Fast App Launching with GNOME Do

When your panel is littered with application shortcuts or you press Alt-F2 every few minutes to launch a new program, check out a better, faster way to launch your programs—GNOME Do.

There are many different ways to launch applications on a Linux system. For the longest time, I would alternate between the menu system that came with my window manager and typing the application in a terminal. Honestly, I found that half the time it was faster to launch an application inside a terminal than it was to navigate through a system of menus. At some point in my desktop use, I decided to give the default Ubuntu GNOME desktop a try. GNOME presents at least four main ways to launch applications:

  1. Navigate the Applications menu at the top of the screen and find your program.

  2. Copy frequently launched applications to the desktop and launch them from the desktop.

  3. Copy frequently launched applications to the panel and launch them from the panel.

  4. Press Alt-F2 to bring up a command window where you can type the command and press Enter.

I tried each of the four main ways, but I guess I'm a creature of habit, because ultimately, I found myself back to my old ways. When I wanted to launch a program, nine times out of ten, I just would go to an open terminal and type in the command from there. Every now and then, I would navigate the Applications menu. That was my habit, until I discovered GNOME Do. Now I've found I use GNOME Do when I launch the majority of my applications and use a keyboard shortcut, or occasionally, the terminal, for the rest. I don't really even need or use the Applications menu anymore.

Welcome to GNOME Do

GNOME Do is an application launcher tool inspired by the Quicksilver and GNOME Launch Box applications. It is available either as a package in your distribution or you can download the program from the official project page ( You launch GNOME Do in the background along with your desktop environment, and then press Super-Space to open the GNOME Do window when you want to launch an application (Super is the Windows key on many keyboards). After the window appears, type part of the name for an application; for instance, to open Firefox, type firefox. You will notice that the moment you press the F key, GNOME Do chooses an application or other result and refines it as you type. You might need to type only fi for Firefox to be displayed (Figure 1). In most cases, there also are alternate choices for your keyword, which you can reveal and select with the up and down arrows (Figure 2).

Figure 1. GNOME Do with Firefox Selected

Figure 2. Alternate Keyword Choices

GNOME Do is a learning program, and as you use it, you will notice that it selects results based on your favorite, most-used choices. This means if you launch F-Spot more often than Firefox, F-Spot shows up first when you press F. GNOME Do also learns which actions (the items that show up in the right pane) you have performed on particular objects and gives those precedence. The ultimate goal is to make it fast and simple to launch applications, open files and interact with different parts of your computer via GNOME Do plugins (more on plugins later in this article).

While the left pane in the GNOME Do window lists objects, the right pane lists actions. An ordinary action for a program like Firefox might be Run, but if you press Tab you will highlight the right pane. Then, you can use the up and down arrow keys to cycle through alternate actions. These actions vary depending on the object, so for an application like Firefox, you might get only the option to copy your typed text to the clipboard or assign an alias. Different objects get a more complete list of actions, so for instance, if the Files and Folders plugin is enabled, it indexes the files in a list of directories. If I start to type a particular filename, it locates matching files. I then can press Tab, and when I press the down arrow key, I will see a number of actions, as shown in Figure 3. In this example, I have the option to open the file, reveal the file in the file manager, move the file to the trash, rename the file or perform a number of other file operations.

Figure 3 also shows that depending on the option you choose, GNOME Do might open a third pane on the right with more options. This often is used when you want to copy or move a file so you can choose its new location.

Figure 3. Alternate Actions


Kyle Rankin is Chief Security Officer at Purism, a company focused on computers that respect your privacy, security, and freedom. He is the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu


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How to launch your own executables?

ps1946's picture

I am a new Ubuntu user, migrating from Windows.

I would like to launch my own programs using Gnome-Do but so far could not make it happen.
Say I write a program "~/projects/hello.c" and compile it into "~/projects/a.out".
To test it I open a terminal and type "~/projects/a.out" at the prompt. Everything works as expected.

Using Do to do the same simple task doesn't seem to work:

1. open Gnome-Do (space) and type "terminal".
2. type to activate Do's right window
3. type "~/projects/a.out"
4. Gnome-Do closes, nothing happens.

Gnome-Do by default loads

Kyle's picture

Gnome-Do by default loads things that are in the Gnome menu, so if you want your app to be launched from Gnome-Do you will have to add it to the Gnome menu (System->Preferences->Main Menu).