This page introduces the Compiz window manager1, provides installation instructions, and also provides some handy things you can do with it.


Compiz introduces visual effects to the GNOME desktop manager. From the Ubuntu help system:

Ubuntu includes special desktop effects, which are intended to make your desktop more fun and easier to use. These include:

  • Translucent windows
  • 3D desktop capabilities
  • Shadow effects
  • Motion effects and animations

Desktop effects are enabled by default, but it is not necessary to have them turned on. In addition, users of computers with certain graphics cards may find that desktop effects do not work well on their computer, or cause the computer to operate more slowly than it would with the effects turned off.

As mentioned, Compiz is now installed by default (starting with release 7.10). However, this page will help you tweak it, to make your desktop work exactly as you'd like it to.

If you'd like to see some of the cool things you can do with Compiz, see this video:

Installation / Configuration

Since the core Compiz packages are installed by default, you can start using some of your desktop settings right away, without having to do anything. However, one piece that you will probably want to add is the Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm) application, which you can find in the Add/Remove Applications program.

Once this is done, you can use the System->Preferences->Advanced Desktop Effects Settings application, to customize the way your desktop works.


As you can see, there are many different effects you can enable/disable — and subsequent configurations for those effects. If you really want to customize your desktop, you could spend hours exploring these tweaks and settings.

Tips For Using Compiz

This section contains some tips and tricks, for things you can do when using Compiz. Some of the new visual toys are immediately noticeable; for example, if you move a window around the screen, you'll notice that it becomes all “wobbly,” as if it were made of rubber. But other things you won't notice until you actually do them.

Things To Do Right Away

When I install Compiz, there are some settings I like to configure right away, to make the system work (and look) the way that I want it to. You may prefer not to use these settings — or they may not work well with your video card/driver — but this will give you an idea of what you can do:

  • I turn off Enhanced Zoom Desktop, since I don't use it2
  • I turn off Negative, since I don't use it. This is actually a very cool feature, but, like I say, I don't use it, so it's no good to me.
  • I turn on Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube.
    • I also right-click on the Viewport Switcher, at the bottom of the desktop, and give myself 4 faces to the cube, instead of 2.
    • And I go into the settings for Desktop Cube, and set “Opacity During Rotation” to about 20%, just for fun. (It makes the cube — but not the other windows — transparent, while you're rotating it.)
  • I turn on Shift Switcher, which I prefer over the good ol' fashioned Alt+Tab. (It allows you to switch between windows, just like Alt+Tab does, except that it looks prettier. It works exactly the same, except that instead of the Alt+Tab key combination you're used to, you use Windows+Tab instead. One extra cool feature is that you can use Alt+Windows+Tab or Shift+Alt+Windows+Tab, which works the same way, but shows windows from all workspaces, not just the current one.
  • I enable Wobbly Windows, just because I think it's cool
    • I then go into the settings for Wobbly Windows, and disable the Snap Inverted option.
  • I also go into the settings for Scale, and go to the Actions tab. I change the key for Initiate Window Picker to F8, and the key for Initiate Window Picker for All Windows to F9. I chose F8 and F9 because that's what Beryl had used, which I was using before Compiz was integrated into Ubuntu.
    • Note: I don't know why this is, but Scale works differently when I use F8 and F9 instead of the default3. When you use the defaults, you have to hold the keys down, or else the windows will snap back into place; when you use F8 and F8, you press and release the key, and the window picker will remain until you choose a window with the mouse (or hit Esc).


This section covers some things you can do with Compiz, including the appropriate keyboard shortcuts. Some of these tips will assume that you've got certain settings configured, which will be mentioned as appropriate.

Note: Whenever I mention a key called “Windows,” it's referring to the key that's present on most PC keyboards these days, with a little Windows logo on it. If you're running Ubuntu on a Mac, I believe that there is an equivalent key on Mac keyboards, which would be used instead.

They call it the “Super key” in the Compiz settings, and in other places in Ubuntu/Linux. But for ease of understanding, I'm just assuming my readers are former — or current — Windows users, and therefore would be using the Windows key.

Using the Cube
Command Desktop Effect Result
Ctrl+Alt+Right Arrow Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube Swivel the cube to the next “viewport” on the right
Ctrl+Alt+Left Arrow Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube Swivel the cube to the next “viewport” on the left
Ctrl+Shift+Alt+Right Arrow, Ctrl+Shift+Alt+Left Arrow Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube Same as the Ctrl+Alt+Arrow keys commands, except that as the cube rotates, the current window stays with you. In other words, you are bringing the current window to whatever viewport you go to.
Ctrl+Alt+ left mouse button Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube When holding down Ctrl+Alt, you can click with your mouse, and move the cube around, until you find the viewport you want to see. When you let go of the mouse, Ubuntu will switch to the selected viewport.
middle mouse button (on a blank section of the desktop) Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube Same as Ctrl+Alt+ left mouse button; when there is a visible area of the desktop, you can simply click it with your middle mouse button, and move the cube around to find the viewport you want to choose.
Scrollwheel (on a blank section of the desktop) Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube If there is a visible area of the desktop, place your mouse over it, and the scrollwheel can be used to change desktop. Scrolling up is the same as Ctrl+Alt+Left Arrow and scrolling down is the same as Ctrl+Alt+Right Arrow.
Command Desktop Effect Result
Alt and the primary mouse button No particular desktop effect required Using the Alt key, you can drag a window to different position on the screen. (Note: You can do this in the default Metacity window manager, too.)
Ctrl+Alt+d No particular desktop effect required Minimize all active windows, to show the desktop. (Or, if the windows are already minimized, unminimize them.)
Moving Windows
Alt + mouse scroll button No particular desktop effect required Makes a window more or less transparent. For example, if you’re in a terminal window, but you also have Firefox open to a web page, which has instructions for commands you’re supposed to be entering at the command line, you can position the terminal window over Firefox, and make it transparent. Just keep scrolling, and making it more transparent, until you can see the text behind, but still see the window you’re working with.

The screenshot below shows an Writer document open, with a Terminal window above it. The Terminal window is transparent, so you can see the text of the Writer document below it.
Command Desktop Effect Result
“middle-click” the titlebar No particular desktop effect required If you have a mouse with a scrollwheel, you can click a window's titlebar, to show the window underneath it. (If you don't have a scrollwheel, you can do the same by clicking with the left and right mouse buttons at the same time. A lot of articles I've seen have said that it's hard to get the hang of this, but I actually haven't had any problems with it, when my scroll mouse wasn't handy.)

This sends the window to the “back” of all of the open windows, but leaves it as the “active” window, so be careful of that.
General Commands
Command Desktop Effect Result
Alt+F4 No particular desktop effect required Close the current window
Alt+F1 No particular desktop effect required Open the Ubuntu Applications menu
Finding Windows
Alt+Tab Application Switcher Activate the Application Switcher; will open a little applet that shows a little screenshot of each window, so that you can choose the window you want to switch to. Keep holding down the Alt key, and pressing and releasing the Tab key, until the window you want is shown, and then release the Alt key.

As you see each window in the Application Switcher, you will also see that application getting moved to the forefront, behind it.
Alt+Shift+Tab Application Switcher The same as Alt+Tab, but it scrolls through the windows in reverse order from the way Alt+Tab would have done it.

This is mostly used when you’re using Alt+Tab, and you accidentally hit the Tab key one too many times, and miss your window. If you have a lot of windows open, instead of scrolling through all of them again, you can simply hold down the Shift key — while still holding the Alt key — and go back.
Windows+Tab and Windows+Shift+Tab Shift Switcher Same as Alt+Tab, but with a different visual flavour to it.
Alt+Windows+Tab and Shift+Alt+Windows+Tab Shift Switcher Same as Windows+Tab and Windows+Shift+Tab, but alternates between windows on all viewports, not just the current one.
F8 Scale — not the default key binding for this action This is activates the Window Picker, which is used when you want to switch to another window on the desktop. This will show all of the active windows on the current workspace/viewport, scaled down so that they are all visible. When you click one of the windows, all of the windows will be brought back to their original positions, but the one you selected will have the focus, and be at the forefront.

(Note: If you happen to open another window, while the Window Picker is active, it will be added to the selections within the window picker. )

The screenshot below shows the Window Picker.
Command Desktop Effect Result
F9 Scale — not the default key binding This option isn't turned on by default, but I find it handy, so I turn it on. This is the same as F8 except that it shows windows from all workspaces/viewports, not just the current one. If you click a window from a different workspace, Ubuntu will switch to that workspace, while selecting the window.
Windows+e Expo This activates the Expo tool, which shows all of your open viewports, and the applications on each. Double-click any application or viewport to activate it. You can also drag windows from viewport to viewport, in this view.
Command Desktop Effect Result
Scrollwheel (when over the task bar) Unsure which desktop effect (if any) is required When your mouse is over the taskbar, scrolling up and down will select the different windows one by one (as if you were clicking each window's button, on after the other)
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