Why should you use KDE Activities? The best way to answer that question is to give some concrete examples of what you can do with them.
Activities are virtual desktops. They share a common panel and menu, but each has its own layout and selection of items on the desktop. In addition, each has its own virtual workspaces and wallpaper.
To build an Activity, select from the Desktop Toolkit Activities > Create Activities. Give the Activity an icon and a name, and select a layout from the Desktop Settings. In the KDE 4 series, these layouts include Search and Launch, a netbook desktop; Newspaper, a grid for arranging wizards, and several others whose purpose is obscure to many readers. The new Plasma 5.2 appears to eliminate all except Desktop and Folder, but that may be because it is just starting to be used, and layouts for the new release have yet to be written.
In addition, if you choose Unlock Widgets from the Desktop Toolkit, you can add to each Activity:
- Icons: Drag from the menu or the panel.
- Widgets: Select Add Widgets from the Desktop Toolkit, and drag widgets on to the desktop from the scrolling display of them.
- Files: Drag from the file manager. In addition to icons, plain text files can be displayed on the desktop as an open note.
- Folders: Either drag from the file manager, or display the contents using a Folder widget.
- URLS: Create in the file manager by selecting Create New > Link to Location (URL), then copy to the desktop. Alternatively, place URLS in a folder and display using a Folder widget.
With these features, Activities can improve your work flow, allowing you to maintain separate icon sets, and arrange your desktops by task or location instead by applications.
But what, exactly, can you do with Activities? One general answer is that you make applications and resources only one-click away, make Activities a time-saver compared to traditional desktops. However, to be more specific, here are eleven examples:
1) The Default Activity
Most users of Activities begin with an Activity that is a traditional all-purpose desktop. Using the Desktop Settings, they set the Default to display the Desktop folder.
In theory, the Default can contain all the icons you ever need, and you can filter the ones display from the Desktop Settings. You can also quickly create other Activities by filtering the contents of the Desktop folder by name or file-type in the Desktop settings.
However, why bother with these complications? Activities are simple enough to create that the Default really only needs your top 6-8 icons — enough to cover your basic computing, but not so many that you spent large chunks of time tracking down icons. That alone is a significant improvement over most desktops.
2) Task-Built Activities
Your next Activities should be for individual tasks or situations, such as programming,or graphic design. For each of these Activities, select a Desktop layout, and add icons for the applications that they require.
You might also want to a few URLs to specific information. For instance, if you are a programmer learning Python, you may want a few URLS that teach parts of the language that you are still learning.
However, as with the Default, keep the number of resources limited. These Activities are all traditional desktops, but one of the points of their specialization is to keep any of them from being crowded.
3) Account or Project-Based Activities
If you are a business user, place all the files relevant to one client or one project in its own sub-directory. Then create an Activity for each client or project.
Either choose a Folder layout for each Activity, or else add a Folder widget to it, set to display the relevant sub-folder. In effect, a Folder layout turns each Activity into a large file manager. By contrast, a Folder widget gives you the flexibility to re-position the display of files so you can refer to it when working in another window. In addition, while not so handy as the Folder layout, the widget also gives room to position other resources while keeping them easy to find.
4) Location Activities
In this example, each location where you use your computer has a separate Activity, each of which is probably a traditional desktop.
For example, on your Work Activity, you might have icons for LibreOffice, and email and web browsers, plus a few URLs for resource sites. Possibly, too, you might have URLS for clients or resources.
By contrast, your Class Activity might have a recording app, an app for note taking, and perhaps a few of your games of choice. Your last Activity might be labeled home, and consist of nothing but games.
5) The ChromeBook Activity
Create an Activity with only the URL to resources like Google Docs and your cloud storage. This Activity would be ideal on a machine with limited hard drive space.
6) The Starting Activity
This Activity is designed for the first few moments after you log in to your computer and are planning your day. It can contain widgets such as Remember the Milk for an overview of the day’s work; Calendar for appointments, a World Clock for those who deal with colleagues in other time zones, and perhaps links to favorite comics or news sites with which you always begin your day.
7) The Scrapbook Activity
Add an icon for a web browser and a text edit or note app to an Activity, and save URLs and text. You may want to add the Bookmark widget for storing URLs, especially if you have a number of them, or, better yet, the Web Slice widget for quickly adding snippets.
Return to the Activity when you are ready to start structuring your references into an article or essay, or when you have time to read them.
8) Search and Launch Activity
Search and Launch was originally KDE’s desktop for netbooks. It consists of a search field for locating applications, plus high level menu items. As a desktop, it is suitable for small screens, undemanding users, or users well-versed in a system’s applications.
KDE’s fourth release series makes Search and Launch available as a layout In the 5.2 Plasma release, the search field is available as a widget, and you can easily add a Shelf widget below it, duplicating the notebook desktop in thirty seconds or less.
9) The Shelf Activity
In KDE 4, a Shelf is a widget that provides an alternative to menus. It contains links to items such as Places, Open Documents, Unread Messages, Open Documents, and System Tools, all in a compact space. Make it the lone item on an Activity, and use it to as a combination menu and control center, depending on how you configure it.
10) The Accessibility Activity
For users with limited vision, create a Default Activity in their account, including icons for their most often used applications, and enlarging the icons. Add Magnifique, the magnifying wizard, and Keyboard, the virtual keyboard, also enlarged. The result probably falls short of Orca, GNOME’s screen reader, but should go some ways towards making KDE accessible to at least some of users who need accessibility tools.
11) The News/ Monitoring Activity
In KDE 4, the Newspaper layout arranges widgets neatly into columns. So far, Plasma 5.2 lacks the Newspaper layout, but it can be manually reproduced with a minimum of effort. The layout is especially suited for arranging widgets that fetch news and information about the weather, or that monitor your computer’s hardware, such as Hardware Info, Had Disk Space Usage, and Notifications.
The Newspaper layout could also be populated with widgets for social media, such as Microblogging and Community.
Where Other Desktops End
Each of these examples requires the arrangement of icons and widgets. You may also want to color-code the wallpaper of each Activity to help to distinguish one from another.
In addition, once you have set up the Activities that you want, you need to choose a way to switch between them. The default method is by opening a scrolling window, but it is not especially efficient. Neither is cycling through Activities with keystrokes until you find what you want. Instead, you might assign each Activity a separate keyboard shortcut – this is more efficient, although it requires some learning. Personally, I favor the Activity Bar widget, which displays each Activity by name and icon, and places all Activities one mouse click away at all times.
But these are finishing details. The point is that, while Activities are often just variations on a classic desktop or an already existing feature, they provide the building blocks for you to customize your works in almost any way you can imagine. You may have seen layouts or features elsewhere that were similar to some of the examples given here, but only KDE offers the option of using all of them together.
In the end, this versatility is why Activities are worth exploring. Even if you are already satisfied with your current desktop, KDE Plasma provides the tools to customize your computing and to organize your work the way that you prefer. Where other desktops end is where KDE Plasma begins.
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