Fly-Pie navigates through the system with pie menus

Piece of Pie

Article from Issue 256/2022

No matter whether you use Gnome or KDE, Windows or macOS, menus always pop up from a bar. Fly-Pie organizes a freely configurable menu in the form of a pie chart instead.

The way we control a desktop environment has not changed significantly since the early days of Gnome, KDE, and Xfce, even if Gnome in particular tends to take a swipe at the paradigms every now and then. Even early interface role models like GEM or the Xerox Alto operating system, the forefather of all graphical user interfaces, used graphical elements such as windows, scrollbars, or menus. Every now and then, however, it is useful to step off the familiar path and try something new. The Fly-Pie [1] extension for the Gnome desktop is a candidate for an off-the-beaten-path excursion.

In contrast to more heavily keyboard-oriented approaches such as the Gnome Shell's activity overview or launchers like Kupfer [2], Fly-Pie is aimed at users who prefer to keep their hands on the mouse instead of reaching for the keyboard. The dynamic pie menu lets you launch applications or move them to the foreground, simulate hotkey presses, and much more. The menu can be customized in a granular way thanks to the comprehensive configuration manager.

Control by Gesture

Fly-Pie is not a standalone program but an extension for the Gnome desktop version 3.34 or newer. To install it, you simply open the Gnome Shell Extensions web page [3], move the black slider from Off to On, and select Install (see the "Gnome Extensions" box). After that, the extension appears in the Gnome extension manager as manually installed. From there, you can also access the settings via the gear icon. I tested the extension on Arch Linux with the current Gnome 41.

Gnome Extensions

To install Gnome extensions via the website (, you need a compatible web browser with a special browser extension. Extensions are available for Chrome [4], Opera, and Firefox [5] but not for the in-house Gnome browser Web, which itself does not yet support extensions. In addition, the chrome-gnome-shell package from the package manager must be installed. This is not part of the default installation on every distribution. Don't be confused by the name, you still need the package in combination with Firefox. Unfortunately Ubuntu, with its own special way of installing browsers such as Firefox and Chromium as Snap packages, causes issues here. The browser fails to communicate with Gnome Shell. As a workaround, you could always install the Chrome browser.

For an initial test, press Ctrl+Space: This pops up a menu in the form of a pie chart at the mouse pointer position. Depending on the sector you choose, you can trigger different actions by clicking. It does not matter how far away from the center you are when you perform the action. In the preconfigured example menu, you can use the icons in the lower half to jump to the next or previous desktop, close or maximize the current window, or open the Fly-Pie settings.

The top sectors Running Applications, Sound, and Favorites branch to a new pie menu, as indicated by the "bubbles" around the sector's icon. For example, to open the Firefox browser, press Ctrl+Space, then tap the heart icon and the Firefox icon in the submenu. Alternatively, you can use highlight mode. In this case, click with the mouse pointer on an entry in the Fly-Pie menu and hold down the left mouse button. Then drag the mouse pointer a little away from the center and stop the movement. At this point, the next submenu will open automatically, if available, or the corresponding action will be performed.

The first two modes are basically just for learning how things work. Fly-Pie is more efficient in Turbo mode, which means significantly less mouse clicking. To do this, call up the Fly-Pie menu again by pressing Ctrl+Space. Then click on the center and hold down the mouse button. To open the Firefox browser, drag the mouse pointer over the heart icon. Briefly hover over the heart icon, wait until the menu opens, and continue to the Firefox icon. When you get there, release the left mouse button again (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The example Fly-Pie menu in action: You can move the menu to the foreground by pressing Ctrl+Space.

Practical Exercises to Get Started

The principle is not easy to understand at the beginning, which is why Fly-Pie offers users a detailed introduction. You can access this in the program settings. Open the menu by pressing Ctrl+Space and then click on the gear icon at the bottom. The introduction guides you in several steps through the various operating modes. Practical examples and videos explain how Fly-Pie works (Figure 2). At the end, there are even awards to be won once you can control the program quickly enough.

Figure 2: The Fly-Pie introduction explains step-by-step how the dynamic pie menus work.

However, Fly-Pie shows its real strengths when you start creating your own menus or adapt the sample menu to your needs. To do this, open Menu Editor on the Settings tab. Click on the pencil icon on the right above the star to enable editing mode (Figure 3). Now select the menu. You can change the name and icon and even define a new keyboard shortcut to open it. To delete, drag a menu's icon to the Trash area at the bottom of the screen. The Stash area next to it temporarily disables a menu without immediately and permanently deleting it.

Figure 3: Menu Editor lets you adapt the example to suit your own needs or create completely new menus from scratch.

To create your own menu, click the plus icon to the right of the All Menus menu item below the titlebar. The dialog shows a number of predefined entries such as Devices, Bookmarks, and System, all of which already contain predefined menus or actions. Optionally, start on an empty page with a User Defined Menu. Starting from the basic menu, you can then add further submenus by pressing the plus icon. You can freely organize the individual entries in each sector. You may want to arrange important actions in a line so that you only need to move the mouse pointer straight through the menu structure.


Fly-Pie's greatest strength lies in its flexibility. The program does not limit itself to a single menu but lets you create separate menus for important applications or tasks, each of which can then be called up with its own keyboard shortcut. For example, you can create a menu for operating the media player, one for navigating the web, and one for word processing with your favorite editors, including links to the most important folders and sources.

The project is a fine example of a Gnome extension. The introduction helps users understand operations. Videos explain the most important actions step-by-step, and the developer presents the latest innovations on the project page. The small game with its awards also motivates people to use the program as efficiently as they can to discover the best possible approach to using Fly-Pie.

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