Another improvement in Activities is the ability to associate windows, files, and applications on the desktop or in the file manager with a particular Activity from their context menus. Folder Views -- collections of icons -- can be similarly associated with Activities. These additions give Activities a much-needed and long overdue parity with virtual workspaces, tying them into the rest of the KDE rather than keeping them partly separate, as in earlier releases.
This ability to associate desktop elements with Activities becomes especially interesting in light of another partly implemented feature -- encrypted Activities. With encrypted Activities, each Activity is locked when you switch away from it, or when the screensaver is activated, and all files associated with the Activity are shifted to an encrypted filesystem. The next time you switch to the Activity, you will be need to enter the password to access it.
Users will probably take a while to appreciate the possibilities of encrypted Activities. However, the feature is a natural extension of KDE's ability to encrypt individual directories and files, allowing users to protect their data at whatever level seems best. Moreover, when Activities are task-oriented, their configuration might become personal data, needing as much protection and privacy as data files.
However, be warned: encrypted Activities are not quite ready for general use. In particular, when Ivan Cukic, their developer, last wrote about them several months ago, he was still debating implementation issues such as whether Neopomuk, KDE's grand indexer, should index encrypted files or not. For this reason, users won't find encrypted Activities mentioned anywhere on the desktop interface where anyone can blunder into them and create problems.
Instead, those who wish to try them can follow the instructions on his blog, but they are largely on their own. For now, unfortunately, encrypted Activities are more a taste of things to come than a feature ready for general use.
KDE 4.9 is not a radical change in direction for the desktop environment. But it is an indication of how far the KDE 4 release series has come from the much-abused 4.0 release four and a half years ago that it generally doesn't need any sudden shifts.
If someone tries to tell you that KDE lacks functionality or user-convenience, all you need to do to prove them wrong is sit them down in front of the latest relief. For the most part, it represents fine-tuning of a system that is already working well.
The exception to this generality is Activities. The concept is new and has been slow to catch hold. Consequently, KDE is still struggling with the best way to integrate Activities into the conventional desktop (and, just possibly, still nervous about introducing changes too rapidly).
In the 4.9 release, KDE has not completely solved the problem. However, it has taken several important steps to integrate and improve Activities. In this respect, 4.9 feels like an intermediary release, laying the groundwork for future changes -- not just the addition desktop controls for encrypted Activities, but possibly the slow introduction of even more features over the next few releases.