Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enable Ctrl-Alt-Backspace in Ubuntu

Here is one change in the latest Ubuntu release Jaunty (9.04) that is *really* not blind friendly. You can no longer use the Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination to restart the graphical (X) session by default. Most of the Orca screen reader users have to resort to using this key combination to start over when Orca screen reader stops or hangs for some unknown reason.

Its not very difficult to turn on this feature back on. To enable this Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination you have to use the dontzap program. You might want to install this package on your computer. They type this command in the terminal.
sudo dontzap -d
Reboot the computer and you are ready.

Update In Ubuntu Karmic the dontzap has been removed. You have use the keyboard preference tool.

  • Select "System"->"Preferences"->"Keyboard"
  • Select the "Layouts" tab and click on the "Layout Options" button.
  • Select "Key sequence to kill the X server" and enable "Control + Alt + Backspace".


  1. Disabling Ctrl-Alt-Delete and requiring the user to download&install a program to enable it back... plain absurdity.

  2. s/Delete/Backspace/

    I guess I have too much pre-unix trauma ;)

  3. Ali, Ctrl-Alt-Backspace is used to kill the X server whereas the Ctrl-Alt-Delete (a k a Three finger salute) will restart/reboot the whole operating system.

    Please don't confuse the two key combinations.

  4. I realize the difference. the first post had a typo. thus the second post with correction "s/Delete/Backspace/"

    To repeat what's already up there:

    Disabling Ctrl-Alt-Backspace and requiring the user to download&install a program to enable it back... plain absurdity.

  5. Dear Ali forgive me jumping the gun in my previous comment. The Junty 0.04 Release Notes has this to say on this subject.

    The Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination to force a restart of X is now disabled by default, to eliminate the problem of accidentally triggering the key combination.

    http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/releasenotes/904#Ctrl-Alt-Backspace disabled by default in Xorg
    Wonder how many users do this by accident?. To paraphrase Mark in yesterday's Ubuntu Open Week Q&A session why make changes that help few users and possible create problems for thousands of others users. (In my case its the blind gnu/Linux users.)

    I strongly feel that these kind of changes should be avoided in future.

  6. You should be able to achieve the same result as Ctrl-Alt-Backspace with Alt-SysRq-k

  7. Using the Alt-SysRq-k magic SysRq is not ideal solution.

    Magic SysRq combination is meant for developers for debugging purposes, asking layman users to use them is not a very good idea.

    Anyway, Thanks for the hint.


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