An appeal for keeping KDE Activities

As KDE 5 reaches 5.2 and many begin to debate its features (this is a small evolution on 4 compared to the difference between 3 and 4) there has been an ever-increasing assertion that Activities are pointless. (At least it appears that way to me) I wanted to share how I use Activities, why they make me more productive, and why they’re the biggest feature keeping me on KDE.

So, I have lots of Activities: Main, Media, School, Photography, Video Games, Video Editing, Programming, and Reading. In its current implementation, each Activity must have the same number of virtual desktops; three in my case. In each activity I make use of different widgets. On nearly all of them are the brilliant folder view and application launcher widgets. These allow me to quickly see the folders relevant to the task at hand. In the case of the Multimedia activity, desktop 1, this is very useful for my workflow. Let’s look at that desktop:

Multimedia Activity - Desktop 1Clicking on the image should make it a useful size. (You may want to open it in a separate tab or window to follow along) There are two workflows for new music I acquire. Let’s start with music I buy from Amazon. For some reason, even though there is no DRM on the music, Amazon makes it very hard to efficiently d/l music if you don’t use their app, which isn’t available on Linux. So I buy my music on my Windows (Bowser) computer and d/l it there. Then I move it to the shared drive on BabyLuigi. That appears on the middle-right folder view here. I then move it to the folder to its left. There I run a script to exact spaces from the folders and files. Once that script is run, I can move it to the folder above, my Music folder. There it’s automatically picked up by both Google Music (for listening on the go) and Amarok (for listening at my computer) Whether at the commandline or with a mouse and Dolphin, it would be way more inefficient than the way I currently have things set up. The bottom-most folder is for music I get other ways – legitimate d/ls that I can do on my Linux computer. Once I extract zips/tarballs, I can quickly copy them into the Music folder. So you see how I’m using KDE’s widgets to make life better for me.

One more similar example. Here’s my Main Desktop 3:

Main Activity - Desktop 3
Main Activity – Desktop 3

The right monitor usually has some web browser open. All my web browsers and other Internet programs are there for me to click on in the bottom right. Overall, the Internet is less fractious than it used to be, but some things, like Google’s Inbox only work in Chrome. Above is my own tmp directory (separate from the system one). I use it as a tmp folder the deletes after a certain amount of time (3 months, I think) rather than on reboot so I save all my desktop screenshots there. I can see what I have, drag-drop into WordPress, etc. And on the left the top is my Download folder and the bottom is the same music folder you saw at the bottom of the Media desktop. This allows me to move music downloads into there and then later, when I’m doing audio stuff I can already have it in the right place . In the middle of it all, my Ktorrent widget. Pretty useful to see the status of my d/ls. Here I can see that one of the comics from the Dynamite Humble Bundle is done.

Now, you might be asking – why use activities for this? Why not use 24 virtual desktops? Two reasons. First of all, in this setup I put my web browser into the third desktop and make it active across all virtual desktops. This means that access to the web is never more than 1 hop away. (If I’m in virtual desktop 1, I can wrap-around backwards) If I had 24 virtual desktops, I’d have to jump around a LOT to find the web. If I made it into a 12×2 grid (or any other setup that equals 24), I’d have to figure out where I was in order to get there as quickly as possible; not efficient!

Second, I don’t always need all these things. The best thing about Activities is that they can be turned off. This saves me from having too many widgets in memory and from having to scroll through virtual desktops I use once in a while. I might use the programming Activity constantly for a few weeks and then not use it again for months. The only ones I constantly have open are Main, Multimedia, and School (when I’m doing a graduate degree semester). The rest of them open/close as necessary. In fact, when using only KDE programs, they can be automatically opened/closed when you open/close an activity – which is pretty convenient.

There are lots of other things I like about KDE, but many of them are either in other desktop environments or can trivially be added. It is Activities that primarily keep me from Xfce or something else even simpler. Hopefully there are others with similar experiences and we can keep this great technology – and maybe even grow its uses. Maybe krunner can learn what I tend to launch or search for in each activity and tailor my search results to match.

Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me