How to use KDE 4 Desktop Activities

KDE Desktop Activities help to create an incredibly efficient and organized desktop. Jack Wallen introduces this new feature to Linux desktop users longing to take KDE 4 to new heights.

Over the last few months, I have been incredibly impressed with the work the KDE developers have done with the latest releases. Not only have they squashed a ton of bugs, they have fully realized features that seemed destined for the scrap yard. One of those features was Desktop Activities. When I first took a look at this feature, which is new to KDE as well as the world of the desktop PC, I was not only reluctant to accept the concept, but also couldn't seem to wrap my brain around how the new paradigm worked.

That was 4.0. It's now 4.6 and the landscape has changed quite a bit. In fact, the landscape shifted such that Activities not only make sense, I wonder why no one ever thought about doing it before! Not only does it help to organize your desktop better, it also makes your computing life much more efficient. There is a slight problem, however. Most users either do not know about Desktop Activities or they have no idea how to use them. For those in the latter category, I offer you an introduction to using KDE's Desktop Activities.

What are Desktop Activities?

I suppose, before I get to the how I should address the why. Desktop Activities can be thought of as ways to create desktops that do specific tasks. So you define each desktop by what it does. For example, you could create an Activity for web browsing or social networking, a desktop for search and launch, a desktop for productivity, etc. Each of these desktops will be built around Widgets and icons specific to a task.

The easiest way to explain this is by illustrating how to create a new activity. The activity I want to use is the Search and Launch activity. This particular Desktop Activity allows for the quick and easy searching for documents and the launching of applications.

Here are the steps for adding a new Desktop Activity.

  1. Click the Ctrl-q shortcut or Click on the toolbox icon in the upper-right corner of the desktop and then select Activities.
  2. Click Create Activity.
  3. Click Templates | Search and Launch.

Figure A

This will add the Search & Launch Activity to your desktop (see Figure A.) As you can see, this Desktop Activity makes various types of searching simple. The text area allows you to enter a search string which will will respond in a similar fashion as would GNOME Do. In other words, both documents and applications will appear for you to open or launch.

You can add plenty of activities (there is a limit to how many can be added — I have yet to reach that limit though). By default, there only four included templates to select from:

  • Folder View
  • Newspaper Layout
  • Photos Activity
  • Search & Launch

You can also download new templates by clicking the Create Activity button and then selecting Templates | Get New Templates. This will open up a new window where new templates can be downloaded. As it stands, there are very few templates to add, but that list will grow as more and more people create custom templates. You can also add a blank Desktop Activity to create your own by adding features and options to the new activity.

But how can you switch from activity to activity? Simple: Super-Tab

If you are unfamiliar with the Super key, it's also known as the Windows  key. Hit that key combination to cycle through all of your desktop activities.

Once you have all of your Desktop Activities set exactly how you like them, click on the Toolbox icon again and click Lock Widgets. This will prevent any changes from being made accidentally.

Figure B

Figure B

Another really cool feature is the ability to pause a Desktop Activity so it is not accessible (until it is restarted.) To pause an activity do the following:

  1. Open up the Activity Pane (click Super-q).
  2. Click on the small square in the upper right corner of the Activity you want to pause (see Figure B.)

When an activity is paused (stopped) the "Play" button will appear in the center of the Activity icon. To resume an activity simply press the Play button and that activity will be once again available.

That's it. believe it or not, KDE Desktop Activities are really that simple to use. Although the concept might seem quite foreign to most users, once you start using them, you will find they are an incredibly helpful tool that makes the desktop well-organized and efficient.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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