Is it possible to switch between two operating systems using only the keyboard?

In today’s fast-paced digital world, efficiency and productivity are paramount. As technology evolves, so do our needs for seamlessly navigating multiple operating systems. If you’ve ever come across the question if “Is it possible to switch between two operating systems using only the keyboard”, the answer is a resounding yes! However, things will work differently depending on whether the operating systems are installed on the same device or on different devices. In this article, we will delve into the world of keyboard shortcuts, hotkeys, and handy tools that enable you to effortlessly switch between operating systems, boosting your productivity and saving valuable time.

Understanding the Need for Keyboard-Based OS Switching:

In a multitasking environment, switching between operating systems can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. However, by harnessing the power of keyboard shortcuts, you can eliminate the need for constantly reaching for the mouse, streamlining your workflow and increasing efficiency. Whether you’re a developer, designer, or power user, the ability to swiftly switch between different operating systems can significantly enhance your productivity.

  1. Leveraging Native Keyboard Shortcuts:

The majority of modern operating systems offer built-in keyboard shortcuts to facilitate quick navigation. Let’s explore some popular options:

a. Windows OS:

  • Windows + Tab: Launches Task View, allowing you to switch between open applications and virtual desktops.
  • Alt + Tab: Cycles through open applications, enabling swift switching between different tasks.
  • Windows + D: Shows the desktop, minimizing all active windows.

b. macOS:

  • Command + Tab: Similar to Alt + Tab in Windows, this shortcut switches between open applications.
  • Control + Left/Right Arrow: Moves between different spaces and full-screen applications.
  • Control + Up Arrow: Launches Mission Control, providing an overview of all open applications and spaces.

c. Linux (Ubuntu):

  • Alt + Tab: Switches between open applications.
  • Ctrl + Alt + Tab: Cycles through open windows across different workspaces.
  • Super (Windows) key: Opens the application launcher, allowing you to search and launch applications swiftly.

By familiarizing yourself with these native keyboard shortcuts, you can easily switch between operating systems and optimize your workflow.

  1. Third-Party Tools for Enhanced Keyboard Navigation:

To further enhance your ability to switch between operating systems using only your keyboard, there are several third-party tools available. These tools often provide additional functionality and customization options, catering to individual preferences. Let’s explore a few notable options:

a. AutoHotkey (Windows):

  • AutoHotkey allows you to create custom keyboard shortcuts to automate tasks, including switching between operating systems.
  • By scripting key combinations, you can configure hotkeys that trigger specific actions, such as launching virtual machines or switching to a different OS environment.

b. Karabiner-Elements (macOS):

  • Karabiner-Elements is a powerful keyboard customizer for macOS.
  • It enables you to remap keys, create complex shortcuts, and define custom functions, allowing for seamless switching between operating systems with a personalized touch.

c. xdotool (Linux):

  • xdotool is a command-line tool for automation and scripting on Linux.
  • With xdotool, you can simulate keyboard input, enabling you to switch between operating systems and perform various tasks by running simple commands.
  1. Virtualization Software and Emulators:

Another method to switch between operating systems without using a mouse is through virtualization software and emulators. These tools create virtual machines or emulated environments within your primary operating system, offering a seamless experience for running different OS instances. Notable virtualization software includes VMware, VirtualBox, and Parallels Desktop.

Once you set up your virtual machine, you can often configure keyboard shortcuts to switch between the host and guest operating systems swiftly.

  1. Utilizing Remote Desktop and VNC:

Remote Desktop and Virtual Network Computing (VNC) are powerful technologies that allow you to access and control remote computers or virtual machines. By leveraging these tools, you can switch between operating systems without physically switching devices or using a mouse.

a. Remote Desktop (Windows):

  • Windows Remote Desktop enables you to connect to a remote computer and control it as if you were sitting in front of it.
  • By configuring Remote Desktop, you can access and switch between different operating systems using your keyboard alone.

b. VNC (Cross-Platform):

  • VNC provides a platform-independent solution for remote access and control.
  • By installing VNC server software on the remote computer and a VNC viewer on your local machine, you can establish a connection and seamlessly switch between operating systems.
  1. Customizing Keyboard Layouts:

For advanced users who prefer complete control over their keyboard experience, customizing keyboard layouts can offer a tailored solution for switching between operating systems.

a. Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (Windows):

  • This tool allows you to create custom keyboard layouts or modify existing ones.
  • By assigning specific keys to switch between operating systems or launch applications, you can personalize your keyboard layout to suit your needs.

b. Ukelele (macOS):

  • Ukelele is a powerful keyboard layout editor for macOS.
  • With Ukelele, you can design and customize keyboard layouts, including assigning keys for switching between operating systems or performing specific actions.
  1. Creating Macros and Automation:

In addition to keyboard shortcuts, you can harness the power of macros and automation to streamline the process of switching between operating systems.

a. AutoHotkey (Windows):

  • As mentioned earlier, AutoHotkey allows you to create macros and automation scripts.
  • By recording and assigning macros to specific key combinations, you can automate the process of switching between operating systems.

b. Keyboard Maestro (macOS):

  • Keyboard Maestro is a comprehensive automation tool for macOS.
  • With Keyboard Maestro, you can create complex macros and trigger them with keyboard shortcuts, enabling seamless transitions between operating systems.


Mastering the art of switching between operating systems using only your keyboard can significantly enhance your productivity and streamline your workflow. By leveraging native keyboard shortcuts, third-party tools, virtualization software, remote access technologies, keyboard layout customization, and automation, you can seamlessly navigate multiple operating systems without the need for a mouse. Whether you’re a power user, developer, or designer, incorporating these techniques into your daily routine will save you valuable time and boost your efficiency.

Remember, the key to success lies in practice and familiarizing yourself with the tools and shortcuts available for your chosen operating systems. So, why not take the first step today and embark on a journey toward becoming a master of multitasking with keyboard-based OS switching? Your enhanced productivity awaits!

You can also check “How to Use One Keyboard and Mouse for Two Computers“.

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