Note: Activities in KDE Plasma Workspaces have changed a lot since this post was written. For example, activities now affect all screens and not only one screen as it is described here. In 4.5 it became possible to associate windows with activities, and this became the default behavior in 4.6.
As a response to this, I wrote a post about my vision of how activities can change the way I use my computer: Activities – A change in workflow?
A recent topic in the KDE Community Forums asks KDE users how they use activities in Plasma, or more specifically “Do you use activities or plasmoids extensively?”. It seems like many users don’t see why you would want plasmoids on your desktop (“they’re covered by the windows most of the time anyway”) or how activities can be helpful. So I thought I would share my setup here and in the forum – maybe it’ll give you some inspiration.
I’ve never been a heavy desktop user (with “desktop” I mean the area behind windows where you usually have a wallpaper). Back when I was a Windows user, I used the desktop as a dumping place – in the end it was filled with all kind of files, shortcuts and folders. From my observations, this seems pretty common in the Windows world.
In Linux, my home directory is neatly structured and I can access most files easily. I’ve always liked to have a clean desktop free from icon clutter. Sometimes I put something on the desktop, just for the looks. For example, in the KDE3 days I had a terminal sitting on my desktop:
I never used it though. But it looks pretty, don’t you think?
Later when I changed my setup I replaced the terminal with a slight more useful system monitor (Torsmo, which is similar to Conky). Also note that I have two monitors now – twice the space to spread out my stuff. But the desktops are still clean from icons.
This was still in KDE3, and the desktop remained useless most of the time. I would probably be fine with just a window manager.
Let’s see how KDE4 changed this.
Main Activity and Activity Switcher
You’ll probably feel fairly familiar with the following screenshot, showing my current setup on KDE 4.3.3:
The picture shows my two default activities. The right one is my Main activity – it never changes. Not much to see here.
The left one is not much more interesting – instead of a system monitor you see a simple Notes plasmoid, useful when I need to jot something down. I cleaned it up recently, if you wonder why it looks so empty.
Now, there’s something else on the left screen, something you can’t see. No, not a bkodama – it’s actually a hidden panel with an Activity Switcher plasmoid. When shown, it looks like this:
(From now on I’ll only post screenshots from my left screen, since the right activity doesn’t change).
I’ll go through all activities in it, but first a short summary of the current activity:
A clean desktop. If I find a replacement for the KDE3 version of BasKet, I might even remove the Notes widget.
- Notes – Place to jot things down, TODO list
I think of activities as nouns. It’s not “Play Go“, the activity is simply “Go”. (Yes, “Study” is a noun…)
Anyway. We need more screenshots.
Those who’ve visited my blog earlier probably know that I’m interested in programming. When I’m in the mood for some C++ and Qt hacking, I switch to the “Development” activity.
If you follow The Road to KDE Devland, I have good news for you. Instead of two applications, as promised, I’ll show you three in Step 5. The screenshot should give you a hint what to expect. Two of the applications are pretty much “finished”. When the third one is in a workable state I’ll write the next step.
Give quick access to files I work with when coding.
- Folder View – Only displays relevant files, moc files etc. are filtered out
What, icons on the desktop again? Yes, with Folder View it finally makes sense. The number of Folder Views in this activity depends on the current course, but usually I have 2 to 4. There is also a Qalculator and another Notes plasmoid to remind me what I should do.
If you feel like you’ve seen something like this before, it could be because I have a similar activity on my netbook.
Set the mood for studying. Again, important files in one place.
- Folder View – Shows relevant files for labs, lecture notes etc.
- Qalculate – Simple but fairly powerful calculator
- Notes – TODO list
Often I’m interested in the weather forecast – not only because I study meteorology, but mainly because I want to know if there’s a risk that I’ll get wet when I go outside. With a weather activity, my favorite forecasts are only two clicks away at most (more about this later).
Show the current weather forecast.
- Scripted Image + yr.no – Hourly forecast from yr.no
- SMHI – 5-day forecast from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute
- LCD Weather Station – Information about the current weather from UK Met Office
This one was mostly put together for fun, but I’ve found it quite useful. Originally it was a “Playground” activity; I’ll come back to that.
I talked about using the desktop as a dump place before. Now I have a
~/tmp directory for that purpose. However, with Plasma, I can choose to show it on my desktop as well. But that’s not all – I also added some plasmoids to make it easier to organize my files.
A place to dump files and later organize them.
- Folder View – Shows folders where I might want to move some files. I can also use the Folder View at the bottom to navigate around in my home directory
- Trashcan – For files I don’t want anymore
- Magic Folder – Can you spot this one? It’s the suspicious-looking white box on the ground. When files are dropped on it, it moves the files based on some user-defined rules. For example, all image files go to
As the name implies, this activity is purely for fun. Here I try out new plasmoids and other Plasma features. Right now it looks like this:
Mess around with Plasma, new plasmoids, wallpapers etc.
- Timer – 3… 2… 1…
- Daisy – The dock with icons. Personally I’m not a fan of docks, but it doesn’t hurt to try it out
- Luna – A nice-looking moon. Would be even nicer without the widget background
- Comic Strip – Who doesn’t like xkcd on their desktop?
- Photo of the Day – Once again, just some eye candy. Hm, I wonder why I kept the frame on this one
When my left desktop is covered by windows, as it often is, I use Dashboard to access the widgets. Since I mostly use my mouse when interacting with Plasma, I’ve set up a mouse shortcut to toggle the Dashboard. Right now I experiment with active screen edges, something I haven’t used before.
For most tasks I prefer the keyboard over the mouse – I hope Plasma will be more keyboard-friendly in the future, for example when it comes to focus handling. But well, that’s not what this post is about.
The desktop is still not very important for my workflow, but some of the plasmoids are quite handy at times. Accessing the widgets on the desktop is not a problem – it’s like raising a window, but toggling the Dashboard is often easier.
How do you use activities? If you have a forum account, it would be best if you could answer in the topic I linked to earlier – that way more users can read about it. And don’t forget screenshots!