Moreover, the pop-up panel for adding widgets has also been partly redesigned, with all the category filters placed into a single drop-down list, and a button added to toggle between widgets and activities, which saves several keystrokes when you are in the midst of customizing a desktop.
Another ongoing improvement in the KDE 4 series is the Dolphin file manager, which gains in versatility and convenience with every release. The latest beta is no exception.
Changes in the latest version of Dolphin now include a plugin for the version control system Git and the ability to search within files. An automatic adjustment of column widths in the Column view to accommodate long file names is yet another small but welcome enhancement -- although why the Detail and Icon views lack the same feature is puzzling, since they could use it, too.
But the largest change in Dolphin is what the release announcement calls "faceted browsing" -- that is, a panel for filtering the files and directories displayed. Opened by selecting View -> Panels -> Filter, this feature allows you to filter by such characteristics as file type, time stamp, and rating. My only question with this feature is why other filters, such as directories, are not included on the Filter panel. All the same, those who do file management from the desktop should find this improvement to Dolphin, like all the others, very welcome.
One of the greatest efforts in the beta is to reintroduce the task oriented virtual desktops known as Activities -- in other words, to make Activities easier to use and to encourage people to use them.
Introduced in KDE 4, Activities were supposed to be a major feature of the current release series. Lead developer Aaron Seigo has talked many times of the potential in them, suggesting, for example, that future releases might tie in Activities with geolocation, so that a laptop automatically opens to the appropriate workspace, complete with its customized icons and widgets, depending on whether you are at home or the office. Even now, the ability to maintain multiple settings for different tasks, such as writing and video editing, make Activities a useful innovation.
Unfortunately, only a minority of users seem aware of Activities at all. Part of the problem is that the distinction between Virtual Desktops and Activities is so slight that retaining both only confuses. The explanation in the KDE community appears to be that Virtual Desktops are for giving users more desktop space, while Activities are for organizing by tasks -- but since both can be used for either purpose, the distinction escapes many users. Since Virtual Desktops have a visible icon on the panel, that is what most people use.
Another part of the problem is that Activities originally displayed in a zoom out view that was convenient, but whose function seemed to puzzle many users. The zoom view was replaced in the 4.5 release with a sliding panel, like the one used for widgets, making the interface more consistent -- but that, in turn, puzzled some of those who had finally become accustomed to the zoom.