8 Oct 2013

How to configure keyboard layouts in Unity, GNOME 3, KDE

It is not a secret that I am Russian living in the UK. Even if I was not leaving in the UK, being Russian means I need to type in Russian using Cyrillic alphabet. Also, I need to type in Latin (English) for blogging and other technical needs.

I have written quite a lot of reviews of different operating systems. While doing this, I always had a strategy in mind. The strategy covers a list of questions for the review, including ability to configure different keyboard layouts and a hotkey switch for them.

Now I plan to release a series of how-to articles covering configuration of multi-layout keyboards in Linux. It is obviously a task for the desktop environment in use for the particular Linux distribution. Let's starts with the obvious leaders in the Linux world.

In the future, we will also speak about Xfce, Cinnamon and MATE and also LXDE, Enlightenment, Openbox.


(You can watch a how-to video for the process of multiple keyboard setup in Unity)
Unity has been a default Desktop Environment in Ubuntu since release 11.04.

Luckily for multi-language users, Unity comes with multi-layout configuration by default. Even if you don't notice that at first, by default Unity shows a keyboard icon in the system tray in the top-right corner of the screen. Click that icon, and you will see a list of active layouts plus an option to configure them.
Default Unity set of layouts

In the left part of the configuration window, you see a list of active keyboard layouts. By clicking Add, Remove, Move up and Move down buttons you can set the list of layouts the way you need.

Configuration panel for keyboard layouts in Unity
Now click the Options button in the bottom-right corner of the window and select the hotkey to switch between the layouts.

Configuration of layouts switch hotkey in Unity
Voila, you have the keyboards layouts in Unity, and a way to quickly switch between them.

Update 18/10/2013: starting from Ubuntu 13.10, the design of the layout configuration window has changed. It now allows you to list layouts and set the hotkey in the same place. At the same time, you no longer can use two-key combinations like Ctrl-Shift. It can now be either three-key combination (e.g. Ctrl-Shift-Z) or a two-key combination with Super (Windows) key being one of them (e.g. Super-Space)


(You can watch a how-to video for the process of multiple keyboard setup in GNOME 3)

GNOME 3 is a universal desktop environment, which can be used on almost any Linux distribution, apart from specific desktop environment-centric, like Chakra.

GNOME 3 desktop environment is currently under active development. In particular, it means that  configuration elements may change between releases. The example in this article is taken from GNOME 3 implementation in Fedora 19. It is slightly different from GNOME 3’s implementation in, for example, Sabayon 7.

Configuration of Keyboard layouts in GNOME 3 is a part of Region & Language settings. To call it up, open GNOME 3's menu and then go to System Tools - System Settings. The Region & Language icon will be in the Personal section of the settings panel.

Alternatively, start typing the word "keyboard" in the search bar of GNOME's menu, and the same Region & Language icon will appear.

Now get to the Input Sources part of the window.

Configuration of keyboard layouts in GNOME 3
You can add and remove layouts with buttons at the bottom of the section. As soon as you configure more than one layout, an indicator of the current layout appears in the notification area of the panel.

Now, click a button with a "<" sign, and get back to the Settings panel. Start Keyboard settings, and navigate to the Typing section on the Shortcuts tab. Here you can configure the keyboard layout switching hotkey. Click the "Switch to next input source" line and press the desired key combination. Unfortunately, GNOME 3 does not support switching with "classic" dual-key combinations like Ctrl+Shift or Shift+Shift or Alt+Shift. You can either use three-key combinations, like Ctrl+Shift+Q, or use a Super (Windows) key, like "Super-Space".

Configuration of layouts switch hotkey in GNOME 3
Voila, now you can type in different keyboard layouts and switch between them quickly in GNOME 3.


(You can watch a how-to video for the process of multiple keyboard setup in KDE 4)

 Like GNOME 3, KDE is also a universal desktop environment that aims high-end hardware, but delivers lots of eye-candy and a nice interface.

Configuration of Keyboard layouts in KDE is in the Input Devices section of System Settings panel. There is a dedicated Layouts tab.

Alternatively, start typing "keyboard" in the search bar of KDE's standard menu (Application Launcher).

Configuration panel for keyboard layouts in KDE

Tick the checkbox "Configure layouts" and then add the layouts you need, arranging them in the preferred order with buttons just below the mentioned checkbox.

Configuration panel for keyboard layouts in KDE
As soon as you add a second layout, the system tray indicator appears. You can configure it to be either text or flag or both on the same settings window's tab.

Now switch to the Advanced tab or click the "Main shortcuts" button. Here you can configure the desired layout switching shortcut.

Configuration of layouts switch hotkey in KDE
Voila again, you are ready to switch quickly between the different keyboard layouts in KDE.

As you can see all leaders of high-end computer desktop environments have facilities to configure keyboard layouts.

In the next part of the series, we will look at the next set of Desktop Environments. Do you want to see any particular ones? Please leave your comments below!

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