Activities – A change in workflow?

Ever since the introduction of the activity concept in KDE Plasma Workspaces, it has caused confusion to many people. To spread some inspiration I wrote a blog post some time ago with examples of how I used activities. It ended up, much to my surprise, to be one of my most popular posts. This seemed to suggest that many still didn’t know what to use activities for.

Back then I often explained activities as ‘similar to virtual desktops, which are groups of windows, but instead activities are groups of desktop widgets’. However, in 4.6 they have evolved past this stage – now windows are also associated with activities. Therefore I wanted to write a blog post about the current state of activities, but someone beat me to it. A few days ago Jason Lim Yuen Hoe posted a very nice article on activities which brought up most of the points I planned to talk about. I found that the post reflected my own thoughts very well, and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend giving it a read.

In this post I’ll instead write about my personal vision of how I hope activities will change my workflow. It’s based on my own experience and what I’ve read about activities. Note that it doesn’t necessarily coincide with the vision of the Plasma team, but if there are any inconsistencies I would appreciate if a Plasma developer could point them out in a comment below.

After reading this I hope that you will get a better understanding of what activities are and start to think about how you can benefit from them. I will also try to answer the frequently asked question “Why should I use activities instead of virtual desktops?” and explain when I think you should use what.

Translations: Portuguese | Russian

How can activities be useful?

Let’s start from the very beginning and ask ourselves “Why do we need activities?”. Many are already familiar with the concept of virtual desktops and use them in a similar way to activities, which makes things more complicated. For that reason I will take the easy route here and assume that virtual desktops don’t exist. While reading you might start to think “Hey! That’s what virtual desktops are for!”, but try to ignore it – I’ll come back to them later.

So for the sake of understanding, let’s forget about virtual desktops for now. Poof. Gone.

Remember this guy? Well, you shouldn’t by now

The problem

Most of us use our computers for several different tasks, such as playing games, writing reports, creating graphics and web development. I’m sure you can think of more examples.

For some of the tasks you only need one application. If you want to play a game you start the game and play until you decide to do something else, at which point you close the game. It’s as simple as that.

In the case when one task equals one window it’s easy to keep things organized – when you want to switch task you just need to switch to the right window in the taskbar or start a new application. However, most of us have tasks that require more than one application, and then things start to get messy. In that case we want to use the taskbar to switch between windows for the current task, but it will also show windows that we aren’t interested in at the moment. An example of this is shown in the screenshot below. I started out by working on a report, but after a while I decided to take a break and code a bit on a spreadsheet application. This is only two tasks, but you can see how quickly the taskbar becomes a mess.

Screenshot showing a somewhat cluttered workspace (I’ve seen worse)

So why don’t we just close all unused windows? That’s indeed what many people do, but it requires you to manually close and open applications every time you want to switch task. In addition to that, you have to open the files you want to work with and sometimes rearrange the new windows. This makes switching between tasks time consuming and cumbersome.

A quick word about session management

Some applications support sessions, which is great. Sessions allow you to save a particular state of an application and restore it later. For example, I can open all my source code files in Kate and save it as a session. When I feel like coding again I just need to launch Kate, open my “coding” session and voilà – the application state is as I left it the last time, with all my files open.

KDE Workspaces have supported sessions for a long time, but it has always been on a very basic level. By default it restores the previous session (i.e. the state of your workspace last time you logged out), but you can also set it to restore a manually saved session. It is however limited to one session (Bug 62157), so you can’t have one session for coding, one for editing videos etc.

How activities can change the workflow

Traditionally we start applications and switch between them with the taskbar. As said, this works well if we only have one window per task.

For tasks that require more than one application, instead of starting each application individually we rather want to start a new “session”. One click and everything is set up – the applications are started with the right files open, windows are ordered in the way we prefer and everything belonging to other tasks get out of the way. Switching task should be a simple matter of switching “session”.

Feeling like coding for a bit? Just start the Coding “session”

Yes, what I’m describing is how I hope activities in KDE Plasma Workspaces will work. But what if the applications in your activity vary a lot – for example, you don’t know in beforehand which game you want to play in your Gaming activity. In this case we don’t want to restore any windows.

The thing is, the concept of activities is not limited to windows, it involves your whole workspace. When switching to your Gaming activity you might not want to restore any applications, but you can set your desktop to show shortcuts to your favorite games. Your application launcher will be populated with gaming-related software and your contact list will show your gaming buddies first etc.

How a gaming activity could look like with shortcuts to 13(!) games

In short, activities make it easier to resume your task and to focus on it. It’s not a way to organize windows – if you find yourself switching between two windows frequently, they probably belong to the same activity, or you’re not concentrating on your current task. Furthermore, with activities it’s effortless to switch between different tasks. You only need to set up an activity once, when you start it later the previous state will be restored and you can start working right away.

Activities versus virtual desktops

I hope I’ve convinced most of you why we need something like activities. The next question is then naturally “We already have virtual desktops, what additional benefits do activities provide?”.

Earlier I talked about the problem with how quickly your workspace gets cluttered when you do several tasks that require many windows. There have been different attempts to solve this, for example by grouping tasks in the taskbar. Virtual desktops allow you to organize your windows in a certain way and only show the group of windows you’re interested in. At first it might sound a lot like what activities do, but I personally think that they are fundamentally different.

First of all, I see virtual desktops as a way to organize windows and nothing more. It’s a nice feature when you have many windows to work with. Activities, on the other hand, is more like a session manager. Not only can you save and restore states of your workspace (this is already possible to some degree with virtual desktops and the current session manager in KDE Workspaces), you can also stop activities if you find that they take too much computer resources.

Stop resource-intensive activities that you don’t need at the moment

I’ve never quite managed to use virtual desktops to divide my tasks, although I know that some people do it. To continue with my example of writing a report and coding – sure, I could move all windows related to coding to a separate virtual desktop. But what about my music player? I want to listen to music when I’m working on my report and when I’m coding, so which virtual desktop does it belong to? I usually find myself putting it on a separate virtual desktop.

With activities you can associate a particular window with more than one activity. You should have everything you need for a certain task in an activity, which eliminates the need to switch back and forth between activities (unless you really want to switch task). In the example with the music player I would associate it with both my coding and my report writing activity.

There are other limitations of virtual desktops that make it clear that they were created for a different reason than activities. In earlier versions of Plasma Workspaces you had a fixed number of virtual desktops that you could change, but in recent versions it is possible to add and remove virtual desktops “on the fly”. What happens is that the number of virtual desktops is increased or decreased by 1. This may not sound that bad, until you realize that it always removes the last virtual desktop. It’s probably possible to hack around this, but as far as I understand it’s not that trivial.

Finally, as I said before, activities are not only about windows. In 4.6 only your desktop and windows are affected by switching activity, but in future versions more applications will be activity aware. Such applications can be customized to prioritize showing information that are relevant for your current activity. Here are some ideas of what it could be:

  • Favorites in the application launcher
  • Entries in the Places sidebar in Dolphin and open/save dialogs
  • File search results (showing relevant files/folders first)
  • Bookmarks in your web browser
  • Contact list in Kopete
  • News feeds in Akregator

Are activities unintuitive?

Some people claim that activities are unintuitive and hard to understand. I agree to a certain degree since activities are under heavy development, but I believe that the concept (at least the one described here) is generally easier to understand than virtual desktops.

I’ve seen many new Linux users (using “Linux” as a very broad term here) point and ask what those two/four squares in the panel are. Someone will answer that those are virtual desktops, which further confuses the new users. What are virtual desktops? Even after an explanation most users I’ve observed don’t seem to understand what to use virtual desktops for.

Desktop effects such as the famous cube and desktop grid help a lot, since they make it easier to visualize what virtual desktops are and what happens to your windows when you switch desktop.

If someone asks me what an activity is, I want to be able to have the following conversation:

Me: “So, what activity are you doing at the moment?”
Guy: “I’m analyzing data for a study.”
Me: “So, this is your ‘Analyzing data’ activity. [Explains how to rename an activity.] When you want to do something else, don’t close anything – you can leave it as it is. Just switch to a new activity.”
Guy: “So now I’ve created a new activity and started to write on my report. Is this my ‘Writing report’ activity?”
Me: “That’s right.”
Guy: “Geez, I’m out of ideas on what to write, maybe I should do some more analyzing. Now where did I put that file…”
Me: “No need to search, just switch back to your analyzing data activity!”
Guy: :D

So are virtual desktops redundant now?

I don’t think so. There will be people who want to organize the windows within a single activity, and this is what virtual desktops should be used for.

I’m on the same track as Jason (the author of the article I linked to in the beginning) here – if you use virtual desktops to separate windows for different tasks, you might want to switch to activities in the future with only one virtual desktop. However, if you want to group certain windows in a single activity, you can use virtual desktops. Finally, if you only do one task on your computer one activity might be enough, and virtual desktops can be used to organize your windows.

There is an option to associate activities with virtual desktops (it’s still called “Different widgets for each desktop” in 4.6). Personally I think it just makes things more confusing by merging the two concepts – the only benefit I see now is that it makes it easier to switch activity and move windows between activities by using methods intended for controlling virtual desktops. As activities mature further I hope that this option becomes unnecessary.

Closing words

In this post I’ve talked about my interpretation of activities and how I wish to use them. I want to remind you that what I’ve written here is not official, it’s my personal vision. It is, however, based on the current state of activities and what I’ve read about them, so hopefully the description here isn’t too far from what will become reality.

I’m still experimenting with activities, but I think they need to mature a bit before I can completely change to the new workflow described here. Having said that, I like what I see in 4.6 and I’m excited to discover the state of activities in 4.7.

I sometimes hear people complain that it’s too hard to change activity, so in my next article I plan to write about the methods I know to switch between them. Meanwhile, have fun with your activities, I hope this post has been useful to you.

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63 Responses to “Activities – A change in workflow?”

  1. Hans Says:

    Some of you might have noticed that I’ve changed my naming scheme for activities since my last post. I’m still unsure about how to name my activities – hopefully Plasma Workspaces will provide some example activities by default in the future, so that you don’t have to think about such issues yourself.

  2. How do you use activities? « Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? Says:

    [...] Activities – A change in workflow? [...]

  3. Divan Santana Says:

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Eric Mesa Says:

    After reading your article I finally understand a way in which I might use activities. Last weekend I messed around with virtual desktops and got it to have different widgets on different desktops. Which I now understand is essentially a hybrid activities/virtual desktops.

    Since I have certain programs I always launch into each virtual desktop, I see where activities would be really useful for me.

    But right now it looks a lot more tedious to jump around than ctrl-alt and arrow key to get around my virtual desktops.

    As far as what to do with music on virtual desktops? Just use the “now playing” widget to control Amarok no matter what desktop you’re on.

  5. illissius Says:

    I’ve suggested before that perhaps now that we have activities that virtual desktops should be disabled by default, and I still think this would be a good idea. Either one can be reasonably intuitive on its own, and either one is useful, but once people are forced to confront both of them at the same time same you’re just left with 90% of people going “What?” and 5% writing long blog posts about it for the 10-20% who read them. They are orthogonal to a point, but as laid out in your post, the presence of activities reduces virtual desktops to relatively niche usefulness; they do work together and it should be possible to use them together, and advanced users who want to do that can go find it in the settings.

    Put another way, it’s relatively easy to understand what activities do or what virtual desktops do. It’s a lot harder to understand what the difference between them is, and why you have both, and what things you’re supposed to use one of them for and for what things the other. Most people shouldn’t have to.

  6. Eric Mesa Says:

    @illissius: Great point. I’ve often found myself asking on identica what the point of activities was vs virtual desktops. Until now I never knew.

  7. Luca Says:

    With the release of 4.6 I started myself to use activities in this way (I think before this release it wasn’t possible) and I understood that I always need them! They increase productivity and decrease headache for multiple windows syndrome.
    A nice thing would be the possibility to associate activity to windows in systemsettings just like we do with virtual desktops.
    Another thing i’d like to see (maybe in 4.7) is the possibility to have a different number of virtual desktops per activity: if VDs have a different meaning why we must have the same number of VDs for every activity?

  8. MoRpHeUz Says:

    Great article. thanks for sharing this :)

  9. anonBrian Says:

    +1 about activities having different numbers of VDs.

    Also I’d really like to see panels become activity specific as panels are more important to me then the desktop widgets. I started to look into it but I just don’t have the time right now.

  10. Jan Says:

    Very nice explanation :)
    I think a few more screenshots showing each activity would help, but still, I think it’s a very good explanation about what activities are, and how to benefit from them, for people unfamiliar with the concept (those who don’t read planetKDE, etc.)

    Thanks!

  11. Zephyr Says:

    Well done for a great article!
    I honestly did not consider using activities instead of per virtual desktopcontainments before reading this.

    IMHO a very important advantage of virtual desktops right now is the “Visualizisation” part through Desktop Effects like Desktop Grid.

    Activities would be truely awesome if there was a nice effect for visualizing and managing the Window/application associations for them appart from semantic desktop apps.

  12. puller Says:

    Great article, thanks.
    I am a long time gnome user planning to switch to KDE because it has a lot of smart features such this one, which would be very useful to me, as I usually do a lot of activities at the same time and virtual desktops are not a scalable solution to help me tidy things up (I’ve always dreamt such a feature).
    The reason why I am writing is that I want to let you (KDE guys) know that KDE is great for usability, it’s innovative and “courageous”, but it needs a lot (A LOT) of publicity and advertising! Great features like this one (Activities) should not be unnoticed, so articles like this are very very important to spread the word, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

  13. Thomas Says:

    Very interesting article.
    I’m an old linux user (remember those days when you could put windows halfway between virtual desktops in fvwm ?) and I’m using virtual desktops intensively. 4 at home and 8 at work. Indeed I often group my windows in workspaces (xinerama powers), but I’m constantly switching from mail/news to work, to website/documentation reading, to personnal stuff…

    I’ve given a test to activities, but I think they lack some features I found useful…

    I’d love to be able to have some plasmoids stick over all the activities (ie: my children’s photos, the desktop folder).
    There also should be a way to tell windows (or icons in the tray) to be present in all activities (music player, im).
    There is also a problem with apps that don’t support session management (kmail, vim in konsole…)

    And of course, as you mentioned it, there is currently no easy way to switch between activities… Maybe a menu next to the virtual desktop changer ?

  14. Plaristote Says:

    Motivated by your post I tried the activity system now that it’s more reliable.
    And indeed, it’s a great concept ! I don’t understand everything right now (like how can you make an app stick to an activity or all of them) but it’s actually some serious hot stuff !
    I used it to keep my home and office applications apart : now when I come home from work, I’ll just be two click aways from where I was last night ^^ ! This is AWESOME !

  15. Grego Says:

    Probably they should think about merging it with taskbar as some kind of smarter task zones/work groups, it would simplify things and expose activities.
    Also this thing really needs to be context and content aware, optional auto-assigment to default groups would be nice.

  16. frank Says:

    I too use VDs for grouping windows — 1=Internet/Games, 2=Work/Dev, 3=Media/Music, 4=Communication. But if you need many windows for the development activity, VDs are still a great asset. One desktop could be coding/documentation, the other debugging/file management or program resources like icon editing.

    However, if activities were to replace VTs by default, think of people who use their system as it is delivered to/installed for them, and who never think of exploring what their system actually can do. I know a couple of such people, they see and use the applets in their panel, but would never get the idea that there are a plethora of more applets available and that they can add them to their panel (or on the desktop in the case of plasmoids).

    It’s in the nature of activities that they are harder to explain and understand than virtual desktops, because it goes beyond what a 2D screen can display. I would explain it (as an extension to this article): see, this is my turnable desktop cube, whose sides are each one virtual desktop, I can arrange all my windows around this cube. Now if I switch to another activity, I put this cube with all its windows aside and take this 3-sided prism instead, whose sides are now my VDs.

    Such as the cube offers strong visual support for the VD paradigm, activities would need a similar device.

  17. k Says:

    Hmm. I’m still trying hard to find a use for them. Most of the day, I just have three “windows” open at any one time: emacs, Konsole and Firefox. And alt-tab works great for that, no matter if I’m Browsing, Coding, Emailing, or whatever. I mean, it’s not like I have more than three windows open anyway…

    I have one other Activity type I guess: watching movies. But sometimes when I’m doing that I want to pause and look something up on the web, and then it’s quicker to alt-tab than to first go to the activity switcher, then switch activity, then select Firefox. One click versus at least three (depending on how quick you are at switching activities, I haven’t bothered with setting up a keybinding for that).

    I tried setting up a different activity just so I could have one desktop with a movie folderview and one with nothing, but then I noticed that if I start Firefox in the “nothing” activity and switch over to watch a movie, alt-tab will no longer show Firefox! So any application that I want to alt-tab to I first have to set to be on all activities. All in all, it seems like you have to spend a lot of time “organising” things, and figuring out some scheme that works, instead of just, well, using the computer…

    I guess people who use programs with lots of windows and such will find it useful though.

  18. Hans Says:

    Wow, a lot of nice comments in such a short time! Activities sure is a hot topic. :D
    Thanks everyone who’s left feedback, this is what makes me motivated to write articles such as this one.

    @Eric Mesa:

    “As far as what to do with music on virtual desktops? Just use the “now playing” widget to control Amarok no matter what desktop you’re on.”

    I like to control my music player with the keyboard, but sometimes I want to change around in the playlist, and that’s when I need to use the music player window.

    @illissius:

    I agree with you that it’s confusing to have both activities and virtual desktops, most casual users would probably be fine with just activities. I guess that one of the reasons that we have both is that activities still are maturing, while most users already are used to virtual desktops. (“OMG they removed virtual desktops in KDE4!”)

    My hope is that activities will take a more prominent role in future releases, but I’m not sure what’s the best way to deal with virtual desktops.

    @Luca:

    “A nice thing would be the possibility to associate activity to windows in systemsettings just like we do with virtual desktops.”

    That would be nice yes, but I don’t think it’s that necessary actually. Say that you want Konversation in your “KDE” activity (you know, to talk to all the awesome KDE people ;)). You switch to your KDE activity and start Konversation. After that you don’t need to launch Konversation anymore – it’ll always be there, associated with KDE.

    At least that’s how I envision how activities should work – minimal configuration, you just set everything up the way you usually do it, and the next time you start that activity everything just works.

    “Another thing i’d like to see (maybe in 4.7) is the possibility to have a different number of virtual desktops per activity: if VDs have a different meaning why we must have the same number of VDs for every activity?”

    Another “nice to have” feature and I think it would fit the concept well. However, I would guess that it’s far from straightforward to actually implement it. A step in the right direction would be to fix Bug 265015 first.

    @anonBrian:

    I knew someone would mention different set of panels on each activity :). The last time I saw it being mentioned it seemed like the Plasma developers would accept such a feature, as long as someone is willing to work on it. Hope you or someone else will find the time!

    @Jan:

    I had full screenshots instead of just the activity bar at first, but thought that the rest didn’t contribute with anything other than being distracting. When I start to seriously use activities I plan to do another “How do you use activities?” post though – wieee, screenshots!

    @Zephyr:

    “IMHO a very important advantage of virtual desktops right now is the “Visualizisation” part through Desktop Effects like Desktop Grid.”

    I actually consider that a disadvantage (at least at the moment, I’m sure someone can convince me otherwise). You don’t need to visualize what activities “are”. Everything you need to know is that you do this task in activity A, another task in activity B etc.

    Do you need to visualize what happens when you logout and login with a different user? No, because you know what happened – you logged in with a different user, so it’s not surprising that the desktop background is different and the content in your home directory has changed. Well, I want a similar effect with activities.

    @puller:

    That’s very nice to hear! If you have any question regarding KDE software you’re welcome to ask in the KDE Forums where I’m also active.

    @Thomas:

    “I’d love to be able to have some plasmoids stick over all the activities (ie: my children’s photos, the desktop folder).”

    Unfortunately I’m quite convinced that we won’t see this anytime soon. There could be some workarounds though, such as opening a plasmoid as a separate window and set it to all activities.

    “There also should be a way to tell windows (or icons in the tray) to be present in all activities (music player, im).”

    This is already the case for icons in the system tray, as far as I know. As for windows: right click on the window titlebar -> Activities -> All Activities.

    “There is also a problem with apps that don’t support session management (kmail, vim in konsole…)”

    Yes it seems like some applications aren’t stopped/restored properly when you stop and resume activities in 4.6, I would be really impressed if it was fixed (is it even possible for some applications?).

    “And of course, as you mentioned it, there is currently no easy way to switch between activities… Maybe a menu next to the virtual desktop changer ?”

    Hey I never said that! ;) I said that some people complained about it, I guess you would be interested to read my next post.

    @Plaristote:

    “And indeed, it’s a great concept ! I don’t understand everything right now (like how can you make an app stick to an activity or all of them) but it’s actually some serious hot stuff !”

    You associate windows with activities by right-clicking on the window titlebar -> Activities -> check/uncheck activities or select “All Activities”.

    “I used it to keep my home and office applications apart : now when I come home from work, I’ll just be two click aways from where I was last night ^^ ! This is AWESOME !”

    That’s exactly the idea! Note however that what I wrote here is partly vision, there are still some hiccups in 4.6.

  19. Alessandro Sivieri Says:

    Very interesting article, but I think I need a 101 guide on activities. I mean, what can I do today with activities?
    I absolutely agree with the final vision (or what you hope about them), and I have at least two different activities, one for “home” and one for “university”, since 4.4 (or even before, I wrote a blog post in planetkde two years ago or something like that).

    At that time, the only things really changing were the plasmoids on the desktop, while in 4.6 you can associate different windows with different activities, but what happens when I “stop” an activity? Those windows are closed, are somewhat paused, are left opened in the current one? In other words, in the current state what is the point of stopping an activity, except for pausing plasmoids? What do you mean with “restoring” a window?

    And I must say that I think activities and virtual desktops are separated things, because the first ones are used for separating tasks, while the second ones for avoiding too many windows in the same desktop (I prefer to use a shortcut one or two times for changing desktop, than using alt+tab many times for finding the right window between 4 or 5 of them)…

  20. Jan Says:

    > @Jan:
    > I had full screenshots instead of just the activity bar at
    > first, but thought that the rest didn’t contribute with
    > anything other than being distracting. When I start to
    > seriously use activities I plan to do another “How do you
    > use activities?” post though – wieee, screenshots!

    Great then. I just meant that maybe, with a little more direct-to-the-eye content, this blog post could be a definitive eye-opener for those people who don’t understand the point of activities. More precisely, for those who don’t like reading much :P
    (Wall of text!! :D)

  21. Hans Says:

    @Grego:

    I actually heard something about improving the task manager, but I think the plan was to merge it with the system tray.

    @frank:

    “It’s in the nature of activities that they are harder to explain and understand than virtual desktops, because it goes beyond what a 2D screen can display. “

    In my post I argued that activities actually are easier to explain (you don’t need to explain how they work; only how to use them), and I don’t think there’s a need to visualize activities. Also see my reply to Zephyr.

    @k:

    If you want to continue experimenting with activities, here’s a tip: Super+Tab (Super often being the Windows key). You would still need to use Alt+Tab to switch to Firefox in your “blank” activity though. Maybe you want to Firefox in both your activities?

    @Alessandro Sivieri:

    I’ve only begun playing with activities in 4.6, so unfortunately I can’t answer your question. It would be very nice if it was documented properly on UserBase (I think it would need a subpage, Plasma/Activities). Any contributors?

    @Jan:

    Since you put it in such a nice way, I’ll see if I can squeeze in a screenshot or two. :D

  22. Jonas Says:

    “Unfortunately I’m quite convinced that we won’t see this anytime soon. There could be some workarounds though, such as opening a plasmoid as a separate window and set it to all activities.”

    I would say that functionality is partially there already. As an example, let’s consider a brand-new installation of 4.6.0 with only one activity defined (let’s call it main).

    Let’s further say you want the picture frame with a specific picture shown no matter which activity you are on. Okay, add that widget and configure it to your liking. When you want a new activity, select “Clone current activity” from the activity manager.

    Granted, that widget will only show on all activities if you start off with the main one. The benefit is that if you decide there is one activity (or several) where it would be a distraction, it is easy to remove it from just that/those one(s).

    From a UI perspective, it should only be a matter of putting a “Available in which activities?” tab in the preferences of widgets (just like the “Keyboard shortcut” and “Share” tabs already there). Internally, it might be (and probably is) a lot more complex than that though.

  23. Marc Deop Says:

    I like your vim colorscheme… would you mind sharing it?

    Thanks!

  24. Fri13 Says:

    “I’ve never quite managed to use virtual desktops to divide my tasks, although I know that some people do it. To continue with my example of writing a report and coding – sure, I could move all windows related to coding to a separate virtual desktop. But what about my music player? I want to listen to music when I’m working on my report and when I’m coding, so which virtual desktop does it belong to? I usually find myself putting it on a separate virtual desktop.”

    User would place it to all virtual desktops, just on own desktop or switch to desktop where it is. Most people use playlists so they do not need to actually manage the music play, they can just enjoy about it. There are shortcuts, widgets and other things what allows user to manage music from anywhere.

    “With activities you can associate a particular window with more than one activity. You should have everything you need for a certain task in an activity, which eliminates the need to switch back and forth between activities (unless you really want to switch task). In the example with the music player I would associate it with both my coding and my report writing activity.”

    That is something what people wanted to KWin to handle, but it were never implented. There are some windowmanagers what allows that, but not so smartly.
    The problem is, that the music player does not follow to newly created virtual desktops, but neither does it work as well on activities.

    Fix: Add function to KWin to allow window exist on wanted virtual desktops. Problem is, activities would not be needed.

    “What happens is that the number of virtual desktops is increased or decreased by 1. This may not sound that bad, until you realize that it always removes the last virtual desktop. It’s probably possible to hack around this, but as far as I understand it’s not that trivial.”

    Then fix it. That was what I was expecting, that user can choose wanted virtual desktop and close it, while keeping others. Just like people can now re-organize windows in virtual desktops by dragging whole group to another or just single window. Very easy way to manage tasks.

    “Finally, as I said before, activities are not only about windows. In 4.6 only your desktop and windows are affected by switching activity, but in future versions more applications will be activity aware. Such applications can be customized to prioritize showing information that are relevant for your current activity. Here are some ideas of what it could be:”

    It would be very nice, but in the end, it is against usability as well. When the commong things change continuesly, user loose the intuitive way and features what computers offers, but the user becomes under control of the computer. The user can not just use the computer but needs to manage it and remember more things.

    People are multitasking persons, very rare person actually does only one task at a time and especially does it so that they switch activcity just for quick thing for other task. Like you are playing games and someone asks to check specific website. Is it expected to user to switch activity to get a browser open where is a wanted bookmark? Or to switch activity to get quick access to web browser? Or switch activity to get access to browser at all?
    Hmm… on what activity the wanted browser window was open? On what activity was the wanted bookmark? Now the user does not just need to remember what browser was used to find bookmark, now user needs to remember the activity what was used to store the bookmark. And what if that activity is shutdown and computer resources are low? Well, hope that there are enough resources to open the whole activity for that.
    User stored bookmark in multimedia activity, why it would or would not show up on gaming activity? What if the bookmark was great multimedia video about played game?

    “Some people claim that activities are unintuitive and hard to understand. I agree to a certain degree since activities are under heavy development, but I believe that the concept (at least the one described here) is generally easier to understand than virtual desktops.”

    I disagree, as virtual desktops are visual. Activities are not. The difference is like on earth and pluto. User can see the earth anyway, on day or night, fog or rain. But they can not see pluto than in books, 3D models or some distant satelite photos.
    To actually see all the virtual desktops, user only need to activate the grid desktop. Every single window (task/activity, how you want to call them) is shown. User can easily organize them, search trough them and select them.
    On activities, you never know where is your wanted window, was it on what activity and on what virtual desktop? Is the activity running what you are searching?

    To make it simple. The virtual desktops functionality is easy as desktop. You see windows and you can just click to get them to pop-up in front of you. Activities are like command line with Ctrl+Z + fg/bg commands + screen. You can have multiple programs running but you do not see more than just the one in front of you. To switch to other, user needs to know the job number, the screen name or order and so on. And even more, with activities shutdown/restore functionality, it is like having multiple screens running in different servers, some are offline and some are online. And you need to check first what is their state.

    “I’ve seen many new Linux users (using “Linux” as a very broad term here) point and ask what those two/four squares in the panel are. Someone will answer that those are virtual desktops, which further confuses the new users. What are virtual desktops? Even after an explanation most users I’ve observed don’t seem to understand what to use virtual desktops for.”

    I have explained virtual desktops for people who are over 60-70 years old and they have used computers only few hours in their life and now with their new computers. They get the idea of virtual desktops totally once. Thanks to Desktop Grid visual effect. The cube is harder to understand but some people get it as well. Without visual effect, virtual desktops idea is hard to understand.
    And activities are exactly the same thing, not even people (some of my mates who all study IT) who use KDE SC/GNOME get the idea of activities. For them the virtual desktops is like a blessing because it feeds all their demands for even dozens of different tasks at one computer.

    (I just noticed you mentioned the visual effects as well).

    “I don’t think so. There will be people who want to organize the windows within a single activity, and this is what virtual desktops should be used for.”

    I just see that is very narrowed way to see things. Like most computer people (who anyway would use activities) are using sinle window at time and close every other after the use.
    Like people should not do multitasking switching from application to another. That is the easy thing in virtual desktops, you get all different tasks (report writing, data analyzing, multimedia, games) to different virtual desktops, switching between them is easy and none comes a way of the user.

    “There is an option to associate activities with virtual desktops (it’s still called “Different widgets for each desktop” in 4.6). Personally I think it just makes things more confusing by merging the two concepts – the only benefit I see now is that it makes it easier to switch activity and move windows between activities by using methods intended for controlling virtual desktops. As activities mature further I hope that this option becomes unnecessary.”

    That was a thing what broke the camels back on many KDE fans… They switched to GNOME or are planning to do so. They want different widgets to different virtual desktops, without hasling activities. They want different panels to different virtual desktops, without them being different but shared between all. No different menu entries but same onces. They want to be in control of their desktop, not to work with computer to manage it.
    More and more when listening friends about new KDE SC updates and the problems what they get from changes, comes the feeling that activities is just answer searching a problem to solve.

    “I sometimes hear people complain that it’s too hard to change activity, so in my next article I plan to write about the methods I know to switch between them. Meanwhile, have fun with your activities, I hope this post has been useful to you.”

    Yes, it is too hard. It really should be as easy as switching virtual desktop (from panel where seeing all, from shortcut like Ctrl+F1-F4/X, like mouse to desktop corner to mouse wheel on desktop, moving mouse over desktop edge etc etc.
    Maybe get the zoom UI back, with reformed idea like the Firefox groupboxes.
    As long virtual desktops does 90% of the job with 10% of the hassling what activities has, I can not see the activities has brighter future.

    On me, virtual desktops lives all the times. I group different applications to same activity. Like having multiple window of dolphin open, for different tasks, on same or different virtual desktop. I open applications/new windows when needed for quick things and close them, without need to change even virtual desktop. For me the computer is just pure tool (what has multiple tools, filemanagement, videoplayer, video converter, music player, text editor etc) what is used when needed.

    But, I can still find needs for activities at very limited situations. Like when you are working on two different locations and all what you do is tied to that location. Like home and office. And you do not mix those places task or so on. So then it could be that when you come home, the activity gets changed by WiFi SSID. When you are at office, you get only work virtual desktops. But you could never open home activity at work and vice versa. It would be more like two different user accounts on the computer. And even then, two user accounts would be better as you would have better security for both of them.

  25. Hans Says:

    @Jonas:

    “I would say that functionality is partially there already. [...] When you want a new activity, select “Clone current activity” from the activity manager.”

    The problem is that you clone the widget, it’s not the same widget. For some (e.g. Folder View) it doesn’t matter, but for e.g. a Notes widget the content wouldn’t be “synced” across the activities.

    GUI-wise, I was thinking that it could be an option under “Share” to make a widget “global”, i.e. you can add it to any activity. There should also be a way to add “shared” widgets from the widget explorer.

    @Marc Deop:

    It’s Wombat, but since I use normal Vim in a terminal I use wombat256. Make sure you have 256 colors support in your terminal.

    @Fri13:

    Heh, I was waiting for your comment. I’m tired from all the writing at the moment, so I’ll try to read your comment properly tomorrow and get back to you.

  26. Bugsbane Says:

    I do widely varying tasks, but largely just using 2 applications: kate and a web browser. Both use many tabs, each of which is for one task or another.

    How would I use activities to simplify this without spending loads of time trying to move tabs between windows which should generally be exclusive to one activity. This just seems as though it would take more of my time than flipping between tabs. Interesting idea: activities seem to be aiming at a similar idea to FireFox’s tab groups in TabCandy (or whatever they’re calling it now). The ability to assign FF tab groups to activities seems like it would be an intuitive mix. The problem though seems to be the same as TabCandy. I love the look of both when I play with them, but constantly stopping to assign what window / app / tab should be assigned to which activity/tab group just seems like it would take more time than it would save. Maybe if particular files / domains always opened in a specific activity… I dunno.

  27. Jonas Says:

    @Hans,

    “The problem is that you clone the widget, it’s not the same widget. For some (e.g. Folder View) it doesn’t matter, but for e.g. a Notes widget the content wouldn’t be “synced” across the activities.”

    True. I didn’t think of that, but in some cases that may even be useful. Anyway, a way of making a widget “global” or “sticky” would circumvent that problem no matter how it is tackled GUI-wise,

  28. buddy Says:

    I’ve always been a fan of activities since kde 4.0 but actually more for the concept than the implementation:
    now that ZUI is gone things are getting much much better but there are 2 things that makes the current design fundamentally BROKEN:

    1. “Different widgets for each desktop” is MAD: I still really can’t understand why this option has been added. Please REMOVE IT.

    2. Panels and dashboard are designed as widget containers. Since activities exist to let you organize your widgets, there’s no reason to have same panels for all activities. Please make Panels something related to each activity.

  29. Hannes Says:

    I still don’t get it, the whole thing seems totally not useable.

    1) it compeltely fails in combination with KWin-Tiling, the latter seems to tile between all activities on the same desktop (two windows each only use up half of the screen, although they are in different activities). This alone makes it unusable since tiling is crucial for efficient workspace organisation.

    2) If Virtual Desktops are independent of Activities, why is the number the same everywhere?
    Maybe I need three virtual desktops for coding (one with IDE/Editor, one with a browser to look up stuff, one with a terminal), but want an “idle-activity” with only two virtual desktops (one for a browser, one for only showing applets).

    3) KWin-Scripting and the “window specific rules” seem to not be aware of activites. Maybe in one activity I want all new windows to be placed on desktop2, while I dont want this restriction on another.

    Altogether I am totally pro-optimzing workflow and thinking about new stuff, but I think the whole activity thing is really not thought through, especially since it seems incompatible with all former features for better window control.
    -> most users who think about work-flow use virtual desktops, tiling and/or window specific rules right now; if activities don’t wiork with these and don’t provide viable alternatives, these users aren’t going to switch!

  30. Tweets that mention Activities – A change in workflow? « Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bobby, O. Morata. O. Morata said: More about !kde activities http://is.gd/XQPmgb Activities – A change in workflow? [...]

  31. Mark Says:

    The problem I see is that I never get to do just one thing at a time, and what’s the point of a “doing everything” activity. Maybe I’m not normal in this regard but I usually have to switch between activities too often for it to be useful. Using virtual desktops I can just zoom out to the desktop grid, see the status of things and change as needed. and when I do get to spend solid time doing something, like coding I have a VD dedicated to the task so I’m not distracted by other things anyway.

  32. k Says:

    OOOOH Oh oh IDEA! Constructive one, even!

    The taskbar, by default it shows just stuff that’s in your current activity. This is confusing to the new activity-user since suddenly a window will be “lost” in some other activity. There should be an area there which shows “windows from other activities”, only Grouped, or smaller; less prominent than windows from the current activity. Thus you get the good thing about activities (Focus on your current task) while still having the option to multi-task without having to first sort through which activity that window was in. (Based on the phenomenon that people, unintuitively perhaps, think “oh I’ve got that photo somewhere in my digikam albums”, not “oh, , that’s a member of a Creative Stuff Activity, I should do a top-down semantic search from there for programs related to “.)

    And why not let the Alt-Tab show windows from other activities, only at the very end, and smaller? So perhaps you have to tab four times instead of two if a window is in another activity, but you’re more likely to switch to windows in your current activity so the total frequency of tab-presses per session is likely to go down, which must be the ultimate goal for any usability expert.

  33. arwa Says:

    Hello,

    I am one of those who wonder “We already have virtual desktops, what additional benefits do activities provide?”. And I still wonder.

    The point is, that I am using VD already the way you are using activities for. I have configured 18 VDs in a 3×8 grid. The first desktop contains the mailer and other project independent apps, the second is for private things like music player, etc., and the third is a real temporary VD for short interruptions with urgent, but smaller projects/problems that can be closed after some minutes again. If I want to change the music playlist I change to the 2nd VD. With the shortcut Ctrl+Tab I can switch back to the VD that I am coming from. To simply pause/unpause the music I use another key shortcut.

    The other VD rows are used one for each project that my main work is interrupted with. So I build up a stack of projects that I am working on, closing them again, when I am finished. If they become more than 7 projects I have a “stack overflow”, yes, but not only on VDs. I am personally at the end of accepting new projects. If I really need more, I now can add 3 more VDs in recent KDE versions. So what do I need activities for?

    There are some problems with activities that I still see:

    1) The name is much to abstract/theoretical. I did not understand what the developers mean with this word in the context of VDs. It took me a quite long time to get the point. I think it should be better called “Desktop Style” or “Desktop Setup” or something. You can configure the DesktopStyle regarding your personal activities, but you can use it for other reasons, too.

    2) Activities add another dimension to the whole desktop. If people really have problems in understanding VDs, how should they understand VD together with activities? It is far too complex IMHO. And I do not believe that people who don’t understand VDs will understand the concept of activities.

    3) For me it sounds that KDE is reinventing the wheel. All the things that exist to handle VDs have to be developed again for activities, too. For having the overview about activities you need an activity-pager and an activity-grid-effect. The taskbar and window list plasmoid and window switcher (etc.) have to be configurable if they should display windows only from this screen or all, this desktop or all, this activity or all, and combinations.

    4) Activities are incompatible with other non-KDE tools. For example xprop will tell you the current VD, but will it know about activities?
    xprop -root | grep ^_NET_CURRENT_DESKTOP.CARDINAL

    Activities IMHO will be only usable without getting confused, if you only have one single desktop without any VD. With this you will use activities the way as you could have used VDs before. People who did not use VD yet… will they use activities now?

    So IMHO it would have been much better if the functionality of VDs was extended by these things that you want to be able to be done with activities. The main difference that I see is, that you are able to add and remove not only the last activity but any. But if this is possible with activities (with all the windows switched on/off) why couldn’t this be done with VDs? Internally 1 activity could be defined for 1 VD. The user should not see this activity, it should only be available internally. If you now want to remove VD #3 (out of 8) you “simply” have to remove the activity #3, change the relation of the higher activities #n to the VD #n-1 and remove the last VD.

    As I do not need to use activities, I do not really have a problem with these. Maybe some day I will see the advantage and use them, too. Currently I only hope that VDs will not suffer from the activity concept.

    Thank you,
    arwa

  34. The User Says:

    Hi!

    I’m unsure if it would be usefull for me, I’m currently using virtual desktops extensively using KWin-rules. Desktop 1: programming, desktop 2: music, desktop 3: programming 2, dektop 4: chat, desktop 5: webbrowsing, desktop 6: Kontact. It is quite easy to switch between the tasks using ctrl+f1-f6, I’m doing this quite often (respond to messages in chat, checking emails, checking something in Konqueror, I do not always want to concentrate on one activity), and inside a virtual desktop I can use alt+tab. One pasma-configuration seems to be enough for me. Well, I’ll try activities, maybe it is nice, but I’m unsure if it can make my usage more efficient. Any suggestions maybe?

  35. blackpanther1975 Says:

    I agree that activities are the most awesome thing that happened in KDE and in Linux and I also agree that virtual desktops(workspaces) have to remain as such, each with the unique ability to have its own set of wallpapers, globes, slideshows, widgets etc.
    This combination is so rich and meaningful that only unimaginable persons wish for the abolition of virtual desktops in favor of activities.

    I have demonstrated the Linux KDE in a lot of windows users and feel awe for what they saw.
    Many of them switched to Linux and KDE after this.

    Now my suggestion for activities and for better cooperation between them and between activities and virtual desktops:

    1)A screen edge for activities that will show the all as a grid.

    2)A new effect activity cube.

    3)A hypercube that will show at the same time activities+virtual desktop +a multi-grid that does the same.

    4)New activities: a)writing b)searching c)programming d)watching

    5)Activity panel default on the main panel using icons

    6)New options and features like a)record activity b)save activity c)sending (!) activity d)merge(!!) activity

    I self study QT and Python so I hope i can help in some of these
    Greetings!

  36. Tomaz Canabrava Says:

    Translated to Portuguese on liveblue site =)

  37. Chad Martin Says:

    It seems to me that the concept of virtual desktops and activities need to be merged. I use 4 VDs today: web browsing/general use, weather, marble/space, and pictures. When I want to do something like video encoding I switch to the weather VD and open the apps I need. It would be nice to have an activity for encoding instead and I like the sessions concept, but the problem for me today is that opening an activity seems to replace the current VD.

    How about taking a page from MeeGo zone autocreation and have an activity include a VD such that aVD is opened when I start an activity and closed when I stop it? That way an activity is a VD with an associated group of widgets and apps. For me that would reduce the confusion by making activities more visual to manage and eliminate the sense of something being lost.

    Chad

    http://linuxappfinder.com

    http://feedsanywhere.com

  38. Hans Says:

    @Fri13:

    “Fix: Add function to KWin to allow window exist on wanted virtual desktops. Problem is, activities would not be needed.
    [...]
    Then fix it. That was what I was expecting, that user can choose wanted virtual desktop and close it, while keeping others. Just like people can now re-organize windows in virtual desktops by dragging whole group to another or just single window. Very easy way to manage tasks.”

    Have you looked at the code? I haven’t, so I can only trust the developers’ words: “perhaps you could hack around this by shuffling all windows from higher desktops over one and renaming all those desktops and then removing the last one. it’d be icky, though, maybe slow, and probably prone to glitches.” (Source)

    “It would be very nice, but in the end, it is against usability as well. When the commong things change continuesly, user loose the intuitive way and features what computers offers, but the user becomes under control of the computer. The user can not just use the computer but needs to manage it and remember more things.”

    Not sure how I should answer this unless you elaborate a bit further. What do you mean with “commong[sic] things”? Any sources supporting what you say?

    “People are multitasking persons, very rare person actually does only one task at a time and especially does it so that they switch activcity just for quick thing for other task.”

    “It has been shown multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time, if both tasks require selecting and producing action” (Wikipedia). (Yeah Wikipedia isn’t a good source, but it has a good summary and there are references to published studies.)

    But you’ve got a point, many people like to multitask/switch back and forth between tasks. Here’s an idea: if you like to check your Facebook every 10 minute (just as an example), make your web browser show up on all activities. If you like to switch between many tasks I don’t see how activities would be a disadvantage other than that switching activity is a bit clumsy right now – I hope this will be improved in the future.

    “Like you are playing games and someone asks to check specific website. Is it expected to user to switch activity to get a browser open where is a wanted bookmark? Or to switch activity to get quick access to web browser? Or switch activity to get access to browser at all?”

    You can launch a web browser in your current activity, or if you have a “Surfing” activity you can switch to it. I never said that activities would hide bookmarks. “Such applications can be customized to prioritize showing information that are relevant for your current activity”. I don’t know how it will actually work though – it depends on the application, I guess.

    “On activities, you never know where is your wanted window, was it on what activity and on what virtual desktop? Is the activity running what you are searching?”

    I think the problem partly is that we’re used to think of windows. How about this – don’t think about what window you want, think about what you want to do. Photo editing? Sure, switch to that activity. Oh, there’s digiKam. Missing an application? No problem, just launch it – you need it for photo editing, after all.

    I haven’t tried this workflow personally so I don’t know how well it would work in practice, but it’s a thought.

    @Bugsbane:

    “I do widely varying tasks, but largely just using 2 applications: kate and a web browser. Both use many tabs, each of which is for one task or another.

    How would I use activities to simplify this without spending loads of time trying to move tabs between windows which should generally be exclusive to one activity.”

    So what kind of tasks do you do? You can have the two applications open on every activity (different windows), so when you switch to activity A the web browser and Kate will show URLs/files that are relevant for A and so on. Or, if your current way is fine, maybe activities aren’t for you.

    @buddy:

    “1. “Different widgets for each desktop” is MAD: I still really can’t understand why this option has been added. Please REMOVE IT.

    I’m pretty sure most Plasma developers didn’t want it either, but it was added due to popular demand from users. Now that the developers have listened to the users and added it they get users like us who complain about it. :D

    “2. Panels and dashboard are designed as widget containers. Since activities exist to let you organize your widgets, there’s no reason to have same panels for all activities. Please make Panels something related to each activity.”

    The panel idea seems to be quite popular. I don’t get why you mention the dashboard though.

    @Hannes:

    Your complaints are valid for the current implementation. What about the vision I described don’t you like?

    @Mark:

    So, the real problem that it’s not as easy to switch activity as virtual desktop at the moment?

    @k:

    I can relate to the feeling that you need to know where everything is and which applications you have running, but after writing this post I’ve started to wonder. See my reply to Fri13 above.

    @arwa:

    “So what do I need activities for?”

    Talking partly about future stuff now:
    – You can stop activities.
    – You can customize your workspace depending on activity.
    – You can customize some applications depending on activity.
    – You can have the same window on more than one activity (while still not on all activities).
    – You can more easily add and remove activities.

    Maybe it would have been better to extend virtual desktops instead of introducing a new concept – I’m not a developer so I don’t know how feasible it would be. Here are some thoughts from an actual developer: http://chani.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/the-limits-of-virtual-desktops/

    Also see the “contextual” and “spatial” stuff Jason talks about under “What about Virtual Desktops?” in the article I linked to in the main post.

    @The User:

    Well that’s pretty much how I would use activities when they’ve matured (not sure about music and chat being separate activities though), but then KWin rules would hopefully be unnecessary – when you restore an activity everything would be restored as you left it (that’s how I envision it at least). For you I guess activities would be pretty much like virtual desktops with some added benefits, see my reply to arwa.

    @blackpanther1975:

    Your suggestions will most likely fall on deaf ears since I’m not a developer. If you want to make them more visible I would suggest posting them to KDE Brainstorm (first do a quick check that they haven’t been posted already).

    @Tomaz Canabrava:

    Awesome, thanks!

  39. KDE Plasma Activities « Namnlösa bloggen Says:

    [...] Hittade ett bra blogginlägg om ”KDE Plasma Activities” – Activities – A change in workflow? « Who Says Penguins Can’t Fly?. [...]

  40. Abe Says:

    Good explanation of Activities and very informative article. But, although you made the effort to separate Activities from Virtual Desktops (VD/VScreens/VPages) at the beginning, which was the smart thing to do to ease the clarification, you went back to comparing/differentiating them and consequently brought the confusion back. Ignoring VD/VS/VP is the best way to explain Activities.

    Although Activities and VD/VS/VP have resemblance in functionality, they are totally different things. While VS associates windows/views/widgets/ etc. visually, Activities creates a tool to group, manage and control tasks and functions of a project. Part of this grouping is the association of tasks with Virtual Desktops. So Virtual Desktops are sub-sets resource and integral parts of Activities and consequently shouldn’t be removed. I personally wouldn’t call Activities Work Flow since Work Flows is a process not a management and control tool.

  41. KDE aktiviteetit « Ruutiukko Says:

    [...] ja aloin hieman perehtyä ominaisuuteen. Aloin etsiä lisätietoja ja lukaisin pari blogia 1 ja 2 (molemmat englanniksi) joissa esiteltiin aktiviteettien ideaa. Vaikka tällainen vanha kalkkis [...]

  42. damipereira Says:

    I’ve been thinking about it and, I believe that most a user does is in one of these categories
    1-Common task: a specific task you always do on the computer, for example organizing photos, coding, reading feeds, etc.
    2-Interruptions:A lot of times happens that you need tto do something completely unrelated to what you’re doing, but you don’t want to lose track of what you were doing.
    3-Background tasks: This is where chat, music and maybe social networks fit in.
    For 1, activities fit very well, but not for 2 and 3.
    For 2 the best would be have a big button that says go to interruptions activity, and a big one that says return to previous activity.
    For 3 something that would be awesome is something like dashboard but with windows, so that you could have chat,music,and maybe a browser accesible without losing focus on the real task. This may be hard technically, someone with more knowledge should know.

    I thought activities would cost too much effort, but I imagine them being built in a lot of time, a bit at a time.
    First the user should add the activity, then another day add a useful widget, then open some other app he also needs, etc.

    About what fri13 said about usability, I’m afraid he might be right, maybe people won’t like all widgets changing and moving every time they change activities. I’m no sure what to do about this.
    1 more thing, about the visual representation of activities, a grid would be perfect, files for activities columns for VD.

  43. Hans Says:

    Update February 6, 2011: Added an example of how a gaming activity could look like.

  44. Hans Says:

    @Chad Martin:

    I see activities has “higher in hierarchy” than virtual desktops. So an activity contains virtual desktops, a virtual desktop contains windows, a window can contain tabs etc. Yes, it gets confusing when there are so many grouping options, and I voiced this concern when we got tabbed windows.

    @Abe:

    The reason I brought back virtual desktops is that otherwise people would feel unsatisfied – “hey, what he’s describing is exactly what virtual desktops already do!”.

    I don’t call activities workflows, this article is about my vision of how activities could change me workflow.

    @damipereira:

    Here’s a suggestion for 3: you could have the windows for “background tasks” on all activities and then put them on a separate virtual desktop (in each activity). You can also exclude them from activities where you don’t want them, for example if you need to concentrate when writing a report.

    I agree with your thought that activities are built “a bit at a time”. Optimally it shouldn’t require much more set up than what you normally do (e.g. launching applications, opening files and ordering windows), with the extra bonus that it actually gets saved. Then if you want to get the extra goodies, such as a custom wallpaper and widgets etc., it would require a bit of configuration.

  45. Saurav Shrestha Says:

    Thanks for this sweet explanation. I previously thought activities would be useful only for Netbooks (since its enabled ‘visibly’ in the netbook config and not desktop config).

    Now I’m going to try using 2 screens with 2 virtual desktops with 2 initial activities. INCEPTION :)

    cheers.

  46. Juan Valencia Says:

    How did you changed the icons of the activities in this release of KDE?, unless I am missing something there used to be an “Activities” area in Desktop Settings, but it is not there anymore.

  47. Hans Says:

    @Juan Valencia:

    It’s handled in the activity manager in 4.6: Desktop toolbox -> Activities -> click on the spanner icon on an activity -> click on the icon -> choose an icon.
    As far as I know you need to have Nepomuk enabled.

  48. littlenoodles Says:

    Seems to me that Virtual Desktops are not that useful anymore. Basically, the point of VD’s is to unclutter your desktop workspace. They don’t really give you more usable real estate (that’s what’s ‘virtual’ about them). But these days, if you really need the extra screen real estate, you can get it through multiple monitor support. As far as clutter goes, VD’s don’t do that much. Just how distracting are background windows anyway.

    Activities seem like an improvement, since you can use them to unclutter the taskbar. That’s actually useful. But activities and VD’s seem to step all over one another’s concept space – talk about clutter.

    So, maybe KDE should just replace VD’s with activities and have the default setup work just like VD’s did. Kind of like distros that have used the ‘trivial’ plasma setup of emulating the ‘icons on the desktop’ paradigm. It’d be easier for the newbies without giving up the power for advanced users. And then try to come up with a GUI to actually harness all that power in a useable way – not an easy task, mind you.

  49. Bruno Kindt Says:

    At work i have one task, “web development”. I’m using 7 (or more) applications (kate,dolphin,2x konsole,debugging proxy,firefox and IE on virtualbox ) grouped on 3 VD’s (and one more for thunderbird).
    If a task requires more then 4 open applications Activities don’t look like a good solution.

    I use a lot features to manage my open applications: VD’s, shaded windows, grouped windows, window switching and window rules, most of them available with a single hotkey. Activities look more related to managing applets then anything else. Won’t be using them in the near future. I just hope the KDE developers don’t see virtual desktops as redundant.

    In your “somewhat cluttered workspace” screenshot remove the bottom panel and you have a nice clean workspace.

    Good read, thanks

  50. Hans Says:

    Update February 15, 2011: Added links to Portuguese and Russian translations.

  51. It’s A Binary World 2.0 » When KDE 4′s Activities Finally Made Sense Says:

    [...] I thought that was that. Then I came across this article on activities on identica and it completely changed the way I thought about activities. I’ll summarize here, but if you [...]

  52. Dread Knight Says:

    Pretty cool stuff! :-)

  53. Bráulio Says:

    You should take a look at the Mylyn plugin for Eclipse. It uses the same idea of activities: context switch.

    People who don’t like Activities simply don’t need them. They want to do work, chat, games, browsing, etc all at the same time. They aren’t doing complicated things and they have lots of RAM.

  54. k Says:

    Bráulio: aren’t doing complicated things?? That sounds rather condescending… I at least feel the things I do in Konsole/vim and emacs are fairly complicated ;)

    Especially since I’m at the point where emacs for me has replaced all of Amarok, Kopete, Konversation, Kmail, Choqok, Dolphin, desktop widgets… and even with all those features it takes less than 13m RAM. I’m not saying this is for everyone, but people have different ways of working, and Activities are not the end-all solution to managing different contexts.

  55. Bráulio Says:

    @k

    Sorry about that :/

    Complicated in the sense that you need a complicated setup of windows, need or want some separation from other things or each one takes up a lot of RAM. If you can use one program for everything, of course you don’t need activities. I won’t need them most of the time.

    And I didn’t say it was an end-all solution. The context change is probably very slow if things aren’t already on RAM, so you won’t have Activities like “email”, “IM”, “browsing”, “music”. You will have more complicated things like “wedding planning”, “quantum mechanics 101″, “My Super Great Project” or “learning French”. These tasks are not done at the same time and some concentration is needed, in my opinion. Of course, it only makes sense to create them if they are composed by lots of files and windows that you open every time you’re doing them.

  56. Michael Says:

    Well, I was very curious about activities and now I am not. My first contact with them was in KDE 4.3, when I didn’t understand them at all and left them alone. I read about activities having improved much in 4.5, so I read an FAQ, two HOWTOs and two extremely long blogposts and thought about how they could be useful to me. The answer is clearly: They can’t.

    As noted by many, the whole idea of always having one single, well-defined, isolated task at hand is much too simplistic, and is in fact what VDs have helped people evolve from. For years, people have adopted and adjusted to VDs, tweaking the concept to make their working at whatever they do with their computer efficient and pleasant. The concept has matured along with its users, the last big improvement being instant 2D/3D visualization of all the desktops and their windows with the ability to switch.

    And now along comes Activities, which is basically the same thought, only from a slightly different angle and implemented much worse, because it seeks to replace in a short time what has grown over many years. In a ditch to explain what all the fuss is about, the little differences between how VDs are used today and how Activities are supposed to be used are vastly exaggerated. Thorough and careful tweaking and expading of the powers of VDs could have achieved the same thing.

    So far, no harm done, people like me could just ignore activites and use VDs as always. But already there is talk of deactivating or discouraging the use of VDs in favor of Activities. I urgently call upon the decision-makers—although from my experience, such calls are ridiculed and ignored—to not burn all our beds yet just because some folks are working on sleeping on the ceiling.

  57. Josh Says:

    I’ve been using activities for a few weeks now. For me, key advantages are having an icon associated with each activity, having widgets and wallpapers specific to the activity, and being able to start/stop the activity. Disadvantages are (as mentioned above) lack of visual effects when transitioning between activities and generally higher resource consumption (to be expected).

    Features I think would greatly enhance the usefulness of activities:
    1) pervasive application-level resume support a la Mac OS X Lion. Stopping an activity would then be able to actually terminate the applications running under it, which would then be restarted and resumed to their prior state when the activity is restarted. This would provide huge memory consumption savings when an activity is not being used.
    2) pervasive application-level profiles. This already exists in apps such as kate and eclipse, where different profiles can be switched between to separate different contexts. With activities, a profile could be associated with a particular activity. Then, whenever the application is launched, it will load the profile that corresponds to the currently running activity. Optional, of course, since some apps you won’t want to do this with.
    3) automatic stopping of activities that have been idle for too long, and automatic resuming of those activities when they are next requested.
    4) Given #3, applications should be able to tell the desktop when they are NOT in a state of being able to stop and resume gracefully, such as in the middle of a long-running computation.
    5) Customizable “geometry” of activities (can be positioned relative to each other as desired — up, down, right, left, etc.)
    6) Visual effects cues such as currently existing in virtual desktops, which I believe help the brain to switch contexts by associating them with virtual locations.

    Thanks for the post!

  58. Jasper Says:

    For me, activities help me separate personal activity from work activity.

    From time to time my wife would crash into my computer, thanks to activities she won’t accidentally mess with my work activity.

  59. ussher Says:

    Not liking activities at all.

    How can I remove them? I like virtual desktops because it extends the monitor screenspace. For someone who has zero interest in putting widgets all over the desktop activities just get in the way.

    Definitely should be an option to be turned on if requested, not the default.

  60. Hans Says:

    1. Have you even read the post? Then you should know that activities include more than just desktop widgets.

    2. If you don’t like them, just don’t use them. If you have the activity icon in your panel, unlock your widgets, right click on the icon -> Remove this Activities.

  61. ussher Says:

    @Hans Yes, i read the post. Still don’t like activities. Had an incident the other day where one screen was on one stuck on one activity and the other screen was stuck on another activity and moving windows from one screen to the other caused it to disappear as if there was a black layer on top that the window was getting put behind.

    In a different setup, i have all 4 monitors set using xinerama and in this setup each x screen needs to have one of those “(cashew) New Activity” on _every_ screen. I want one tool bar and no “(cashew) New Activity” icon on any screens.

    Activities are getting in the way for me.
    (I have managed to get rid of them by copying an old plasma-desktop-appletsrc setup into my ~/.kde/share/config/plasma-desktop-appletsrc file.)

  62. Wer nutzt die KDE-Aktivitäten überhaupt? | picomol.de Says:

    [...] hanschen.org (en) vergleicht der Autor Aktivitäten mit den unter Linux allseits bekannten virtuellen Desktops [...]

  63. Davide Targa Says:

    Great post, thank you man!


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