Friday, April 27, 2012

A bit on KDE Activities

KDE Activities is a concept that has been pushed forward by KDE developers for many release cycles now. Despite of that, lots of people still find them hard to understand, or don´t see the difference with virtual desktops, or simply find them useless. Personally, I used to think they were not for me, but as with many things, it´s hard to judge without trying them for real, so that´s exactly what I did.


I often feel like Activities must have been designed by extremely organized people. In other words, yes, isolating some tasks from others does help at times, but creating that isolation sometimes takes more effort than simply living within a bit of chaos for a little while. Besides, the implementation still needs work.

The idea is there, don´t get me wrong, but the features are not. In other words, activities are often presented as a clever idea that has a lot to offer, but then the reality is that KDE often falls short to offer all the potential activities need. I personally believe that the level of isolation available for activities is still too narrow, so some of the things that can be activity specific (like widgets) don´t offer enough value to actually justify creating a new activity. Luckily, KDE SC 4.8 brought further isolation with it thanks to the introduction of activity-specific power profiles, which is a nice step forward, but more like it is needed. One thing I miss, just to give an example, is the ability to have activity-specific panels. One other thing I miss is better "advertisement" for Activities. Starting with the accompanying examples and templates all the way to some of the videos out there, the material is most often failing to depict what Activities have to offer. The most recurring example I have seen is that of using activities to store information specific to an upcoming trip, but I don't believe that's a good example.

The way I see it, I can´t be bothered to create a separate activity for something as trivial as a trip, specially considering the minimal amount of specific information I can get from widgets, which is mostly down to weather forecast (and well, let´s face it, KDE plasma weather widgets are not that good). The real interesting information, perhaps about monitoring ticket prices to get the best possible deal, tracking trustworthy weather forecasts that span over 10 days or keeping up with travel agency updates cannot be offered by widgets. Now, it could be argued that one can keep an activity there with the browser pointing to the travel agency website, but I tend to think bookmarks are a much simpler and elegant solution. Last but not least, it's important to recognize that lots of people don´t have the time or the interest to plan their trips (or anything for that matter) so carefully (have you seen the average Windows user desktop, populated with an average of a trillion icons?), so I think Activities should be presented in a different way, perhaps closer to real end-user needs.


Activities provide some level of isolation, but in order to be truly useful, they need to provide more. As of KDE SC 4.8, we finally got something truly value adding: activity-specific power profiles. This comes extremely handy when users want to easily tailor their computer behavior to the task at hand. Have a presentation coming up and you want to avoid any kind of power saving while you are sharing your slides with an audience? No problem, simply create an activity for that. Note that this is way more powerful than switching to a specific power profile, because not only the computer behavior is customized, but all other things Activities offer are there too.

In my case, I use activities to somewhat encapsulate very specific and recurring tasks, often linking them to certain power profiles. While I didn´t see value in using activities for something as short lived as planning a trip, I do see value in isolating recurring tasks like coding, watching movies or downloading torrents. My default Activity is my desktop:

Click on image to enlarge.

Obviously, this is where I spend most of my time and where most of the short lived tasks sit. Internet browsing, checking emails, listening to music and things of the like all take place in here. The rest of activities capture tasks that require time and focus (that´s where isolation helps), or maybe things where lots of files are often open at once (like comic books), again making the most of isolation.

Click on image to enlarge.

Downloading torrents is one task I come back to often. Because torrent files can be quite big and take long time to download, I will often leave my computer on for hours, time during which it must not go into suspend mode. As a result, I linked this activity to the power profile On AC power. In addition, since these files are often quite big and my disk space is not awfully big on this box, I keep the disk space monitor widget on to make sure I don´t run out of space, as well as the Ktorrent widget to easily track download progress from the desktop.

Click on image to enlarge.

Another thing I spend time on is coding, trying things here and there with bash scripts, QML scripts, etc. As such, I like to keep Kate open on the session I am on, as well as Rekonq pointing to reference guides or tutorials. In this case, no specific power profile is necessary, but I like the fact that this kind of isolation helps in focusing on coding alone quickly and easily.

Click on image to enlarge.

Below are some examples of the power profiles I link to my activities. When I watch movies, I want absolutely no power saving features to take place, so I customized things for this one specifically.

Click on image to enlarge.

When downloading torrents, I simply want the computer to stay awake for as long as the battery lasts, but using some of the energy saving features. Again, On AC power fits perfectly here.

Click on image to enlarge.

Other activities like the default one, coding or reading comics don´t need specific power settings, so they follow the default setup.

Click on image to enlarge.

So there you have it, nothing particularly clever nor complicated, but I hope that some of these examples help understanding where activities might come in handy. I do wish that development continues around this concept, though, because with further isolation, things can get much more interesting. Another feature that I am excited about is one that Aaron Seigo brought up recently when discussing Plasma Active: Password protected activities, which is quite interesting a concept for increased levels of privacy on a single computer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A look at the new Plasma Active File Browser

Plasma Active is coming together nicely and quickly. When I watched the first videos published just a few months ago, I thought a lot of hard work was needed, but I was not the only one. Those videos were simply proving that Plasma Active was running successfully, but not even close to displaying the finished product.

Today we are very close to seeing Vivaldi become available, and with it, the first official version of Plasma Active preinstalled on a device. It's a serious thing, and Plasma Active developers are hard at work improving things like maniacs. A testament of that is the following video, which captures the Plasma Active file browser in action.

Personally, I must say I love what they have achieved. It is intuitive, beautiful and powerful. Congrats to the Plasma Active developers, can't wait to see more!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fedora 17 Beta now available

With some delay over the original project timelines, Fedora 17 Beta becomes available two weeks after its intended release date. Those interested in getting a fresh taste of the latest from this distro should get a fairly stable experience out of it, as is usually the case with Fedora Betas. Needless to say, I mean stable for testing purposes, as in getting a taste of Beefy Miracle without the hassle of getting a crash every 5 minutes, certainly not stable as in finished-product-stable.

For further details on this Beta release, please check the OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT. For more information about Fedora 17 features, check my post HERE.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Calligra 2.4 ready for prime time

After what feels like a century waiting, Calligra 2.4 final release will at last become available any time now. KDE therefore gets an up to date Office suite with several great things about it already worth looking at.

  • Perfect Native Integration: Those of you who have used either Open or Libre Office under KDE will know that integration is far from perfect, even with the right packages installed. Calligra will finally provide a perfectly integrated office suite for KDE users.
  • Reduced Size: Unlike those other popular office suites, Calligra has a fairly small disk space footprint.
  • A Fresh New Approach: Calligra brings a new take on its UI, deviating from anything MS Office ever did. A bold move, we'll have to wait and see how users adoption goes.
  • Krita: Probably the star of the suite at this point and a good enough reason for many to install and start using Calligra.

With all of the above in mind, it's still important to understand that Calligra is a very young project and that release 2.4 is merely a foundation to build upon. However, according to this BLOG POST, exciting and powerful new features are already in the pipeline for Calligra 2.5. In fact, check out the following video, which demonstrates upcoming Calligra Words 2.5 table resizing capabilities:

One other thing that's worth mentioning and great news is that, now that the heavy lifting to get Calligra 2.4 ready is over and done with, improvements and new features should be implemented at a much faster rate. For now, Calligra developers seem to aim at 4 month release cycles. If they manage to match that pace, Calligra should be a very strong contender in the Office suite arena within 12 to 18 months, which in itself is quite an accomplishment!

Congrats to all members of the Calligra project for this release!

Kubuntu finds new sponsor in Blue Systems

Really quick post to share this awesome news.

If a short while ago there was some negativity around the future of Kubuntu (the news around Canonical discontinuing its support created a lot of turmoil), today I was very happy to read that Kubuntu will get sponsorship from Blue Systems from 12.10 on.

Here's the OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT for further details.

Congrats, Kubuntu team!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

KDE SC 4.8.2 available

The set of April updates for KDE SC 4.8.2 has been available for several days now, but it was not until today that it became available in my Chakra 2012.2 machine. As it is often the case, this last bugfix release brings more than just bug fixes, most notably improvements to Nepomuk and its CPU-hungry attitude, which by the way helped improve Akonadi mail indexing. I also noticed other small things getting fixed, like a strange behavior in the Add Widget popup dialog, which got typing focus if called from the desktop (right-click on Desktop > Add Widgets...) but not if called from the panel itself. In my experience, both work equally well now.

Unfortunately, there are still some easy to notice minor issues. Dolphin animations got lost in the way to KDE SC 4.8.1 and it seems they are still missing (About 10 bug fixes for Dolphin made it to this minor release, though).

For more information on this latest KDE SC update, please refer to the official ANNOUNCEMENT and/or the official CHANGELOG.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Let´s look at Linux for a minute (...or 3)

Looking at most of my articles, or any articles about Linux anywhere else for that matter, it may appear as if Linux is essentially the "vanilla" flavor distros deviate from by adding or removing this or that other ingredient. In other words, it may look like Ubuntu, Fedora or RedHat are Linux, when that´s not quite the case.

Linux is essentially just the Kernel, but only thanks to the GNU project did it become a complete operating system. In fact, Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux Kernel, acknowledged that he probably wouldn´t have created Linux in the first place had the GNU project Kernel been mature enough by 1991.

In any case, I think it is a good idea to step back for a minute and reflect on what Linux really is, as opposed to getting confused with all the distro and late mobile operating system talk. What is Linux? How is it developed? How successful is it? How fast is it growing? This little 3 minute video from the Linux Foundation should provide answers to those questions and more.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nepomuk Tasks: Sponsor your favorite!

In a recent post, Sebastian Trüg has shared his new approach to the creation of new semantic desktop features or bugfixes. The new Nepomuk Task Sponsoring PAGE shares a number of relevant new features or fixes that can become a reality with some economic support from the community.

Seems like this approach is already paying off because it took really short for Sebastian to publish his first bugfix, a solution to a PROBLEM many of us have been complaining about: Nepomuk eating up way too much CPU.

In another recent post, Sebastian EXPLAINED how the solution was found, describing how the root cause analysis led him to complete some SPARQL query optimization to finally kill the bug. In the process, though, he ended up improving the "Akonadi Nepomuk Email indexer/feeder in several places".

What does this all mean? Well, this is really good news, because come KDE SC 4.8.2 (in two to three weeks), we will have a less resource hungry Nepomuk, which all KDE users can benefit from, and much needed improvements in Akonadi email indexing. These are both good steps forward towards a fully functional semantic desktop.

Please visit the new Nepomuk Task Sponsoring PAGE and check if there is a task you would like to sponsor. As you can see, the return of investment cannot get much better than this, plus you get to influence how Nepomuk shapes up moving forward.

EDIT: Sebastian just posted about yet another feature that has quickly been sponsored and will soon make it into Nepomuk (this time aiming at KDE SC 4.9). Check it out, VIRTUOSO INFERENCE.