Using “windows” keyboard keys with KDE and SuSE Linux.

The windows keys do not simply vanish when GNU/Linux is installed.

A typical computer keyboard has two keys, one on each side of the space bar, that have a Microsoft logo on them. If the computer is running a version of Microsoft Windows then these keys usually cause the “start” menu to appear. They can also be put to good use if the computer is running KDE on some version of GNU/Linux.

Content revision history:
Article first written: 7th September 2004
Updated to make mention of SuSE 10.0: 4th January 2006
Updated to make mention of openSUSE 13.1 and KDE3: 30th December 2015

Introductory preamble

The information offered in this article describes one way of changing the function of keys on a typical windows keyboard when it is used with the X windowing system, KDE and SuSE Linux. The article was originally written for SUSE release 9, sometime back in 2004. The process for openSUSE 13.1 running with KDE3 is a little simpler as only one file needs to be modified. Note that the process for accomplishing this with KDE4 has never been explored; it might be similar or quite different and you'll have to find out for yourself.

Before you begin, you might want to know that both KDE and the X Windows system seem to have rather a lot of configuration files and configuration options and that the organization of these files and options is somehwat less than straightforwardly organized and not intuitive. If you are using SuSE Linux 9.0 or SuSE Linux 10.0 or openSUSE 13.1 then you will probably be able to follow this article without too much trouble. If you are using some other distribution then it is possible that the files and options will be arranged slightly differently and, in that case, you will need to be prepared to dig around a little to find the corresponding file or option on your system.

The files that will need to be modified

You should only need to modify, at most, two files. They are:



For those who don't yet know, the ~ (tilde) symbol refers to your home directory which, on a standard SuSE/Linux system will be: /home/<your-login-name>

Also, if you don't have a favourite text editor and are wondering how to easily edit configuration files, try the “midnight commander”. This is a utility program that looks a little like the “Norton Commander” or “Total Commander” programs that many people will have encountered on the MS-Windows platform. SuSE Linux includes “midnight commander” in the default package selection so, if you didn't explicitly remove it, there is a good chance that it exists on your system. You can start the midnight commander by typing “mc” at a console prompt.

Don't make the modifications while you are logged in to KDE!

Penguin gets a handle on life
Sometimes the best you can do is just hang in there and hope things don't get any worse.

These two files need to be edited when you are not logged into the KDE Windowing system. If you edit the files while you are logged in then your changes will be overwritten when you log-out. The easist way to edit the files is probably to log-out of KDE and then log in using a text console ... On SuSE Linux you can log-out of KDE using Ctrl-Alt-Backspace and switch from the graphics console to one of six text consoles by pressing Ctrl-Alt-F1 ... Ctrl-Alt-F6. When you are using a text console you can switch to another one by pressing just Alt-F1 ... ALt-F6 (don't use the Ctrl-key). To get back to the graphics console press Alt-F7.

Having found a text console and a login prompt log in with your normal user name and password; this will put you directly in your home directory as mentioned above. Now start your favourite editor (type mc and press enter if you are going to use the midnight commander).

Make some changes to one or two configuration files.

In the file ~/.Xmodmap

This change is NOT required for openSUSE 13.1 and it is possible that the file won't even exist.

Add two lines like those shown below:

keycode 115=F15
keycode 116=F16

The .Xmodmap file is supposed to be a hidden file so, if you can't find it, you might need to tweak your editor controls until it agrees to display hidden files. The midnight commander has an option for this — while you are looking at the list of files in the panels, press F9 to get access to the configuration menus.

In the file ~/kde/share/config/kdeglobals

Find the section called [Global Shortcuts]. This section assigns keyboard key-press combinations to specific operations within KDE. Actually it is worth browsing this section and taking a guess at what some of the operations are — you might find that with a little experimenting the default KDE environment is easier to use than you knew or expected because there are lots of keyboard shortcuts.

Within this [Global Shortcuts] section you are going to alter a couple of lines so that they will, henceforth read as shown below:

For SuSE 9 and SuSE 10:

Popup Launch Menu=F15
Window Maximize=F16
Window Operations Menu=Menu


For openSUSE 13.1:

Popup Launch Menu=Super_L
Window Maximize=Super_R
Window Operations Menu=Menu

Please note that the above three lines are all within the same section but not necessarily adjacent to one another. You will need to search the section until you find each operation and then alter the key binding that comes after the “=” symbol.

Make sure you save whichever files you changed.

Checking the changes within KDE.

Now login to the KDE graphical environment. To get back to the graphics mode from your text console just press ALT-F7 and you should see the graphical login once again. Afte you are logged in try pressing the three keys that have symbols on them. You should find that:

Pressing the LEFT Windows key will popup the KDE launcher menu that somewhat resembles the Windows start menu.

Pressing the RIGHT Windows key will maximise whatever window you are using. Of course if you don't have any application open then it won't do anything.

Pressing the Menu key (usually just next to the RIGHT Ctrl key) will popup the windows operation menu.

Other possibilities

Of course you do not have to use the keys as described above; you can assign the keys to some other task if you know the KDE description for the task you want to perform. This, however, is where it becomes tricky because then you will probably have to find and then read the KDE and X-Windows documentation — and that is no small matter.

Other sources of information

The KDE project website

The XFree86 (X-Windows) website

The Midnight Commander or, possibly, The midnight Commander

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