7 Things You Never Knew You Could Do in GNOME's Activity Search

You are missing out on lots of built-in search features in the GNOME desktop environment. Learn something new.
Warp Terminal

In an earlier article, I shared tips for mastering search in the Nautilus file manager.

In this tutorial, I'll tell you many of the ignored search features in the GNOME Activity area.

If you are not aware of the technical term 'GNOME Activities', you can access it by clicking the Activities button in the top left corner in the GNOME desktop environment,

Click on Activities button on top left to get to GNOME search interface
Click on Activities to access it

You can also press the Super key (Windows key) to get the same.

The search interface of GNOME
GNOME Search Interface

Yes. GNOME has quite a powerful built-in search feature and yet many people use it to search for applications and run them.

Search among installed apps in GNOME shell search
Most people use the GNOME Activities to search and run apps

But it has several more features that may come in handy and make you feel like a pro user.

Let's see them one by one.

This is similar to opening apps. When you start typing something in the search area, you can see things changing continually. If some file is matched with your query, you can open it using the default application, by clicking on the name of the file, or pressing Enter.

File Search results in GNOME Shell search
File Search

On the same interface, you can see that there is a small preview for each file. Also, each file listed here is associated with its absolute location.

If you look closely, you can also find the file manager icon here. Now, click on the file manager icon.

File manager icon in GNOMEshell file search results
File Manager Icon

This will open the Nautilus file manager in search mode, where you can see all the files matched by the query.

Clicking on the file manager icon on GNOME shell file search results page will get a nautilus file manager instance in search mode
Nautilus File manager in search mode

Similarly, if you press the icon of the app associated with the bulk search result, then that application, along with the suggested results, is opened.

If you have GNOME Sushi installed, you can now preview these files in full mode before starting to work with them.

2. Copy emojis and special characters

GNOME has an application called gnome-characters. This provides you with several emojis and related characters. If you don't have this application, you can install it using:

sudo apt install gnome-characters

Once installed, this application has its own search provider. This means that you can search for any character name. You can see various suggestions as you type.

Characters are shown in GNOME search results
Characters in Search Overview

Once you find some character, press Enter so that the selected character will be copied to your clipboard. You can paste it using CTRL+V.

Character copied to clipboard message
Character Copied

Suggested Read ๐Ÿ“–

13 Keyboard Shortcuts Every Ubuntu User Should Know
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3. Calculate without opening calculator app

Use the GNOME Shell search as a quick calculator. If you have to do some simple math calculations, there is no need to open the calculator app for this.

Instead, do it in GNOME activity itself.

Doing simple mathematical calculation in GNOME Shell
Get Calculation Results

You can copy the result to clipboard also.

4. Get world clock

Want to know what time it is in another city? Why use some widgets and programs when GNOME shell can give you the time in a city by entering its name?

Get time of various cities using GNOME Shell Search Feature
World clock in GNOME Shell Search

5. Move between running terminal windows

Let's say you are running multiple terminal windows or multiple tabs in one terminal window with different active commands, like top, reading a file using bat or less etc.,

You can move to a particular terminal window, that is running a specific command by entering the command name in shell search.

Get terminal window by entering the active command it is running
Get terminal window

You can see that I am running top in one of my terminals and I can go directly into that. If it's different tabs, it will switch you to the particular tab running that particular command.

You can access the Firefox web search directly through the GNOME Shell. In order to make this work, you should need to open Firefox in the background.

Firefox listed as a search provider in system setting search tab
Firefox as a search provider in Settings

Once Firefox runs, you can search for web results on the activities overview. Also, you can reorder the Firefox appearance as you like in the system settings.

Firefox search results in GNOME Shell Search
Firefox search results
Unfortunately, on my Fedora 38 system, I couldn't get any search results from Firefox, even though it's a provider. And the one on Manjaro worked just as intended.

If you are using other distros, you can access web search results on shell search using Epiphany or GNOME Web browser. First, install Epiphany, either using your Package manager:

sudo apt install epiphany

Or, from Flathub:

flatpak install flathub org.gnome.Epiphany

Once installed, open the settings and go to the search features. You can see that, an entry for GNOME Web has been appeared there.

GNOME Web s listed as an entry in search settings in system settings
GNOME Web in search settings

Simply toggle on, if it's off. It will work even if GNOME Web is closed.

GNOME Web providing search results in GNOME Shell
Web results in search using GNOME Web
If a new app is installed that provides some kind of search function, it will be listed on the searches tab.

7. Managing Search Appearance

It is possible to reorder the appearance, disable some results, etc. using system settings.

Access search settings in System Settings app

Open System settings and go to the search tab.

Open the searches tab in system settings
Search Tab in Settings

Reorder Search Results Appearance

Upon opening the searches, you can see all the available providers listed. On each of the item, you can see a handle to the left side and three dots menus on the right side.

Buttons and Handles to arrange items in search view inside system settings
Buttons and Handles to arrange items

Either drag one item with the left side handle and place it to the required space.

Arrange order of Appearance of results by drag and drop
Drag and drop to arrange order of Appearance

Or, click on the three dot menu and select โ€œMove Upโ€ or โ€œMove Downโ€.

Move up or down a particular search item using buttons
Move up or down using buttons

This arranged settings will be the new order in which the searches will appear on GNOME shell search results.

Manage Individual File Locations

Tweak the locations searched by system apps like Files, Photos, Videos etc. by going to Search Locations on the searches tab.

Now, toggle on or off for disabling existing locations. Or Add new locations by clicking on the Add button.

Add or Remove Locations searched by system apps such as files
Add Remove Locations

If you are not using some of the search providers, you can free up some space on the search interface by disabling some unused search providers. For this, toggle off the particular provider using the toggle button on the right side of each item.

The toggle button to enable or disable a particular service to appear in GNOME search
Enable โ€“ Disable Toggle

You can always turn it back on, by toggling the same button to on position.

Disable search altogether

Disable the in-app searches in GNOME Shell altogether by toggling off the App Search button.

Disable Search in Overview
Disable Search in Overview

Only Applications can be searched, and the search results will be hidden from view.

Inside App search is disabled, and only application name can be searched
Inside App search is disabled

Bonus Tip: Extensions to make search more effective

There are several GNOME extensions that will make your search more accessible and productive.

This extension, called Quick Web Search, will add a search option for DuckDuckGo. Whenever we search some terms on the shell search, a DuckDuckGo icon will appear. Click on it, to open it on your preferred browser.

An icon of DuckDuckGo in shell, so that we can search using DDG through GNOME Shell
DuckDuckGo Search in Shell

This works even if all the browser instances are closed. Also, you can change the search provider to Google and others by using the extension settings.

It gives fuzzy application search results for Gnome Search. So even if you have misspelled or wrongly typed some names, it will try its best to match with a result.

Get more out of GNOME

As you can see, you probably never used all of these GNOME search features. Or perhaps never paid enough attention to them.

At It's FOSS we take pride and feel joy in sharing such lesser-known features with our readers.

Here are a few more such articles that a GNOME user may find interesting.

Mastering Nautilus File Search in Linux Desktop
Become a pro finder with these handy tips to improve your file search experience with GNOMEโ€™s Nautilus file search.
13 Ways to Tweak Nautilus File Manager in Linux
Nautilus, aka GNOME Files, is a good file manager with plenty of features. You can further enhance your experience by using these extensions, tweaks and tips.
Install and Use GNOME Tweak Tool in Ubuntu and Other Linux
Learn to install GNOME Tweak too in Ubuntu. Youโ€™ll also learn how to use GNOME Tweaks to customize your Linux desktop.
Customize Task Switching Experience on GNOME Desktop With These Nifty Tools
Unless youโ€™re new to Linux, you know that there are several popular desktop environment choices for users. And if youโ€™re that newbie, I recommend you to learn what a desktop environment is along with this tutorial. Here, I shall be focusing on tweaking the task switching experience on

๐Ÿ—จ I hope you liked this collection of tips. Please leave your suggestion in the comment section.

About the author


Linux tinkerer by day, Lord of the Rings fanatic by night. When I'm not busy conquering the command line, you can find me kicking back and watching some football while quoting JRR Tolkien

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