How Desktop Environment Tweaking Helps Me Be More Productive

A few months ago, someone asked about whether the rices*/modifications/tweaks people displayed on reddit.com/r/unixporn (where people show off their desktops, not human pornography) were actually useful. Someone commented they’d like to see a post on how someone uses their mods. So I decided to write this up.

*I know the term ricing could be considered racist or insensitive. In this context, it’s simply the term of art used on the subreddit.

To start off, I’m using KDE Plasma on Fedora. In the past I’ve been a huge fan of Fluxbox and XFCE. On my netbook I’m also using Qtile to great effect because the monitor is sub-SD resolution. I’ve been using KDE for something like 10 years, ever since around the 4.5 release. What I really like about KDE is the ability to use both Virtual Desktops and Activities. Think of activities as collections of virtual desktops. Or, if virtual desktops extend your desktop in 2 dimensions, activities push it out to the third dimension. What benefit do they give me? There are two main benefits: First of all, it allows me to keep my virtual desktops to a minimum so I don’t have to flick and flick to find where some program is. I have my video editing suite in the video editing activity. VERY easy to find. Second, with KDE apps (and limited success with non-KDE apps), activities can keep track of what you had open in each. So I can have some programs open to certain files whenever I open up the Programming activity rather than having to open it up each time.

I’m using Latte Dock in place of KDE’s default panel. It essentially works the same as the normal panel except I can have different launchers for different activities. I also added a Latte Dock panel at the top to provide an activity switcher .I find that generally faster to use than pulling up the native switcher. It also gives me an overview of what I’ve got open on each one.

So, I’ll take you activity by activity into how my setup helps me get more work done. One thing you’ll notice is that I try to use themed background images so that I immediately know what activity I’m in.

Audio Activity

Audio Activity (20210215)
Audio Activity (20210215)

The main thing I’ve done here is to add 2 Folder View widgets and 1 “now playing” widget. (I lost the now playing widget on an update and forgot to re-add it so you wont’ see it in the above image) The now playing widget is just for fun/looks. Most of the time I’m going to either use my multimedia keys on my keyboard or the now playing widget I put into my top Latte Dock. The folder view widgets facilitate my Audio workflow. I’m one of those folks who still believes in having your own music collection. Sometimes (although rarer than in the TV/movies world) there are rights issues that keep music off of Spotify (or other music streamers). Sometimes the band just hasn’t put it up or there are a few other reasons why the music has to be learned. Also, sometimes you just don’t have access to the Internet. So the lower folder view is where I put audio files that need some work. Maybe I’ve just recorded from a vinyl album or maybe I bought, ripped, or downloaded a new album that doesn’t quite have all the tags I want it to have. So I make sure everything is nice and fixed up with either Picard or (if the music isn’t in MusicBrainz) Kid3. The upper folder view allows me to quickly jump to an artist in fewer clicks than first launching my file viewer and then navigating to the artist.

Books Activity

Books Activity (20210215)
Books Activity (20210215)

Here I have 3 folder views. The top left is an Unimported folder for eBooks and magazines I haven’t imported into Calibre yet. It has folders for various magazines I’ve subscribed to or book series that I’ve supported on Kickstarter. This allows me to use Calibre’s “import from folder” setting that combines all the files in one folder into 1 Calibre entry. So I put the PDF, EPUB, and Mobi entries into the appropriate folder and then import. The bottom left folder is a folderview to my Downloads folder with a filter on it to only show book file types. I use this when I download books from Humble Bundle. I grab them all from Downloads and put them into a folder in the upper folderview. Then I import them as stated before. On the bottom right is my Dropbox ebooks folder. For some places that I buy my eBooks, I have to download them with a Windows app. So I download them and then pop them into this folder. From there I can follow the previous workflow to get the files into Calibre.

Comics Activity

Comics Activity (20210215)
Comics Activity (20210215)

Once again, my flow is around folder views as well as a launcher for two of the programs I use most often in this activity. I use Tellico to keep track of the comics I have, their ratings, URIs to find them on the system, etc .QComicbook is my comic reader of choice if I’m reading a CBZ/CBR. For PDFs, I just use Okular. I think the folders on view here are pretty self-explanatory. The revolve around the fact that, to remind myself of what I have yet to read, I do not move my comics into the Publisher-based folders until I’ve read them. Mostly I read Image and Dynamite published comics, so those are featured with their own folder views. There’s another for all the Humble Bundle comics I’ve bought over the years. I’ve still got a lot of those to read.

Comms Activity

Comms Activity (20210215)
Comms Activity (20210215)

I actually only use this for communications programs, so there isn’t really anything I changed with this activity. I did make use of Latte Dock’s ability to have different launchers per activity – this may result in me eventually getting rid of the launcher I have on the desktop of the Comics activity. This activity usually has Kontact (KDE’s version of MS Outlook) and Choqok (twitter/GNU Social/Mastodon client) on one desktop. The other usually runs Discord, Konversation (IRC), and Element. The fourth screen usually has a web browser.

Main Activity

Main activity (20210214)
Main activity (20210214)

I use this activity when I’m running programs that don’t fit into any of the other categories. Since I usually don’t have as many long-running apps on this desktop, this is the one where I have my system monitors. Yeah, back in the day I played with Conky and lots of other similar system monitors. But these are all about functionality for me. When I’m having issues with the system I take a look at these and try to figure out what’s going on. I’ve been able to pinpoint lots of issues where something had a memory leak and was eating all the RAM as well as when something was going wrong with my network. It’s not perfect since, if the system is that borked it won’t update them, but it’s helped me a lot. The weather widget is nice for a quick view vs a few clicks on my smartphone. The older one was a little better as it showed the forecast a little further out. But the weather isn’t that reliable around here, so I guess it doesn’t matter. The drawing tablet widget is something I’m using for the first time now. If you have a Wacom tablet (or compatible with the Linux Wacom software) you can select various profiles on there as well as its orientation – making it quite useful.

Photography Activity

Photography Activity (20210215)
Photography Activity (20210215)

This one is pretty self-explanatory – a few folder views to get me exactly to where I want to go when I’m loading photos to the computer.

Programming Activity

Programming Activity (20210215)
Programming Activity (20210215)

In the past I’ve had widgets here for selecting KDevleop or Konsole profiles, but I didn’t really find that all that useful. I’ve usually got all four screens full of full-screen programs, so I don’t have too much use for widgets. For example, when I’m coding in Python I usually have (from left to right) Firefox, Pycharm, Konsole, and GitQlient open – each fullscreen on a monitor. 

Video Editing

Video Editing activity (20210214)
Video Editing activity (20210214)

Once again, same theme as usual – Folder views that go to the folders I use often.

Video Games Activity

Video Games Activity (20210215)
Video Games Activity (20210215)

To be honest, I don’t use this activity too often. I’m usually gaming on my Windows computer. But sometimes I need to run some games or test something and don’t want it mucking up my work on the other screens, so I open them up in here.

Videos Activity

Videos Activity (20210215)
Videos Activity (20210215)

A folderview for an easy way to reach the NFS shares that hold the videos I’ve painstakingly ripped from DVDs and Blurays or recorded via MythTV. 

Virtual Machines Activity

Virtual Machines Activity (20210214)
Virtual Machines Activity (20210214)

This one usually has Virt-manager running as well as fullscreen views into the various VMs I’m running. They might be views into local VMs or remote VMs. If you use libvirt/KVM – I’d like to make a plug for remote viewer which is awesome as it lets you run multiple virtual monitors

Web Activity

Web activity (20210214)
Web activity (20210214)

Finally, there’s Web Activity. Since I usually like to run my browser on the fourth monitor and shared across all activities, you might wonder what I do in the web activity? This is for the KDE File Downloader – KGet – which is really nice at downloading if you feed it a text file with a list of URLs to download. Also KTorrent where I literally download my Linux ISOs. I try to be a good Linux user and always download via torrent and seed until the version is outdated. I usually get some pretty good ratios on my Fedora, CentOS, and Raspberry Pi torrents – 5 at a minimum and usually double-digits. Here I make use of a launcher widget to remind me of all the web browsers I have. Since I don’t use the equivalent of the bottom-left icon used in Windows and vanilla KDE to launch programs (I just use alt-F2 and type the name of the program), I often forget some of the lesser-used programs. I installed all these browsers last year as I started exploring what they had to offer. Currently I’m starting to get more and more in love with Vivaldi and its features. (It also launches a lot faster on my resource-constrained laptop) Qutebrowser (which has vim bindings built-in) also works very well on my netbook with Qtile because I’m able to do a lot without using the mouse. 

So, there you go. MOSTLY at this point in time my mods revolve around the folder view for greater productivity. I also use KDE’s activities to spread my programs around so it’s very easy to alt-tab between them and reduce clutter. 

Published by Eric Mesa

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

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