Learning Linux

Part 2 - Using the Linux GUI

Mouse Actions

Computer systems almost always come with a mouse, touchpad or other pointing device. If you are going to use a Graphical User Interface (GUI) in Linux, you will need to know how to use a pointing device to get around in the interface. Most mice (except Apple's) have at least two mouse buttons. Many of them have a wheel, which is also a third (middle) mouse button.


Figure 1. Mouse with wheel and two mouse buttons

Here are some terms that describe mouse usage.

Since there is so much choice in desktop managers, different Linux distributions use different desktop managers. The desktop managers can usually be configured so that either a click or a double click can open a file from the desktop or the file manager. This makes it a bit more difficult to define those actions for a generic Linux distribution.

Either a click or a double click of the left mouse button will open the item that the mouse pointer is pointing at. The left mouse button is used to navigate in the Linux GUI.

The right mouse button is used to pop up useful menus to be used in connection with the current action. These are context-sensitive menus, so the menu is always related to what the mouse pointer is pointing at. For some desktop managers, right clicking on the desktop results in the display of the start menu for the desktop.


Figure 2. Right Click on Gnome 2 Desktop

As mentioned before, you can use the mouse wheel to scroll up and down in a document. This action can be done in any scrolling window, so you can scroll in you text editor, word processor, web browser or any program or dialog that has scroll bars. When you are browsing the web and want to click on a link to go to that web page, if you click on the link with the wheel button, your browser should open that web page in a new tab. This is very handy if you don't want to lose your place in the original web page. Note to former Windows users: the mouse wheel works in a slightly different manner in Linux than it does in Windows. In Windows, the window that the mouse pointer is on has to have focus before the mouse wheel scrolling can be done. This is not true in Linux - you just have to be hovering over the window and you can scroll with the wheel.

You can use the mouse to select (lasso) multiple contiguous items. Start in a corner of the items to be selected, then press and hold the left mouse button and move the mouse pointer to the opposite corner of an imaginary rectangle that encompasses all the items. You will see that they are all selected.


Figure 3. Lasso Items with the Mouse

Keyboard Actions

You can control the Linux desktop with your keyboard. These keyboard actions are mostly used by power users, since they have had ample opportunity to memorize the keystrokes. These keyboard shortcuts may differ, depending on the desktop manager being used. The actions in the chart below have been verified with Gnome 2.

Key Combination Description
Control + X
Shift + Delete
Cut selection to the clipboard
Control + C
Control + Insert
Copy selection to the clipboard
Control + V
Shift + Insert
Paste clipboard to current work
Control + Tab Switch between tabs in an application
Alt + Tab Switch between applications
Control + Alt + Delete Log out
Control + Alt + L Lock the screen
Control + Alt + T Run a terminal
Alt + F2 Display the "Run Application" dialog
Alt + F10 Toggle currently selected window maximization state
Alt + F4 Close currently selected window
Control + Alt + Left Arrow Switch to the workspace on the left of the current workspace
Control + Alt + Right Arrow Switch to the workspace on the right of the current workspace
Shift + Control + Alt + Left Arrow Move the current window to the workspace on the left of the current workspace
Shift + Control + Alt + Right Arrow Move the current window to the workspace on the right of the current workspace

Figure 4. Desktop Manager Keyboard Controls

There are other keyboard shortcuts, but the ones listed above are the most used.

Combined Mouse and Keyboard Actions

You can use keyboard keys in conjunction with mouse clicks to control the items you are trying to select with the mouse. The keys used for this are the Control key and the Alt key.

The Shift key allows you to select a range of items. Click on the first item to be selected, then move the mouse pointer to the last item. Hold the Shift key down and click on the last item.


Figure 5. Select a range of items with the Shift key

The Control key allows you to select/deselect single items. Hold the Control key down and click on the item you wish to select. If you accidently select an item, you can deselect it by clicking on it again with the Control key down.


Figure 6. Select single items with the Control key

The Clipboard: Cutting, Copying and Pasting

The clipboard is a container that can hold just about anything, including text, pictures and files. It is used to help you move are copy items in your Linux desktop manager. There are three operations associated with the clipboard:

  1. Cut - Remove the selected item(s) from where they are and put them on the clipboard. Use the keyboard command Control + X or Shift + Delete to do this. Many programs also have a pop up menu with this option on it. Right click to get to the menu.
  2. Copy - Copy the selected item(s) and put the copies on the clipboard. Use the keyboard command Control + C or Control + Insert to do this. Many programs also have a pop up menu with this option on it. Right click to get to the menu.
  3. Paste - Place a copy of the item(s) that are on the clipboard in the selected place in an application. Use the keyboard command Control + V or Shift + Insert to do this. Many programs also have a pop up menu with this option on it. Right click to get to the menu.
  4. Linux Desktop Menus

    Depending on the desktop manager being used in your Linux system, there are several different ways for a user to access their Linux programs. At this point, by far the most popular method is through a menu. In Windows, the menu is called a start menu. Here are some of the ways different desktop managers allow you to access your programs.


    Figure 7. Kubuntu 11 with KDE Desktop


    Figure 8. Linux Mint 12 with Gnome 3 and Mint Menu


    Figure 9. Sabayon 8 with Gnome 3 Desktop


    Figure 10. Ubuntu 11 with Unity Desktop


    Figure 11. Xubuntu 11 with XFCE Desktop



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