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My KDE 4.x Desktop Activities Tutorial July 23, 2009

Posted by rm42 in Computers, Linux.

Desktop Activities is a desktop usability concept that allows you to have multiple style and other settings for your desktop or desktops. There you have it, my attempt at a one sentence definition. Of course, that only pleases people who write dictionaries and encyclopedias. As for us, regular users, what we like to see are tutorials that actually show us what we are talking about. So, I will try to do that now for you as well.

For this tutorial, I will be using KDE 4.2.4 as found in Fedora 11.

Creating your activities

Before you start, ask yourself, what are the primary tasks that you use your computer for? Of course, just about all of us use it to access the internet. But, what else? If your answer is “not much else”, then stop right here. No need to read any further. Desktop activities are not for you. You will be perfectly happy without them. However, if your answer includes a few other tasks, then you may find that spending a few minutes configuring some desktop activities is a great way to improve your productivity and of making your use of the computer more enjoyable.

Now that you have though about it a bit, lets start with just one or two activities. You can add more latter once you understand the concept and your needs better. To add an activity we need to first Unlock the Widgets and then Zoom out of the default desktop/activity. Both of those options are reachable through the plasma logo in the upper right corner of the desktop (A.K.A. “the cashew”).

Plasma logo

Plasma logo

You will then see your primary desktop activity next to a large empty area where you can place other desktop activities. To do so, click on the Add Activity button that is just below your zoomed out desktop. (Note: If you don’t see that button it is likely because you forgot to unlock the widgets.)

Add activity button

Add activity button

Configure your activities

After you create one or two extra activities click on the desktop settings button, the right most button below the zoomed out desktop, the one that looks like a wrench. That will bring up the Desktop Settings dialog box where you can give a name to that activity and customize it as you wish. When finished, simply zoom in to any of your desktop activities to use it.
Desktop Settings
I like to create a directory under my home called “Activities”. Under this directory I create one directory for each of my desktop activities where I place items that are particular to each of them, such as links to applications, files, links to other directories, etc. I then configure each desktop activity to show me the contents of its own assigned directory. The process to do this is different depending on the Type of activity you chose in the Desktop Settings dialog box. If you chose the Desktop type, you will need to add at least one Folder View widget to that desktop (through the plasma logo – the cashew) and configure the widget to access the desired directory. If you chose the Folder View type you can right click on the desktop and select Folder View Settings (since the whole desktop is a Folder View widget) and configure it to access the desired directory.

Finally, do make sure to install an “Activity Bar” widget under each of your desktop activities in order to easily switch between them.

Final thoughts

As you can see, it doesn’t really take much effort to configure your desktop activities. Combined with the multiple desktop functionality they offer a very comfortable way to perform multiple tasks. But, there are still some areas where they need to be improved. For example, in KDE 4.3 you will be able to assign a desktop activity to each virtual desktop you have configured. It seems that there is a way to hack that functionality into the current release, but I have not tried it.

I wish there was a way to add a desktop activity without having to go into the Zoomed out workspace. I also wish that the Activity Bar widget could be configured to stack vertically rather than just horizontally. When docked in the panel it should display an icon the current activity name and cascade perpendicular to the panel when clicked, only then showing all the available activities.

But, I am very happy with what we have right now. I hope this little tutorial is helpful to you.


1. texstar - July 24, 2009

Very cool. Thanks for sharing this tutorial.

2. RonCam - July 24, 2009

I am curious to know if the Activity-Desktops themselves appear as files in some directory. It seems they would have to … ??

I would like to check the file structure to see if manually importing the contents of my existing Desktops would be feasible.

Otherwise, I have to keep running StarOffice … some of those Desktops could have information going back almost 10 years and I don’t know what I want to save, or toss …

I have looked in several of the system directories, even searched from root using the names of my Activity-Desktops, but came up with nothing.

Any ideas?

3. RonCam - July 24, 2009

Thanks for the tutorial. You cleared up a lot of things.

From reading posts here and there, some not making clear which KDE version was under discussion, I thought I had to start by editing my configuration files!

But, if I read you correctly, since I’m experimenting with KDE4.3 RC3, I should go ahead and use it directly, with no editing necessary.

4. ray - July 24, 2009

What is needed is a retro option to make it function like 3.5x without having to go through all the gyrations.

5. Matt Boehm - July 24, 2009

I’ve gotten good use out of putting a secondary panel on the top of my screen that’s not very long and that auto-hides with the activity bar in it. That way you don’t have to remember to add a new one onto every new activity you create.

6. RonCam - July 24, 2009

Just an entry to get subscribed to this thread. Don’t see any other way to do it without making another Reply …

7. Links 24/07/2009: Germany GNU/Linux Adoption High, FSF Speaks on TPB | Boycott Novell - July 24, 2009

[…] My KDE 4.x Desktop Activities Tutorial […]

8. Josh - August 2, 2009

Now that is COOL!! Thanks for the information and article. This site rocks!

9. KDE4 "activities" - Page 2 - openSUSE Forums - August 22, 2009

[…] […]

10. tutor - September 6, 2009

That COOL. Thanks for the great informations.

11. Renato S. Yamane - October 21, 2009

Do you know if is possible the “Activies” show ONLY apps thats is opened only in each one?

E.g.: If I open Firefox on “Activie 1” it CAN’T be showed on “Activie 2”.

In current config, I see (in Task Manager bar) all apps opened in all “Activies”

rm42 - October 21, 2009

You can customize the taskbar to only show tasks that are running on each particular desktop instead of all applications running on the computer.

12. Renato S. Yamane - October 21, 2009

I already try this, but it don’t work.

I did:
– Right click over Taskbar;
– Choose “config task manager”;
– On field “Filter” I select “Show only tasks of current desktop” and “Show only taks of current screen”.

This works only at differents Desktops (CTRL+F1 / CTRL+F2), but don’t work do ACTIVIES.

rm42 - October 21, 2009

True, that is all it does. Activities are not different work spaces. Think of them as different uniforms for your desktops.

13. jack - October 21, 2009

its good, i like it, thanks

14. Renato S. Yamane - October 21, 2009

The best is:
– Workspace totally independent, and I don’t find this kind of option on KDE 😦

rm42 - October 21, 2009

Well, there is the option of assigning a different activity per desktop, which would give you that effect. I had a bit of trouble with it when I tried it a while back. I remember telling my self that next time I tried it I would start with only one activity. I think that when enabling that option it will create additional activities for you (one for each of your desktops) that you can customize latter as you wish.

Any way, to get to that option follow this steps:

– Zoom out (through the plasma icon)
– Click on the “Configure Plasma…” option in the floating options widget.
– Select the “Different activity for each desktop” option.
– Click Ok πŸ˜‰

15. Renato S. Yamane - October 22, 2009

Wow, thanks for that!
But… It is a litle bit UNSTABLE. Sometimes appear one more Activie, sometimes is impossible remove it, etc.

16. Tsquare - March 5, 2010

Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do πŸ™‚

17. rico - May 4, 2010

I have a new Acer netbook, and I am trying to use Fedora with KDE 4.4.2.
Activities are really a nightmare!
I have heard all the arguments in favour of activities some 10 or 15 years ago, when virtual desktops were invented, and I have used v. desktops intensively starting from the FVWM2 implementation, which was excellent (fast and reliable).
Activities address more or less the same problem as virtual desktops and interfere with them in ways which I donΒ΄t understand even after hours of searching for documentation and reading. I have created 20 v.desktops (why is this number so limited? with FVWM2, I usually installed 60 or 80 of them, most of which were empty, but the pager gave a very good overview of all, and an “activity” was simply a group of 2 – 4 v.desktops which were adjacent in the pager….) and, maybe as a side-effect, I appear to have created a bunch of KDE activities. I have no idea what to do with them and how I can get rid of them.
More or less accidentally, I touched the activities button and ran into a state which displays a long list of pairs of desktops. I find a menu where I can unlock widgets (what is a widget? what means locking??). As a beginner, this costs you the first 1 – 2 hours to escape fro the situation – what a nightmare!
And the story goes on like this.
I googled around (on another laptop…) to find out about the concepts, what you find is inconsistent information relating to different versions of KDE 4.x.
This blog ranks among the better ones, so thanks a lot for it.
But still: KDE activities are a highly complicated, badly documented concept which interferes heavily with virtual desktops, which are a much more basic and important concept.

18. volty - May 17, 2010

Thank you for the nice tutorial activities feature.
I couldn’t get it by myself because I didn’t expect that the activities are just only kind of styles & widget sets.
I use 9 virtual desktops, place a lot of docs & ide’s with kstart –desktop …
Even if you find some ‘productive’ sets of widgets, you have to first show desktop and then change activity. In my opinion the best should be to configure single virtual desktops so that when we need some ‘productive’ widget info we go to the respective virtual deskop (and better if it cannot run/show regular windows).
For me it is just much better to place open regular applications on choosen virtual desktops.

rm42 - May 18, 2010


On my latest install of PCLinuxOS 2010 when I went to configure the number of virtual desktops I noticed that there was a checkbox for using a “Different activity for each desktop”. I clicked it and it worked as expected. Now, before I did that, I had not yet configured any activities other than the original one. So, I don’t know what would have happened if I had. I’ll have to experiment with this.

volty - May 25, 2010

thanks, tried it just now, just for the sake of curiosity. It is working in a weird way imo, probably every desktop is fixed with just one activity. I had 2 activities, as soon as I clicked it added 8 activities (on the Activity Bar), I tried to remove them, it sucked with white screen, then reboot, it auto-added again those 8, cannot change activity on the desktops so it’s almost sure 1:1.
My hope (not for me) was that it should just remember which activity was on which desktop – so we could have let’s say 4 activities for all 9 desktops, or 55 (for maniacs) for 9 desktops :).

19. G.J. Reitsma - October 15, 2010

This could have been much more simple.

Something like:

Make activity:
Choose on one of your v.desktops an activity-folder. Show it in some sort of window.
Copy and paste your related programs in an oldfashioned way. Lock. Or do it by windowbar as an option.

Next by right click on that folder give a form in which you can give names or number to the v.desktop and folder, choose background and maybe the place on screen by moving the folder there. Take care it later always has to be normally editable whenever you like.

(And let know where you can see all on the HD, like normal files and the folder. So the user can also manipulate them in that way, like normal.)

Ready. What I like to say is: it has to be simple and intuitive for the user. Let it be straightforward!
No magic please or people will not use it because they won’t like it.

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