Using an Apple Keyboard with Xubuntu

This is how I got my external Apple Keyboard (pictured) to work with Xubuntu in a similar way to how it works with OSX on my Macbook at work. It’s not perfect, but it does avoid a lot of frustration from trying to use muscle memory OSX keyboard shortcuts on Linux. I am using a British layout keyboard so these changes might need to be adjusted depending on your locale.

Apple keyboard - used under CC-BY-SA from

Key re-mapping

I used XKB to change the following mappings of ‘real’ keys on the left to ‘perceived’ keys in the OS:

  • Swap Cmd <-> Left Ctrl
  • Left Ctrl -> Super/Menu/“Windows” key
  • Caps Lock -> Left Ctrl (I find this much more comfortable to use on a Mac keyboard, however here we have swapped Cmd and Ctrl anyway so it’s not so useful).
  • Left Alt+3 -> Hash (#)
  • Swap ± and ` (the default keymap appeared to have them the wrong way around)

I followed a useful guide to XKB to learn how to make the necessary modifications.

I made the following change to /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb:

diff -ur usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb
--- usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb	2018-10-25 12:10:20.000000000 +0100
+++ /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb	2019-05-21 22:31:21.540369459 +0100
@@ -167,10 +167,10 @@
     key <AE02> {	[               2,              at,         EuroSign	]	};
     key <AE03> {	[               3,        sterling,       numbersign	]	};
-    key <TLDE> {	[         section,       plusminus ]	};
-    key <LSGT> {	[           grave,      asciitilde ]	};
+    key <LSGT> {	[         section,       plusminus ]	};
+    key <TLDE> {	[           grave,      asciitilde ]	};
-    include "level3(ralt_switch)"
+    include "level3(lalt_switch)"
     include "level3(enter_switch)"

NB: Changing files in /usr/share is not generally encouraged (your changes will affect other users on the system and can be overwritten by software upgrades) but I found this to be the most expedient solution at the time. Make a backup of /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb first by running:

cp /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/gb{,.bak}

I then edited /etc/default/keyboard to contain the following:

# Only XKBVARIANT and XKBOPTIONS needed to be changed


Window Switching

Open the Xfce Settings manager -> Window Manager -> Keyboard:

  • Switch window for same application: ctrl + ` (reality is Cmd + `)
  • Cycle windows: Ctrl + tab (reality is Cmd + tab)
  • Cycle windows (reverse): Ctrl + shift + tab (reality is Cmd + shift + tab)


Open the “Keyboard -> Application Shortcuts” settings menu in Xfce. set xfce4-popup-whiskermenu to Ctrl + space (on your keyboard this will actually be Cmd + space)


I commonly take screenshots of an area of the screen with Cmd + Ctrl + Shift + 4 on OSX. You can achieve similar functionality by adding an Application Shortcut (like in the last step) in Xfce for xfce4-screenshooter -r -c as Ctrl + shift + super + 4

Changing fn key mode

I prefer to swap the fn key mode so that F keys do not activate their media functions unless the fn key is depressed.

This can be done by editing /etc/modprobe.d/hid_apple.conf to contain the following:

options hid_apple fnmode=2

Reboot for the change to take effect.

Changing mouse scroll speed

This is not strictly keyboard related, but I found that the default mouse scroll rate was much slower on Linux than on OSX. I changed it using the following instructions from the Unix Stackexchange.


Other things I’d like to do if I were to refine this setup:

  • Make F13 to F19 usable
  • Mimic the behaviour of the excellent SizeUp for OSX. I believe some of this is already possible in Xfce, however I found there were problematic conflicts with other applications using my chosen shortcuts of:
    • Cmd+Alt+left arrow -> window to left of screen
    • Cmd+Alt+right arrow -> window to right of screen
    • Cmd+Alt+m -> maximise
  • Get my common VSCode motion shortcuts working (should be possible in VSCode settings):
    • Cmd + up - start of file
    • Cmd + down - end of file
    • Cmd + right - end
    • Cmd + left - home
    • Alt + right/left - left/right one word

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