Improved Application Switcher for Elementary OS

I’ve recently switched to Elementary OS after many years of MacOS. Elementary by and large has been fantastic, and I like the low-configuration approach to OS design. The default alt-tab handler is my biggest gripe. It uses a combination of animated zoom, and brightness changes that I find visually tiring. I hoped that others had shared my pain and built an alternate solution.

A partial solution

After a bit of googling, I found a partial solution in this GitHub project From this project, I learned that Elementary is primarily written in Vala. Vala is an interesting language that provides object-oriented syntax on top of C using the GObject system from Gnome.

I hoped that the project I found would work with minimal fuss. However, getting Vala projects to build takes a bit of work. Once I had gotten past those hurdles and got a binary built, it crashed my gala (the Elementary window manager). The code had a lot of settings that could be changed with dconf to change how the application switcher renders, but they also added a lot of complexity to the code. I couldn’t be certain but was fairly confident that all the settings added more complexity which was the source of the crashes.

Elementary Alt Tab Plus

I forked the project , because. I didn’t think the maintainers would appreciate a pull request that replaced huge parts of the existing behavior, so a fork seemed more appropriate. In my fork, I aimed to greatly simplify the behavior. I removed:

  • Window previews.
  • All the zooming animations and opacity changing.
  • All the settings to change the appearance. Instead of dconf settings, I used constants, as I didn’t see a need to reconfigure the plugin at runtime.

I also improved the window title handling so that it was centered and didn’t overflow. The end result looks like this:

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and it has been working well on my machine with multiple monitors.

Getting it yourself

First, Install all the dependencies

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  1. sudo apt install elementary-sdk libclutter-1.0-dev libwnck-3-dev

Then clone the repository:

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  1. git clone

Then you can build the gala plugin:

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  1. mkdir build
  2. cd build
  3. cmake ..
  4. make
  5. sudo make install
  7. # Restart gala
  8. sudo gala --replace &

This should restart gala, with the new alt-tab plugin in place. If it doesn’t end up working for you, it can be uninstalled with:

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  1. rm /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/gala/plugins/

Hopefully if the default Elementary application switcher bothers you, this plugin will make your experience a bit smoother.


had to all caps this

Dev on 11/17/20

Thank you :)

Aral Balkan on 12/13/20

Thank you very much! Otherwise I would have gone completely crazy. Alt-Tab is OOTB in elementaryOS completely unusable.
Now I’m looking for something that displays the red notification icons in the dock.

Hessi on 1/12/21

Thank you!

thank you 2 weeks, 2 days ago

it’s cool .
notes :
-it’s bit sluggish especially at the first alt-tab
-the notifications theme got altered for some reason .
hopefully you can provide any fixes especially for the notifications part .

s 4 days, 8 hours ago

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