How do you use activities?

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.

Desktop usage

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:

Screenshot - Terminal on desktop

Terminal on 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.

Screenshot - System monitor

System Monitor

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:

Default Actvities

Default Activities

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:

Activity Switcher

Activity Switcher

(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


Still Waters

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.

Development activity

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




Study Activity

Study Activity

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


A Little Motivation


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).

Weather Activity

Weather Activity


Show the current weather forecast.



Lazy Days II


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.

Garbage Activity

Garbage Activity

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 ~/graphics/images




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:

Playground Activity

Playground Activity


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



What else?

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!


60 Responses to “How do you use activities?”

  1. MTGap Says:

    I like the fact that this isn’t just a tutorial on using activities, but rather what to do with them. I played around with them, but had some issues so I gave up.

    You’ve inspired me to try again. Thank you.

  2. SVGCrazy Says:

    I use activities with “different activity for each virtual desktop” option on. Then rename each virtual desktop so virtual desktop name = activity name. This way I can change activities as changing virtual desktops and even see all my activities by clicking Crtl+F8. I have 4 activities/virtual desktops – Main (with a folderview of my home directory) – Performance (with system monitor) – Translation (with translatoid) and one for garbage (folderview as desktop type pointing to ~Desktop – clean now)

    That it

  3. Mark Says:


    Nice explanation!
    Could you also explain how you get the folder view like in your “Garbage Activity” ?

    I can’t seem to get rid of the background in a folder view plasmoid..


  4. Fri13 Says:

    (I have a account to the forums but I still answer here as well)

    I would like to use different activities, but so far I have found so few good purposes to those. One bad side what causes I can not use activities. The bad side is that every activity seems to eat CPU time so much that netbook and even 4000+ X2 CPU on desktop slows down dramatically when having own activity on every 4 virtualdesktop (the possibility to have own wallpaper on every desktop).

    When just adding a normal folder view (the typical windows-styled) activity, it eats more and more CPu time. Adding a 4-6 those and you have almost 100% cycling for only the KDE4 plasma. != Good

    I understand that there are some plasmoids what needs updating even then when not shown. Like a timer widget (Damn I hope there would be function fort it to just count up, not just down. And easy way to set it to custom time with mouse scrolling top of it!), clocks and folderviews with nepomuk filtering etc. But those really slow down the system.

    And that many widgets can not be placed to screen side without a hack placing them oversized panel with autohide -function, what eats even more CPU and causes the plasma configs to get mad sometimes and plasma crash.

    The idea is just great and I hope they get the better way to handle the activities than trough cashew. And adding feature that every activity could have own kind panels (I can not get such now! KDE 4.3.2 in use).

    Almost everyday when writing a email, accessing to emails and photos etc. I hope thouse would get focus for plasma widgets.

    Having a arrived email notification just pop-upping from side of screen telling it’s subject and sender. Accessing easily from there to write a new email (mayby possible now, again with new panel!). Just getting a search bar from side of screen to type documents etc what to gets shown by nepomuk etc. To get a simple applications like the WWW browser widget, but for different functions. That would make it more better use than just a platform for different weather information widgets or clocks… really, there could be so many things what could make desktop more effective if we could just focus to use plasma as platform, not just a widget lab.

    I do not care about comic strips and weather infos, even that I understand some people do care.
    But I really like the innovations like the device notifier (what comes to 4.4!), powerdevil and kickoff styled. Even the folder view is just awesome! Then there are other nice things helping the normal usage like what you mentioned, the qalculate and translator. Even the plasmaboard is awesome if owning a touchscreen.

    The plasma has a great power to get us moved partically from many windows to applets what would us to do the things. I can almost dream every day how plasma is such technology what allows us to do the UI what Xerox wanted to make in first place on the Xerox Star. It was such UI that you did your job on it. you had tasks there, not applications and files. When watching that kind desktop, it has something what we have not managed to do. Even the MS’s copy of ribbon (what was invented and used on many other application before MS) was in the Xerox Star.

    We really should focus to get a task oriented desktop and not a file+application oriented desktop. That is one thing what Apple has got more correct when compared to windows.

  5. Fri13 Says:

    @Mark. I believe you need to set your plasma style as “Custom” and then set the folder view style to other one. Like the plasma style “Discrete” does not have a background for it. It just shows the top line and subject and then files (+ sliderbar if needed).

    That is one thing what I miss for activities. To have a custom style for every activity, not one shared. Is that too much asked?

    Think situation where your work activity is clean and plain. You keep lots of presentations so it is someway bretty. Then when you pop-up a personal activity on home/office room, you get nice shiny desktop. (Or Have I missed this and there is possibility have own plasma style for every activity?!)

  6. Hans Says:

    Hope it’ll work better for you this time, and don’t forget to share your setup later. 😉

    I haven’t tried that option yet, but it seems a bit limited to me. For example, when studying it’s not uncommon that I use more than one virtual desktop (e.g. one for data processing and one for writing report). On the other hand, I don’t need a virtual desktop for Weather.

    With that said, I can see why others might like that option.

    Try this:

    (You can find more animations here).

  7. Fri13 Says:

    Oh and forget to ask, what is missing from KDE4 version of basket? I do not remember anymore the KDE3 version, but I use a lot the KDE4 version now when i need fast and great notes application (this is one what I hope would be possible to do on plasma desktop with the notes widgets. Just add pictures, some text and add a todo’s etc easy way there.

  8. Hans Says:


    “When just adding a normal folder view (the typical windows-styled) activity, it eats more and more CPu time. Adding a 4-6 those and you have almost 100% cycling for only the KDE4 plasma. != Good”

    As I wrote in the comment above, I haven’t tried to link activities to virtual desktops. Do you have the same problem if you use activities the way I do?

    I’ve tried some plasmoids that used quite a lot of CPU on my (not so impressive) desktop computer, but when I switched activity it was all good again.

    “And easy way to set it to custom time with mouse scrolling top of it!”

    Huh? That’s the way I use the widget. 🙂
    Try to scroll over a number. Double click to start/stop it.

    “The idea is just great and I hope they get the better way to handle the activities than trough cashew.”

    I look forward to when the ZUI is as smooth as the KWin effects. Until then, the activity switcher works fine for me.

    “And adding feature that every activity could have own kind panels (I can not get such now! KDE 4.3.2 in use).”

    I think this is planned, although I don’t know for when.

    “But I really like the innovations like the device notifier”

    I like the device notifier as well – currently it’s in another hidden panel on my second screen. In 4.4 I’ll move it to the system tray.

    “Or Have I missed this and there is possibility have own plasma style for every activity?!”

    No it isn’t – in 4.4 the option to change style has been moved to System Settings (to make it clearer that it applies to all activities).

  9. dodo Says:

    Activities are a GREAT idea, but have been poorly implemented.

    – ZUI is ugly and weird and, as now, almost nothing has been done to fix it. There is no reason for such a metaphore because nobody uses a zoomed-out desktop. Why not simply show thumbs of activities in a much more elegant way and let users chose the activity with a single click? Why should I have panels and windows floating above reduced desktops and a chess-like background?
    – There is no reason for keeping panels “out of activities”, as panels are nothing more than plasmoid containers. Why should I have the same panels on each different activity?
    – Even windows should be releated to an activity because acts. are “working enviroment” and I should be able to switch between them keeping opened apps separeted. In this way there will be no reason to have that nasty feaure that mixes two completely different concepts (virtual desktops and activities). V.ds. are sublever: each activity could have virtual desktop, not the reverse! The only purpose of virtual desktops is reducing the amount of windows in the taskbar and on the desktop itself.

    The whole thing needs to be rethought in a more rational way.

  10. Hans Says:

    “Oh and forget to ask, what is missing from KDE4 version of basket?”

    To be honest, I haven’t tried it. I thought it still wasn’t ready for “normal” usage; I would be glad to be proven wrong.

    A BasKet plasmoid and containment (similar to Folder View plasmoid/”desktop type”) would be very nice. I think I already know what I would name such an activity – “clutter”. 😀

  11. Hans Says:

    The implementation of activities is still work in progress – I’m sure we’ll see more exciting stuff regarding this soon, such as integration with Nepomuk.

    As far as I know, activities be more than plasmoids and windows. If I switch to “Study”, Kopete will show my contacts from university, applications I use for my studies will show up in Favorites in Kickoff etc.

  12. Aaron Seigo Says:


    zooming sucks primarily because of performance issues (though almost exclusive to x11 *sigh*) of that view. if it was fast we could do transitions and it would be a rather different kind of ballgame.

    we decided at T3 to cut our losses, give up waiting on QGraphicsView on x11 to do performant zooming and go to something that presents activities in the same way we now do widgets in Add Widgets.

    it will likely be a lot more limited, however, such as no interaction with widgets when viewing the thumbnails. unfortunate.

    “There is no reason for such a metaphore because nobody uses a zoomed-out desktop.”

    nobody used activities before, either, so i don’t really grok this kind of reasoning. the idea behind zooming out is to get an overview and even be able to sort widgets between activities. this remains impractical due to the aforementioned performance issues.

    “There is no reason for keeping panels “out of activities””

    yes, actually, there is. in fact, there are two reasons. one is UI complexity and the other is “people don’t expect their panels to track their activity”, at least not in testing.

    as people are getting used to the idea of activities, some are inquiring about this as a possibility. perhaps in the future. we’d have to find an answer to the UI complexity issue, however (since the possibilities are many, given that it’s a N:N sync issue)

    “Even windows should be releated to an activity because acts. are “working enviroment” and I should be able to switch between them keeping opened apps separeted.”

    done incorrectly, this falls apart when you go beyond “throwing ideas around the room” and actually implementing it with real world use cases. consider your email client .. you probably want to use that no matter what your activity is.

    having done some field research on this, it turns out the “what i’m doing” and “which windows i want showing” is a complex interaction for many if not most users.

    add to this that associating windows means bringing the window manager into it. it just wasn’t good timing to do so until recently.

    so we have concentrated on getting activities in plasma settled in and have been working on getting activities (the concept) stored and coordinated via nepomuk. later we will instrument kwin to be able to respond to activity switches and adjust your windows accordingly.

    but it won’t be a 1:1 mapping of “this window was started while you were in $ACTIVITY, and now that you’ve switched it’s gone”

    “In this way there will be no reason to have that nasty feaure that mixes two completely different concepts (virtual desktops and activities). V.ds. are sublever: each activity could have virtual desktop, not the reverse!

    and yet this doesn’t work in practice for many people. for some (a minority, it seems) it does. but not most people.

    we’re researching way to augment / alter / replace v.d.s and make them work nicer with activities. but they are, as you say, different concepts and can not be welded at the hip without some serious flex available.

    “The whole thing needs to be rethought in a more rational way.”

    i’d suggest you go do some usability testing and then we can come back and talk about rational thinking or how things should be done.

  13. xyz Says:

    i currently don’t use any activity, just the main one which is a mass, with a lot of widgets, and windows always open.. i don’t use neither the dashboard…. i think i’ll have to start to try them out, it seems much better that way 🙂

  14. Daniel Says:

    Great article. I try to use activities myself, but because my laptop is mostly used for work, I really don’t have that much of a use for it.

    What I *would* like, though, is the flexibility that “different activity for each virtual desktop” gives me, wrt. being able to place different widgets on different desktops, and same for wallpapers, but unfortunately that feature is useless for me in real life because of the overhead of running 5 activities at the same time on my T61 with dual screen. It just isn’t usable because of the severe performance loss. (I can’t even maximize netbeans because I then run out of video memory!)

    aaaanyway – what I wanted to ask is this: how do you get windows 7 -styled taskbar icons? 🙂 I’ve wanted those since I saw the screenshot on pinheiro’s blog a good while ago, but so far, all my taskbar entries have text :/

  15. Daniel Says:

    Never mind re win7-style taskbar, I found a really good task manager widget that does it, “Smooth tasks”:

    Something for the kde devs to look into for 4.5 😉

  16. blubber Says:

    What I still do not entirely get is:

    Where is the difference between virtual desktops and activities?
    I know that currently only activities can give you different wallpapers and Plasmoids for each view, while virtual desktops all have the same image. Is that the main difference?

  17. snirp Says:

    @ blubber:
    Where is the difference between virtual desktops and activities?

    Please see @Hans November 17, 2009 at 2:28

    Still, I believe the distinction to be somewhat artificial. For a different desktop, the user would expect to be able to have a different wallpaper, plasmoids etc. At least I would.

    I would suggest to only have “activities” (or only “desktops”, semantics). If you want to see the same activity twice: just “clone” it (or “merge”, semantics).
    The tools for adding and switching desktops would remain, only they would operate on activities. In the existing “add desktop” dialog, one optional dropbox would appear after each activity: clone from this actitivty.

    Is there any merit in this concept? I know this is not the proper channel, but still.

  18. Hans Says:

    For now you can think that activities = desktop (widgets on the desktop, wallpaper etc.) and virtual desktops = windows. But as said, activities will eventually cover more than just Plasma.

  19. blubber Says:

    Thanks for the answers – I am looking forward to an integration of the activities with my applications.
    And in the long run I want to have the activities shared with my mobile devices – I am looking forward to *that* 😀

  20. FiNeX Says:

    I’d like to use activites too… if only them could work with a multimonitor (twinview) setup 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦

    Anyway I perfectly agree with Aaron when he says that being a new concept, nobody is used to it because it never existed before… even If I’ve already wrote somewhere that activities idea is a common way to work outside our PC. Just think to your office, a laboratory and a tv-room, you accomplish different tasks in different locations… like activities 🙂

  21. Hans Says:

    What’s wrong with activities and multiple monitors? I use TwinView myself.

    There were some issues with TwinView and the ZUI before, but they were fixed for me thanks to the responsive Plasma team.

  22. g Says:

    @aseigo: “yes, actually, there is. in fact, there are two reasons. one is UI complexity and the other is “people don’t expect their panels to track their activity”, at least not in testing.”

    I do 😉 Currently it is a pain in my ass that I am forced to use the same panels for all my activities and the same plasmoids in all those panels. I don’t use the “display dashboard” function because it darkens my screen too much and because sometimes the plasmoids are not visible/distinguishable well enough when there are windows below them (some patterns or lines from the windows below interfere visually with the plasmoid and on first sight it is not always clear what belongs to the plasmoid and what belongs to the window below; that also depends on the plasma theme that I use, the situation is particularly bad with Glassified). So I prefer to have a button in my panel which popups the plasmoid when I click on it. Since the purpose of different activities is to have different plasmoids, I would like to be able to have different plasmoids on my panel(s) (and even different panels) in different activities. Using the analogy of FiNeX, when you go from your office to your tv-room or your garden, you don’t always carry a suitcase with you, and if you do, you don’t always carry (for example) a calculator in that suitcase. Of course it makes sense that when an activity is newly created, the panels from the current activity are copied over by default, then the user can choose whether he wishes to change the panels or not.

  23. charon Says:

    May I ask how much RAM does it take your activities setup? I’m just curious 🙂

  24. Fri13 Says:


    “As I wrote in the comment above, I haven’t tried to link activities to virtual desktops. Do you have the same problem if you use activities the way I do?”

    It is on both. Was there just many activities on all virtual desktops or activity attached to virtualdesktop and few extras.

    “Huh? That’s the way I use the widget. 🙂
    Try to scroll over a number. Double click to start/stop it.”

    Ah I have forgotten that. I have once did that. But I missed more the “start counting” and it would count up. I like to use this activity a lot when cooking. It is easy when configured timers for specified foods/tee etc. You just click what you are doing because you do not anymore need to remember the correct time. But sometimes I need to place a timer to see how much time has passed. Currently there is no other way than using watch or other timer application.

    “No it isn’t – in 4.4 the option to change style has been moved to System Settings (to make it clearer that it applies to all activities).”

    That was good move when it was presented. Really liked it. But I really hope 4.5 or 4.6 would allow to have own plasma style for every activity. Like having a flurry style with pink wallpaper (and pink colorschema if apps are tied to activities!) for one situation and for one situation just a very simple and plain activity, while the presentation activity for windows users would be very bling bling 😉

    It really is hard to develop and especially for users to take in use the plasma because there has not be same kind technology. So…

  25. Mark Says:

    setting plasma style to custom is not possible since there is no “custom”…

    Now i bet you perfectly know i wasn’t asking the desktop mode to folder view! I meant the folder view plasmoids you used in that screenshot.

    I did say: “I can’t seem to get rid of the background in a folder view plasmoid..”… what where you thinking? ^_-

  26. Mike Says:

    I don’t use activities at all (except of course the default mandatory one). For me, there is no clear distinction between multiple desktops and activities. The widgets I use (weather, folder view) are all I need and they are always on the desktop. Setting up and configuring and dealing with multiple activities just gets into my way. I’d rather want to be productive.

  27. Hans Says:

    I usually don’t care about memory usage, because
    1. I don’t know how to measure it accurately.
    2. The memory is there to be used (high memory usage is not necessarily bad).

    Well, I’ll try to answer your question anyway. Right now ksysguard reports that plasma-desktop uses 112.5 MiB (out of 1.5 GiB) memory, 33.1 MiB shared memory. Uptime around 18 hours.

    A timer that counts up should be very easy to code, I can add it to my “Plasmoids I want to do” list. Do you want it as a separate plasmoid or in the Timer plasmoid?

    Oh, and don’t expect anything soon, unless someone else takes up the task.


    “Now i bet you perfectly know i wasn’t asking the desktop mode to folder view!”

    Nope I didn’t. You used “folder view” in singular, which made me assume that you meant the Folder View that shows ~/tmp.

    To remove the background:
    1. Get the “Naked” Plasma theme.
    2. System Settings -> Advanced -> Desktop Theme details. Set “Translucent Background” to “Naked Translucent Background” and click on Apply.
    3. Set your Plasma theme to “(Customized)”.

  28. Peter Says:

    After reading all blogs and comments about this, I still do not understand activities. Is there some official detailed end-user documentation in the web? it would also be nice to understand the difference to the classic virtual desktops (kde3/gnome/..), and if virtual desktops in kde4 are the same as in kde3.

  29. Mark Says:


    Thanx a lot for the details. I have it working now.
    Something worth adding (for when someone else wants to do the same) Download the “Naked” theme from kde-look and install it in: ~/.kde4/share/apps/desktoptheme (for the local user) or /usr/share/apps/desktoptheme for everyone.

    And one last question. When you hover over a folder from within a folder view PLASMOID (didn’t test the desktop mode) you get to see a small popup with the contents of the folder.. but that one still has the default background.. how can i get rid of that background as well?

  30. Mark Says:

    oh.. found that one.
    System Settings -> Advanced -> Desktop Theme Details -> Dialog Background and set it to the naked version. That looks a lot better on my desktop.

  31. TheBlackCat Says:

    I’ll say the same thing I said in the forum post: I would use activities, the problem is that they are horribly broken if you are using two monitors with different resolutions, making them pretty much unusable on such setups. If you try to use an activity on a desktop with a different resolution that it was made on, the plasmoid positions get totally screwed up. I tried using activities, but this is such a big problem I always ended up deleting all but two because since it was far too much of a hassle to be worthwhile. This is a real shame, since I would really like to use them. It is even worse for 4.4 because they now have the ability to use the mouse to quickly cycle through activities, which greatly improves activity switching but using that interface means it is impossible to avoid getting an activity for the wrong resolution on one of your monitors, leading to all sorts of problems. If the plasmoids would just scale properly for the monitor resolution everything would be fine, but there doesn’t appear to be any indication that this will happen, so anyone using two monitors with different resolution is out of luck when it comes to activities.

  32. Hans Says:

    The virtual desktop concept is the same in KDE4. except that you can’t have different wallpapers on each virtual desktop. Virtual desktops are used to group windows.

    Activities are currently similar to virtual desktops, but you use them for “desktops” instead of window groups. A “desktop” (actually containment) consist of a wallpaper (usually an image) and widgets placed on that desktop. It can be of different types, e.g. Plain Desktop or Folder View.

    Actually, it’s nothing more than a widget containing other widgets. Similar to the panel.

    For now, an activity is just such a desktop plus a name to identify it. If you switch activity, you switch the desktop which includes the widgets on it and the wallpaper.

    So far, do you follow me?

    There is also an option to link virtual desktops to activities. That means that if you switch to Virtual Desktop 1, you’ll also switch to Activity 1 etc.

    One thing is clear – we need more Plasma developers with multimonitor setups. Yes, I’m looking at you. 😉

  33. Lachu Says:

    It’s my current desktop.

    One activity to perform many task(present at screen) and the second one(blank) to read comic.

    The most funny think – I put on my desktop trashbin rotated by 180 degrees to remember my to empty trash by time to time.

  34. TheBlackCat Says:

    @ Hans: would a patch implementing such a feature be accepted?

  35. Hans Says:

    I’m not a Plasma developer so I can’t answer that question. I would suggest you to send a mail to the plasma-devel mailing list and discuss it there.

    Regarding activities and multiple monitors, I talked briefly with Chani about having the containments on both monitors to change when you change activity. I’m not sure if I would like this, but I do think it would make more sense when activities include more than the desktop.

    What do you think? It would solve your current problem with activities, no?

  36. Lycus HackerEmo Says:

    where to download the wallpaper of the girl with black wings and tiger white?

  37. Hans Says:

    @Lycus HackerEmo:
    I already posted a link to the tiger wallpaper in the blog post (See “Wallpaper” in the “Main Activity and Activity Switcher” section).

    The other wallpaper is “If you love something“.

  38. TheBlackCat Says:

    @ Hans: That would be a solution, and a lot better than the current implementation, but still far from what I would consider a “good” solution.

    Primarily, it still doesn’t solve the problem for laptops users who change monitors often (for instance from an external monitor to a projector and back). In that case the activity on the monitor that gets switched would still have to face changing resolution, resulting in plasmoid layouts that are completely messed up. Further, depending on how you set the layout of your screens (which one is on the left, which is on the right), you could often end up with the activity on the built-in screen getting replaced with the activity meant for the external screen, with not possible way to change it back (if they do what you said and change the two activities at the same time). I had that happen just yesterday when I tried to do a presentation, although I ended up being able to change it back because Chani’s solution hasn’t been implemented.

    There are three ways I can think of to solve this problem for all multi-monitor situations. One is to do what you said, and on top of that have completely separate activities for each screen layout. This is obviously an extremely inefficient approach.

    A considerably better approach in my opinion would be for each activity to be tied to a particular resolution, so that an activity can only appear on screens that have that the same resolution as the screen it was originally created on. So when you try to switch activities on a screen (either through the ZUI, activity bar, or KDE 4.4 mouse interaction) the only choices that will be visible are the ones appropriate for that screen’s resolution, all the other would be hidden. So if you zoom out, only the activities for the current screen’s resolution will actually be visible, the activity bar will only show those activities that are appropriate, and the mouse interaction system will only cycle through those activities that are appropriate. If you plug in a new monitor with a resolution plasma has never encountered before, it creates a new default activity.

    However, the solution that I think would be optimal would be for the plasmoids in an activity to automatically re-scale and re-position when they end up on a screen with a different resolution in order to keep the same relative size and position. That way any activity will automatically work on any resolution. It is a fairly simple calculation to do, new_position=old_position*new_length/old_length, with new_position and old_position being either the x position, y position, x length, or y length, and new_length and old_length being the length of the monitor in pixels along the same dimension.

    The last solution is really the only solution that would work well, particularly for laptop users. Activities will still work when you change monitors, you wouldn’t have to create a new activity or set of activities for every new monitor you connect, and you could switch activities between your two screens (something I have wanted to do on numerous occasions but simply can’t).

  39. Lycus HackerEmo Says:

    @Hans: Thanks

    saludos desde Mexico

  40. links for 2009-11-19 « Stand on the shoulders of giants Says:

    […] How do you use activities? « Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? (tags: activities plasmoid kde4 desktop) […]

  41. bman Says:

    nice wallpaper

  42. Martin Prechelmacher Says:

    Great post, thanks! Guess I’ll finally install KDE4 outside a vbox. But first I’ve got a few questions:

    1.) Where can I find this Activity Switcher Applet? It’s neither in my widget list nor can I find it in the addon installer. (Kubuntu)

    2.) From what I understand panels and activities are separated containments, right? So how did you manage to add two different panels to your main activity and the “tiger” activity? (screenshot 3)

    3.) What theme are you using?

    4.) Would you recommend openSuse over Kubuntu?

  43. Martin Prechelmacher Says:

    oh and 5.) what’s the story with “Default activities”? Does the “tiger” activity actually change and if yes: how do I do that?

  44. Hans Says:

    @Martin Prechelmacher:

    1. Try to install the kdeplasma-addons package.
    2. Correct. My main panel is on the right screen (where I only use the main activity) while the activity panel is on the left (where I switch activities).
    3. It’s Glassified.
    4. I’ve only tried Kubuntu of the two, but from what I’ve read openSUSE seems to provide a very nice KDE experience. I personally use Arch + KDEMod packages which I’m very happy with.
    5. Not sure what you mean. The activity on the left screen is either the default (tiger) or one of the other activities shown above, while the activity on the right is always the same (main).

  45. KDE Cashew loses Configure Plasma and Zoom Out - openSUSE Forums Says:

    […] features, sometimes I felt like Waldo – Where in the world is my Desktop 🙂 This link was helpful:How do you use activities I have a couple more questions (and the answer might just be goto Kde4 4.4). On "Zoom […]

  46. Rejoice! KDE 4.4 stable is released after months of testing - Open Source and Linux | TechEnclave Says:

    […] Re: Rejoice! KDE 4.4 stable is released after months of testing here is a nice guide explaining "Activities" in practical manner. Reading this guide has changed my views on activities. it gone from "unneeded" to Most Awesome Desktop feature! How do you use activities? Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? […]

  47. Stimpson J. Cat Says:

    Even after more than half year is still a great example, specially with the uses of the folder view (and now with the shelf)

    Still I can see the gnome-shell activity idea more… intuitive?

  48. KDE SC 4.5 – Desktop Activities Revealed | everyday linux how2s Says:

    […] they work and how they may integrate into a user’s desktop. There is also a slightly older article that provides particular individual examples of how desktop activities might be used. Unfortunately […]

  49. Ian Says:

    Hey! Great example on how to use activities. I have a few questions though. First of all – where’s the “Tool box” in all your activities except for Development activity? And second – is that a panel on the bottom edge of your main activity (the one with the anime girl)? If so – why it’s not on all other activities as well?

  50. Hans Says:

    Funny how this post gets popular again now that I’m writing an “update” to it – is it because of the 4.6 release? As I said to another person today, activities have changed a lot since I wrote this post, and I hope I can push out my new post today or tomorrow.


    Thanks for your kind words. Back then I used to remove the toolbox with the iHateTheCashew plasmoid. It stopped to work in a major release (4.4 I think), so I switched to Stealth Cashew. Unfortunately I haven’t got it to work on 4.6 yet.

    The answer to your second question is simply that I use two monitors – I used to always have the same activity on the right monitor, where I also have my panel. The reason you don’t see it is because all other screenshots show my left monitor (the content on my right monitor doesn’t change so it isn’t very interesting).

    In newer releases activities affect both monitors, but currently I still only use my left screen for widgets – the right screen just has the same background for all activities.

  51. Ian Says:

    Wow, that was swift! I’ve never used multiple monitors, but now I get it – basically, the panel is there in all activities, it’s just on the other monitor.
    Anyway, thanks! I’ll be looking forward to your new post about activities as this one is.. well, the best info on this topic on the net that I’ve managed to find!

  52. Activities – A change in workflow? « Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? Says:

    […] 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 being one of my most popular […]

  53. Atividades – Uma Mudança no modo de Trabalho? « Live Blue Says:

    […] tem causado confusão para muitas pessoas. Para espalhar alguma inspiração,  Hans escreveu um blog algum tempo atrás com exemplos de como ele utilizava atividades. E acabou que foi um dosposts mais […]

  54. nulowa Says:

    how’s that terminal-plasmoid you had on your screen once called? Is it still available for kde4?

  55. Hans Says:


    That’s actually not a plasmoid/widget, it’s just an Eterm window with some special properties. The nice rounded borders were drawn on the wallpaper (hackish!).

    I’m not sure if I still have the original script somewhere, but you can take a look at the following scripts to get inspiration:

  56. Paola Jones Says:

    Hey, I’m impressed with your website management and writing skills, makes me wish I had started younger. I was wondering if you could please help me with my blog, it’s in a similar niche. I’ll be willing to pay you of course, how about $300 for 10 articles that are as good as the ones here, does that sound fair? I really need them today or as soon as you get this. In fact, I’d like to give you constant work whenever you’re available so please sign up here: and I’ll send you work occasionnally as well as other juicy opportunities. I’ll hook you up. Thanks! (And yes, this is a real person and I really do need your help)

  57. KDE Zeitgeist GSOC Update | Says:

    […] First, there is the KDE activity manager. If you’re not aware of KDE activities, go read this post. Second, look at this […]

  58. KDE darbastalio aplinka – Veiklos Says:

    […] informacijos ir veiklų panaudojimo atvejų galima pažiūrėti paspaudus šią nuorodą. Žymos: KDE […]

  59. Ever Forward » Blog Archive » My Return to KDE – Better Documentation Needed Says:

    […] up visiting the KDE Userbase Wiki’s Plasma section to learn about activities. That led to Hans Chen’s blog where I got a better idea of what activities are and how to use […]

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