Since a short while I'm using Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot (11.10) with gnome-shell (Gnome 3) and I'm trying to get accustomed to the default Empathy Instant Messaging client.

When I hit the close button of Empathy's contact list the window disappears as expected. When I now start Empathy over the Gnome Activities menu the contact list reappears. That's not as easy as clicking a system tray icon back in Psi on Gnome 2 but it works for now.

But when I start a conversation first and have an open conversation window, then close the contact list, and try to regain access to it by using Gnome Activities, I only get the conversation window into focus and no contact list appears. I only seem to be able to get the contact list back if I close the conversation window (and thereby signal the conversations to be over) and then use Gnome Activities again to get my contact list back.

That's horrible. Is this intended? Is there something I'm missing?


You can right-click the Empathy icon in the dock and pick New Window, or middle-click it to open the contact list on a different workspace. (It's not ideal, sorry.)

  • 1
    Not ideal indeed. But it helps a bit – aef Nov 16 '11 at 18:35
  • This does not appear to work in Gnome3 for Fedora 16, the only menu item is "Quit Empathy". – knowncitizen Feb 29 '12 at 19:05

I found a different workaround than doing right click > new window over the empathy icon on activities dashboard.

If you are using gnome 3 then you can install extensions, try the extension panel-favorites, make sure empathy is on your favorites so it appears on the new top left icons after you activate the extension (you need to logout and login again).

When you click the empathy icon on the extension panel it will open the contacts list even if there are conversations open.

It's very possible that the activities icon can also be set to open the contact list as default when clicked, just search for the shortcut file and edit it, the sintax it's pretty intuitive.


Another tweak I added is a keyboard shortcut (CTRL+ALT+E) to open empathy, that will also open the contact list always even with chat windows opened. To add it go to Activities dash > System Settings > Keyboard > Custom shortcut > + > Enter name and the command is "empathy" (without quotes), then on the new shortcut row click on the right where it says "New shortcut" and press the keys combination you want for shorcut.


Bind a keyboard shortcut in Gnome - Keyboard - Shortcuts to empathy command. The contact list shows up when you press the keyboard shortcut.

You can make it even better so that the contact list gets focus. This can be done with wmctrl command.

Install the package:

sudo apt-get install wmctrl


sudo yum install wmctrl

Create simple shell script (paste to terminal running bash):

mkdir ~/bin
cat > ~/bin/show_empathy.sh << END

wmctrl -a 'Contact list'

chmod +x ~/bin/show_empathy.sh

Now bind the show_empathy.sh command to a keyboard shortcut. The show_empathy.sh have to be in shell PATH or you have to enter the absolute path e.g. /home/margaret/bin/show_empathy.sh.

If you use Gnome in other language than English, you have to modify the wmctrl argument to title of your Empathy contact list window. Names of windows can be also listed with wmctrl -l.


In the newest version (3.6) you can click the name in the top bar and select "New Conversation." It isn't quite the "contact list" but it at least shows the lists and lets you start a chat without going to the Activities pane.

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