Activities for Everyone
Just like Plasma 4, Plasma 5 has a system built in called “Activities”, one of the stranger but most valuable innovations for those who use their computers for multiple purposes. Most people (including myself) have mistaken them as “virtual desktops on steroids”; but this is a gross injustice to their intended purpose. Activities are meant to transition you from one task to another; from work to play, browsing to design, socializing to gaming.
Activities can be set to do a small number of things, but primarily an activity will launch a set of programs and reconfigure the widgets on the desktop. Unlike virtual desktops which you may switch between regularly Activities are meant to be switched a few times a day – between work, browsing, gaming, etc. This is the killer feature of ‘Bring your own Device” jobs, where you can create separate environments which you can switch between; arriving at work and running the ‘Work’ activity is the easy way to get a work-oriented desktop and simultaneously launch your office applications, while a ‘Home’ activity could use more social widgets and launch your web-browser.
Activities also have a very different behaviour than virtual desktops; they can be stopped and started. Applications and windows opened in an activity will be closed when that activity is stopped. The usefulness of this comes when using a laptop or weaker desktop, as stopping an activity will help conserve power and performance by halting all the work currently on-the-go. If you’re simply clocking out for the day, you could stop the aforementioned ‘Work’ activity and it will spin down all your work applications all at once.
You may also have several activities running at once, and doing so they behave similarly to virtual desktops by hiding unused applications. For single-purpose computers Activities are likely overkill, but the moment you expect you may do more than one task with a given machine, taking 10 minutes to set up an activity could save you hours over months of continued use. If you just use a computer for browsing the web, then activities can simply be ignored.
In Plasma 5.2 Activities have seen a minor update in their behaviour, showing a wallpaper preview, icon, and sporting a more streamlined interface via the drawer which appears on the left side of the screen. Switching remains fast, and activities can now be searched so if you have many activities for every conceivable situation it’s easy to locate them.
Authors note: My testing machine had an issue with activities, so I was unable to fully test activities: this section may have minor inaccuracies.