How To Change Keyboard Layout in Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal Easily!

If you're a touch typist, then most probably you would be using the dominant/popular QWERTY keyboard layout or the less popular but efficient + comfortable (in my experience anyway) Dvorak layout.

If you use Dvorak as your main typing interface and installed GNU/Linux recently then you'd most probably want to know how to change not just from QWERTY -> Dvorak but to switch between different types of keyboard layouts in Gnome.

For this example I'm using the Ubuntu 11.04 (seriously if you have lower end PC, especially a VGA card with low 3D support, while comparing with standard of these days then the Unity desktop will be a bit troublesome). I'm going to switch from QWERY to Dvorak in this example but using this method you should be able to switch between any layout no matter what GNU/Linux keyboards that you use as long as the operating system supports it.

First access the "System Settings" from the drop down menu from the upper right corner of your Panel. 

From the window you get choose "Hardware" from the left side and then choose "Keyboard" from the right-side menu (screenshot -1).

Screenshot -1

Under "Layouts" tab, click on "Add" button and from the next window, choose "United States" from the "Country" drop down menu and

Under the "Variants" drop-down menu choose "USA Dvorak". Now Click "Add" button on the lower right corner.

Screenshot -2

Now we have to "define" a shortcut to switch between the layouts or you can make "Dvorak" the default layout by default (even while at log-in screen).

1. Make it Dvorak by default - From the "Keyboard Preference" window, click on "USA" as shown in the below screenshot (3) and click on the "Remove" icon. That should do it.

Screenshot - 3

2. Switch between keyboards using a short-cut key - This is the best option if you have to share the computer, where others have no idea of what Dvorak is, etc.

In that instance, click on the "USA Dvorak" button on "Keyboard Preference" and click on the "Options" button and from the configuration window you'll see a bold text which says - "Keys to change layout". Under that choose your preferred keyboard shortcut.

Screenshot - 4

That's it. From now on, you should be able to either permanently use a single keyboard layout or switch between more than one in Ubuntu 11.04 or  Gnome in general.


How to make a Layout permanent -: There are two main methods that you can make a Layout Permanent. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, other than your primary layout, you can remove all others from the "list" (by clicking on "Remove" button) or you can try the below method instead, which would be the best method since we don't have to remove any layout... so you can switch to a different one later easily in the future.

Within the Keyboard preference window, choose your layout that you want to make default and simply click on the button called "Move UP", take it upwards until it reaches the top position in your layouts.


Below screenshots show how I made my Keyboard (not a Bluetooth keyboard, standard one... and all of those who has this issue, do you use a Bluetooth keyboard ??) use Dvorak as the default layout by using the "Move UP" button.

1. Chose your Layout... and use that "Move Up" button.

2.Until to the point, where your (Dvorak in this example) primary layout sits at the top of the list.
Hope this helped to resolve few of those switching back to QWERTY issues in the below comments. I've restarted several times and switched between different user accounts, etc just to make sure... this works perfectly fine for me. So no more "automatic switching", hopefully :).


Anonymous said...

Now they only need to fix the keyboard settings in Natty, so that it does not always revert back to the USA keyboard after every reboot and after 1-3 hours of using the system.
It's said how for every bug fixed they seem to introduce a new one; and sometimes reintroduce an old one.

Gayan said...


Hmmm, that's strange. Although I don't use the Unity "interface", in Gnome classic desktop in Natty, this works just fine.

Anyhow, have you tried creating new user account and tried it again to see what happens??.

Anonymous said...

I have that same problem (resetting to US layout) too, with the classic desktop...

Gayan said...

Okay guys, I think I mis read your "issues". Sorry about that.

If you want to permanently switch to Dvorak or whatever the KB layouts of your system, then select your Layout that you want to change and then click on the button called "Move UP"...

if you have more than two Layouts, then make sure your primary Layout is at the top of the list (I've updated the post, have a look for the screen-shot)

Anonymous said...

My preferred layout (not US) is already at the top of the list but it constantly reverts to US keyboard anyway ...

Anonymous said...

is there a bug reported on the US keboard issue?, I have the exact same problem in gnome-shell

Gayan said...


Um... I'm not sure actually but you can do a search in the below link...

and here's the current "layout indicator" bug page.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I see this issue as well, I searched on launchpad and came up with this:

Anonymous said...

I am using ubuntu 64 bit loaded on Jan 9, 2012 the latest version. I did as the (Updated) directions indicated. and now Dvorack is the default keyboard even after I shut down the computer. Nice thanks these were the only directions that worked pemenately for me. Even works for password in terminal. Tip if u want a Dvorak keyboard cheap go to thrift stores most have used keyboards for $3 or so buy them and pop off the keys with a screwdriver. It works on Most keyboards. If it fails so what you lost $3. I have done it to 5 or more boards. I finally found a keyboard I liked. I do not think you can do it to laptops thou.

Gayan said...


You're welcome and thank you for the little "Dvorak Tip" as well it :).

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