Several years ago now I had a minor epiphany while doing field research in the offices of friends and work associates on how people use their computers. The ideas led to the concept of "Activities", which I originally called "Projects" (we changed the name because it was about more than just things we could call a "project").
The idea was fairly grand: you communicate to the computer what you are currently doing and it adapts to that. You would be able to teach it what it means to be doing that thing: "I use these files, talk to these people, need this network connection, want these applications ..." The teaching would happen over time as you engage in your activity, whatever it might be.
Where to start with such an idea? Well, I started simple and small. In part because I was the only one working on it at the start and so I had to eat this elephant in small bites, but also in part because I had a lot of open questions as to how to implement things. I couldn't just easily look over someone else's shoulder who was creating the same thing and see how they did it: no one else was doing this as far as I could find. That made it exciting .. but it also made it a lot more like research than development. ;)
So it was that the beginnings of Activities were as different widget layouts in Plasma Desktop. You could zoom out and see each collection of icons and widgets and switch between them. It let you, for instance, open different folders in a folderview for different projects you were working on. Some people got it right away and started using Activities. Most people didn't, and I don't blame them at all: it was very hard to communicate something that was new to me as well and which we had only the basic sketches of implementation to demonstrate.
In a few days we release Plasma Active One. I just finished up my part of the release announcement and I have to say ... it brought up a certain amazing feeling that has no name (at least none that I was taught :) inside of me. You see, Plasma Active embodies Activities.
When you start it up, you get a view of an Activity and everything in it. You can add things to it. You can connect a web site or an image to an Activity while you are viewing said site or image. Applications launched are automatically associated with the current activity. You can quickly switch between them using a great little wheely switcher thing that's a pleasure to use. Activities sit at the core of Plasma Active's tablet UI and it works wonderfully.
I've shared my tablet around at BBQs and parties I've attended in the last few months and people immediately get it and see the value. I get questions like, "This is perfect for use in our office where we work on multiple projects, could we share Activities live with other people in a meeting or while we're working from our desk?" When people respond like that after just a couple minutes of seeing and using the device, it gives me tingles. :)
It's not all Plasma Active, though. When I read Dario's blog entry on Power Management and activities I just about cried. Ok, not really, but almost. ;) Finally we were seeing very cool usages of "how to teach my computer how I live and work". I now have a "Movies" and a "Presentations" activity on my laptop which I plan to use extensively in this manner. ;)
We're nowhere near the full capabilities of Activities yet, and I know that. We have so many other things to integrate and work on, so many possibilities that we haven't even dreamed of yet on how to use them, expose them, teach them.
But after these past few years of efforts, to see the idea and concept blooming in the open like this .. damn .. what a rush! This is what I identify as the "KDE feeling". :)
On that note, I have an activity ahead of me that I rarely engage in. Someting called a "vacation". I hear they are good for you or something. I'm taking two weeks off, and I dread to think of my inbox size when I return. ;) However, I'm looking forward to a couple weeks in the sun and culture of Morocco, a place I've dreamed of visiting since I was a young adult.
See you on the other side and happy hacking!