How to turn off tooltips in Gnome

Tool tips (a.k.a. tooltips) are those annoying, usually mostly yellow flyouts that appear as your mouse moves over various parts of a GUI. Although tooltips violate one of the Fundamental Rules (don’t do shit if I don’t click you you) they may actually be useful to some people either when an application, desktop, or system is first being learned, or more generally to allow a user to understand the function of obscure and rarely used buttons or menu items.

But most likely you will just want to turn them off. Here’s how to do this for the Gnome Panel.

Despite their utility, tooltips often also violate a second Fundamental Rule — if you are not essential I should be able to turn your ass off. It seems to me that for a long time Gnome, the premier desktop for Linux and the default desktop for the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, did not allow its tooltip to be turned off. I think this is true because some time ago I tried really hard to find out how to turn Gnome tooltips off, and all I got for my trouble were comments such as “You can’t do that” and “Yea, I wish you could do that” and so on.

But, Gnome is going through constant revision, so I checked again this morning and found out how to turn off the tool tips. Yes, you can now do this. Since Gnome also violates the Fundamental Rule that says “Stop fucking with the layout unless you have to” in a big way … with menu items and basic system administration GUI tools being totally unpredictable from version to version, you may have to experiment a bit to follow these instructions.

Short Version: At command line type:


Navigate to “tooltips_enabled” under apps, panel, global, and uncheck it.

(Tip: use Ctl-F and check both option boxes, search for “tooltips.)

Long version:

The long version is fun because you may discover myriad ways to mess up, I mean tweak, your computer along the way. Disclaimer: Usual disclaimer.

Essentially, you want to find the line in a particular GUI that says “tooltips_enabled” and the uncheck the box next to that. To get to that point, I did the following:

System -> Preferences -> Main Menu

That only works in some versions of Gnome on Linux. “Main Menu” may be somewhere else and you can spend some time looking around for it. Or, just open a terminal and type in “alacarte” which is the name of this “Main Menu” GUI thingie. The GUI application alacarte is the menu editor. Menus can and should comply with specifications, and if they do, you can edit them from this application. As far as I can tell, alacarte does not have options that allow you to send it instructions to change the configuration, so you have to use alacarte as a gui. Which is fine.

Once alacarte is open, you will probably want to maximize it because the options and stuff are very wordy.

What you need to do at this point is to trick the computer into showing you another menu item that it normally does not display. See how the left side of Main Menu (alacarte) is basically your panel menu layout, and the right side is menu items and sub menus? Find the item called “Configuration Editor.” On my system is is under Applications -> System Tools. Why is it here instead of System -> Administration or System -> Preference? The answer is obvious. The people who develop Gnome are brilliant, but stoned.

Anyway, check the box next to “Configuration Editor” and close Main Menu/alacarte. Now, “Configuration Editor” is available as an option to you.

Now, go to Applications -> System Tools -> Configuration Editor

Or, you can just skip all that messing around and open a terminal and type in:


and that will open the Configuration Editor.

Maximize it.

Now, at this point you would think you’d click GNOME, but you don’t. Remember, the Gnome designers are stoned. Why would you put a Gnome configuration thingie under “GNOME”??

Where you DO go does make sense in some ways. Go to applications->panel->global.

Then find tooltips_enabled and uncheck it. Now the tooltips are turned off in the panel.

There is probably a way to do the above on the command line but I don’t recommend it. Nor am I exactly sure how to do it.

Tooltips will still exist in other applications. You may be able to disable them using a similar approach, and if you manage that, please let us know. Note that the Configuration Editor has a “find” function. Use it carefully!


  1. #1 Tony Sidaway
    April 6, 2009

    Thanks. Tooltips are devil’s farts. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried a drag and drop and some idiot tooltip appears over the target.

  2. #2 John Swindle
    April 6, 2009

    Dropping by here infrequently as I do, I suppose I assumed you to be a KDE user. Maybe because you seem common-sensical and Gnome has always seemed to me to be dumbed-down for the sake of new users. This tooltips quest serves as an example. I agree, the gui should arrive with tooltips off. But KDE has a simple way of turning them off. That simplicity has always extended throughout the KDE experience.

    That is, until KDE-4. In its new incarnation, KDE has outdumbed Gnome by far. Long-time users now have to search for basic controls that formerly were placed in easy-to-find, logical locations. Also, the major distributions gleefully embraced KDE-4 while it was/is not ready for use, abandoning the perfectly usable KDE-3.

    Lately, my view of Gnome has become much kinder.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    April 6, 2009

    Originally, I picked Gnome over KDE because the default styling of colors and fonts, etc. was simply better for me visually on Gnome than KDE. That matters to me for visual, not aesthetic or functional, reasons. Otherwise the two desktops are pretty much the same. (This is also why I don’t like Mac’s. I can’t see what is on the screen properly in the default modes.)

    I’d use Xfce if it did not have some bugs that bug me.

  4. #4 gruebait
    April 7, 2009

    You do know you can just type ‘gconf-editor’ for the Gnome configuration editor, right?

  5. #5 Toby Reme
    November 28, 2011

    Put a note at the start of this article: This technique does not work in Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10.
    Believe me, it doesn’t.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    November 28, 2011

    gruebait: Yes, as stated in the post.

    Toby: I’m not sure if that’s an issue with which version of Ubuntu you are using. More likely, it’s the version of Gnome. The version of Gnome installed with Ubuntu 11.bla is the newer, broken version. I’ve not used it beyond a brief test.