Learning the Basics

Learn about the elementary OS desktop and how to navigate windows, workspaces, and more.


The elementary OS desktop consists of two elements: the Panel and the Dock. You can customize the desktop wallpaper by secondary-clicking the desktop—right click on a mouse, or two-finger tap on a touchpad. You can also change the desktop's look and behavior from System SettingsDesktop.


At the top of the desktop is the Panel. On the left is the Applications Menu, in the center are the date and time, and on the right are the System Indicators.

  1. Applications Menu
  2. Date & Time
  3. System Indicators
The Panel

Applications Menu

To open or search for installed apps, select Applications on the Panel. You can page through your apps by scrolling on a mouse, swiping with two fingers on a touchpad, or by using the pager dots at the bottom. You can also use the view switcher at the top to switch between showing your apps in a grid or a categorized list.

Applications Menu

Start typing in the Applications Menu to search your apps by name or by keyword. Searching will also display app actions and System Settings. For example, by searching you can:

To open the Applications Menu with the keyboard, press Space.

Date & Time

The Date & Time indicator at the center of the Panel displays the current date and time. Click or tap anywhere on the date or time to display a calendar and upcoming events. Double-click a day or select an event to open it in the full Calendar app.

System Indicators

The System Indicators at the right of the Panel display the status of device, i.e. network connections, battery, sound input and output, notifications, etc. Selecting an indicator exposes more information and related actions.

Hovering an indicator with the mouse cursor also displays quick information and the middle-click or three finger tap shortcut for the indicator. For example:


At the bottom of the desktop is the Dock for quick access to your favorite and currently-opened apps.


To add an app to the Dock, drag and drop it from the Applications Menu or secondary-click an open app's icon and choose Keep in Dock. To remove an app from the Dock, drag it off and drop it in an empty space on your desktop or secondary-click the icon and uncheck Keep in Dock. Drag and drop apps on the Dock to rearrange them.

By default, the Dock hides off the bottom of the desktop when an app is maximized or overlaps it. Push your mouse cursor against the bottom-center of the desktop to reveal and use the Dock when it's hidden.

You can customize the dock's size and behavior in System SettingsDesktopDock & Panel.

App Windows

When you open an app, its window appears on the desktop. While the exact design of different apps may differ, app windows can generally be closed, moved, resized, and maximized.

Header Bar

Most apps have a Header Bar at the top of their window with the Window Buttons and the app's actions or navigation.

Move a window by dragging anywhere on the Header Bar or by pressing AltF7 and moving your mouse cursor.


Secondary-click the Header Bar for quick access to window and workspace actions.

Window Buttons

An app's window buttons are at the top corners of the app window: close at the left and maximize (if supported by the app) at the right. Closing a window will close that app; it can be re-opened from the Applications Menu or Dock. Maximizing a window resizes it to take up most of the desktop while retaining your access to the Panel and Dock.

You can also drag a window to the top of the desktop or double-click its header bar to maximize, and drag from the top or double-click the header bar to unmaximize.


Most app windows can be resized by draging from any edge of the window. You can also secondary-click a window's header bar and choose Resize or press AltF8 to enter a resize mode: move the mouse cursor in the direction you want to resize the window.


elementary OS uses both windows and workspaces for multitasking.


App windows can overlap on your desktop and be moved around. You can switch between open windows several ways:


By default, app windows open on your current workspace. However, you can use multiple workspaces to organize your workflow:


To move left or right through your workspaces, press or or swipe with three fingers on a touchpad or touch screen.

Jump straight to a specific workspace by pressing 1 through 9. You can always jump to a new workspace with 0.

Move windows between workspaces by dragging them in the Multitasking View or by pressing Alt or .

Customize these shortcuts through System SettingsKeyboardShortcutsWorkspaces.

Some windows may also fullscreen onto a new workspace. You can move between workspaces as usual, and closing or un-fullscreening the app will return you to the previous workspace.

Multitasking View

Multitasking View

The Multitasking View shows all open windows and workspaces so you can switch between them. To open it, select the Multitasking View icon in the dock, press , or swipe up with three fingers on a touchpad or touch screen.


elementary OS supports multi-touch gestures on supported hardware like touchpads and touch screens. By default, a three-finger swipe left or right switches workspaces while a three-finger swipe up enters the Multitasking View.

Modify gestures from System SettingsMouse & TouchpadGestures.

Hot Corners

Hot Corners are shortcuts activated by placing your cursor in the corner of the primary display. You can configure Hot Corners to activate multitasking actions like the window overview, workspace overview, and more.

You can customize hot corners through System SettingsDesktopMultitasking.

Multiple Displays

The Panel, Dock, and workspaces appear on the primary display. Any other attached displays act as standalone workspaces. To manage and rearrange displays, head to System SettingsDisplays. Your primary display is marked with a filled-in star () and each display's settings can be changed from its menu.

Installing Apps

elementary OS comes with AppCenter, the open, pay-what-you-can app store for indie developers. To install a new app:

  1. Open AppCenter
  2. Search in the top-right, or browse by category
  3. Select Free or the suggested price next to the app you want to install. To choose a different price, select the button and select or enter your own price.


Some third-party software may not be available from AppCenter, especially if it is cross-platform and not designed for elementary OS. You can sideload Flatpak apps from third-party sources like Flathub: download and open a .flatpakref or .flatpak file, and the Sideload utility will install it for you. Updates to that app and other apps from the same source may then show up as non-curated in AppCenter.

Keep in mind that sideloaded and non-curated apps have not been reviewed by elementary for security or privacy.


AppCenter includes updates for apps and the operating system itself under the Installed tab. Remember to install updates frequently to get the latest features, fixes, and security improvements. For more information related to security patches, read the Ubuntu security notices.

System Settings

elementary OS comes with the System Settings app that helps you manage device settings and user preferences. System Settings enables you to adjust keyboard shortcuts, display resolution, your wallpaper, and more.

System Settings

You can find specific settings by typing in the search bar at the top of the window.

App Settings

Keep in mind that System Settings only deals with system-wide settings and user preferences for elementary OS. If an app offers settings or preferences, they will be exposed within the app itself.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts in elementary OS are generally exposed contextually in tooltips when hovering or context menus when secondary-clicking.

To view an overlay of desktop keyboard shortcuts, press the key.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Desktop keyboard shorcuts can be customized from the menu in the shortcuts overlay or in System SettingsKeyboardShortcuts.