improve this answer
compiz seems to require a lot of heavy-duty processing resources which my ubuntu machine does not have. – lipton Nov 4 '09 at 20:03
Well. I said "If". I didn't want to encourage you to use compiz. – innaM Nov 4 '09 at 20:13
@Manni: Got it. Thanks. – lipton Nov 4 '09 at 20:55
Are there any solutions not involving compiz? It 1) crashes my OS (and I don't want to fix it). 2) Uses a different visual for scrolling through the apps – Sridhar-Sarnobat Jan 16 '13 at 20:33

Since you are not using Compiz, you should check out your options under System -> Preferences -> Keyboard Shortcuts. The Window Management section contains at least two entries that might be helpful here: Move between windows, using a popup menu and Move between windows immediately. Maybe you can assign a single key shortcut to one of those.

share|improve this answer
Thanks. Yes, in the comment above I mentioned that I tried to follow some instructions on… but as Wil pointed out above there is a delay required that does not seem to be compatible with those instructions. I tried setting "Move between windows" as "global settings" in gconf-editor but it had no effect. – lipton Nov 4 '09 at 20:54

New answer

I have been messing around for the past hour or so in order to come up with a solution, but I am stumped. What I have managed to do is make a macro that does Alt+Tab, then sends an additional Tab every two seconds... But I have no idea on how to terminate the script when you have had enough. (You only need to tap a key once to start)

I am wondering if any macro/Linux gurus can make a second macro or script that can terminate the macro from playing upon request - This simply works when you press one key and let go.

In Ubuntu, start by going to terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install xmacro

(Now, I am not the best Linux guy, but I am clueless as to why I couldn't find this in synaptic package manager, but I had to type it from the terminal).

Next, The script I made is (save this somewhere, I called it test.macro in my home directory)

KeyStrPress Alt_L

Then, copy and paste the following as many times as you want:

KeyStrPress Tab
KeyStrRelease Tab
Delay 2

To run this, you need to type the following (from the place that the macro is saved):

cat test.macro | xmacroplay ":0.0"

I created an alias/hotkey to the above command.

Again, This is not a solution, but hopefully a start point. I got close but after spending a lot of time, I cannot come up with a solid solution. Sorry, but hopefully this will get you closer.


As far as I know, it isn't possible.

I looked in various config files but cannot find a good way to replicate Alt+Tab due to the way it works.

Simply put, you need to hold one down whilst the other does the switching.

What I recommend you do and I can look in to it for you if you want, is to write a macro that automatically, upon one key being pressed, does Alt+Tab, then sends another Tab every couple of seconds. Letting go simply releases on the application currently selected.

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Wil: you have understood the problem regarding the need for a delay between the keypresses. I would write a macro if I knew how - or in what technology/language to do so. ALT+TAB seriously aggravates my RSI pain in my wrist. That's why I'm offering all of my reputation as bounty for this. It's more than an inconvenience. It's actually a health issue. So if you could help me figure out how to create a macro I would really appreciate it. – lipton Nov 4 '09 at 20:49
Sorry, still no answer, but I have spent ages on this for you without much luck - however, hopefully it will get you a lot closer. – William Hilsum Nov 5 '09 at 0:03
Wil: Thanks for trying. I appreciate it. I'm going to see if the IronAHK suggestion may work better. – lipton Nov 5 '09 at 20:19
It should do, you are having the same problems as I did to install it, however, that script is much better and what I was trying to do without much luck! – William Hilsum Nov 5 '09 at 22:15
@Wil: Thanks for letting me know that you had similar problems installing IronAHK. Indeed that does not bode well for getting that solution to work. – lipton Nov 6 '09 at 3:53

Not quite what you're looking for, but may help your RSI? I use Superswitcher ( to supplement the default Metacity Alt-Tab. On pressing the "Windows" key on my keyboard (the "Super" key in superswitcher's lingo) a task list appears. List traversal is with Up/Down keys, can select with mouse click too. Cycling is through all windows in the current workspace in a fixed order (the order they appear on the taskbar).

Seemed alpha ver & unmaintained, but the 64bit .deb (from 2007) works on my 9.04 x86_64.

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Thanks. I installed it. It's nice but I wish it had a way to configure the hotkeys to whatever you prefer. If I can't get any other option to work I may try to recompile it with my own key settings. – lipton Nov 5 '09 at 20:16

Use IronAHK, it's a complete rewrite of AutoHotkey that runs under Mono for Mac and Linux compatibility (it comes with a build script).

As for the code:

Send {Alt Down}
Sleep, 1000
Send {Tab}
   GetKeyState, state, Numpad1, P
   if state = U
   Sleep, 1000
   Send {Tab}
Send {Alt Up}

this would set the number 1 on your number pad to send the Alt-Tab sequence with a 1 second delay. Feel free to modify the code to your liking!

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You are much better at AHK than me... but, read my answer - this comes with the exact same problems I have - basically, if you did this on your machine, it would just do alt+tab and let go of alt... which is useless and only goes back and forth... It needs a loop which presses tab and then lets go when you stop pressing 1, however, I tried for a while and got no where, as I don't know if it is possible to do loops etc. – William Hilsum Nov 5 '09 at 13:16
Ah, I sort of see what you're saying. I'll add a loop. – John T Nov 5 '09 at 13:25
I think that's the right logic. Send alt, wait a second before sending tab. Now the tab navigation window is open. If Numpad1 is still being held down, send a tab every second. When Numpad1 is released, let go of alt. – John T Nov 5 '09 at 13:35
I was trying to look at IronAHK in a VM and get it working... Guess you beat me! I seriously need to look at AHK, it looks brilliant! – William Hilsum Nov 5 '09 at 13:37
Should work, here's a preview on XP but I gotta run, will update later if there's problems: – John T Nov 5 '09 at 13:55

Make a script that re-binds the assigned key to:

  1. Start the script (Alt+Tab)
  2. Move down the app line (Tab)
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