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Thread: HOWTO for Xubuntu: use dmenu to launch applications in XFCE

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Birmingham UK
    Ubuntu Development Release

    HOWTO for Xubuntu: use dmenu to launch applications in XFCE

    Hello All

    Xubuntu 11.04 uses the XFCE desktop environment which provides a shortcut for maximising a window so that the window decoration (title bar &c) does not show and so the window covers the panels. Alt-F11 is the shortcut assigned to this.

    I like to bring other applications up while using (say) OpenOffice maximised in this way. There is a shortcut that will bring up the main menu (ESC-Ctrl), but then you have to navigate the menu.

    This miniHowTo explains how to use the dmenu program from the dwm window manager (in repositories) to launch applications by pressing a short cut (I've set mine to Super/Windows-Space), typing the name of the application, and pressing enter. The new application window has focus.

    This howto has been tested on a stock install of Xubuntu 11.04 using compositor. I have no idea if it will work with compiz or other window managers with effects enabled. Feedback on that or any other aspect is welcome.

    Step 1: install dmenu

    From terminal, run

    sudo apt-get install dmenu
    and type your admin password

    Apt will tell you that dmenu is part of the 'suckless tools package' and mention the window manager dwm, and then proceed to install this very small command line program.

    Step 2: Populate a cache of all the applications available in the /usr folder

    From terminal run the command

    and you should see a list of applications printed to the terminal screen. This list is also saved as .dmenu_cache in your home directory. You may need to run this command again when you install software, when I installed Seamonkey using the Ubuntu Software Centre the cache was automatically updated.

    Step 3: Test from terminal

    From terminal run the command

    You should see a list of applications appear in a 'terminal' style font at the very top of your screen on top of the upper panel.

    Type the name of a program (e.g. 'mousepad'). As each letter is typed you should see the applications that match the currently typed letters appear in the line at the top of the screen.

    When you have typed enough letters so that only the application you want appears, press the enter key. The application should load.

    You can press ESC to abort a search and quit dmenu_run. The terminal is matched as x-t, short for x-terminal-emulator. I'm fiddling with aliases and the application cache to try to define more user meaningful names.

    Step 4: add a shortcut to XFCE

    I chose to bind the key combination Super-Space to dmenu-run. XFCE 4.8 allows you to define key shortcuts to any program using the settings manager. Just

    • Select Menu | Settings | Settings Manager from the main menu
    • Click the Keyboard icon in the Settings Manager
    • Click the Application Shortcuts tab
    • Click Add
    • Write dmenu_run in the command box that appears
    • When prompted for the short cut keys, press Super and Space (or the combination you prefer)
    • If the combination is in use, you will see an error message and be invited to type another
    • Click OK and close the Settings Manager and Keyboard windows
    • Test your new shortcut


    dmenu man page at
    keyboard shortcut at
    Last edited by keithpeter; May 2nd, 2011 at 03:57 PM. Reason: tweak some of the instructions

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

    Re: HOWTO for Xubuntu: use dmenu to launch applications in XFCE

    Thanks for the HowTo, it was very useful. I am using the following command in an attempt to get dmenu to blend in more with the default theme. Unfortunately, I can't get the text set to #FFFFFF (white) when not highlighted.
    dmenu_run -i -nb '#B5B1B1' -nf '#FFFFFF'
    Well, the following is a lot easier on the eyes, but I can't specify font or size for some reason.
    dmenu_run -i -nb '#000000' -nf '#FFFFFF'
    Last edited by casbahdk; September 10th, 2011 at 02:54 PM.
    Peppermint OS Four - Dell Vostro 3350, Peppermint OS Three - Acer Aspire One 725 & Asus Eee PC 1015BX, Ubuntu 12.04 - home built AMD desktop,
    Military justice is to justice what military music is to music. - Groucho Marx

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