APR
28
2015

Moving desktop widgets without the handle

Moving a widget in Plasma Desktop 5.3 in press-and-hold mode
Getting a move on (notice the mouse pointer)

In Plasma Desktop 5.3 (released today), the desktop configuration dialog offers a new experimental tweak: A mode in which widgets can be dragged around by pressing and holding anywhere on the widget. When enabled, the widget handle is also no longer shown just on hover, but only after a press and hold.

The goal of this mode is to make widget handling feel more natural and spatial, and faster. Instead of having to aim for a widget to reveal the handle, and then go after the handle in a second step, you can just grab on to it anywhere. Easy.

The immediate challenge with this setup is discoverability. To address this problem, unlocking widgets in this mode displays a notification bubble introducing the interaction pattern (which can be easily dismissed forever with the action button):

Press-and-hold notification bubble on widget unlock
"It looks like you're moving a widget"

Press-and-hold widget handling is not yet the default in 5.3 (you can enable it on the Tweaks config page of both the Desktop and Folder View containments). Beta feedback has been positive so far, but changes to the interaction vocab of our shell components shan't be done lightly—using press-and-hold for widget handling means withholding the verb from widgets themselves, which is something we have to negotiate with widget authors. We think the joy felt when using this pattern and its widespread adoption in other home screen UIs bode well for it, however. Let us know how you feel!

APR
25
2015

Building on new pillars: Activities and KPeople in Plasma 5.3

With the release of Plasma 5.3 only days away, it's time to start talking about some of the new features users of Plasma Desktop will get their hands on in the new version.

Activities

Many Plasma Desktop users are already familiar with Activities as a toolbox to divide and organize their personal computing environment into shards: You can set up and name activities, distribute application windows across them, associate relevant files with them, switch between, start and stop them to your heart's content.

A previously less explored side to the Activities story is what the technology can offer while working inside any one of your activities - thus even if you don't bother with setting up more than one and just stick to the default activity created for you the first time you log into Plasma.

This changes with Plasma 5.3! New work to make it easier for applications to enter useful data into the activity's knowledge store, as well as run smart queries against it, enable some new and improved functionality in both the Application Menu and Task Manager widgets in this release.

In Application Menu, all of the Recent categories (one of which is new) are now powered by Activities. One immediate advantage of this is that their contents now change with the activity you're in, but as promised it also provides several other inherent benefits:

The three Recent categories in Application Menu 5.3
The three Recent categories in Application Menu 5.3

  • Recent Applications used to be only aware of applications launched through Application Menu itself. With launch info now retrieved from the Activities knowledge store and all other launchers (for example KRunner, but also just opening a document from Dolphin is a launch) free to enter data there, this submenu can now gather much more recent system activity in one place. Furthermore, new data sources can be added as time goes on without having to touch Application Menu itself.
     
  • Recent Documents benefits in a similar way. Over the older KRecentDocument framework used before, the Activities backend offers access to a longer, richer backlog of document use data. User control over the data is also enhanced - it's now possible to forget about individual documents from the context menu, instead of being forced into a complete wipe.
     
    But that's not all on the documents front! Activities enable both Application Menu and Task Manager to easily query for recent documents by the application they were opened in, leading to lists of recent docs in the context menus of various types of application launcher buttons:

    Per-application recent documents in Application Menu and Task Manager 5.3
    Per-application recent documents in Application Menu and Task Manager 5.3

     
  • Recent Contacts is a brand new addition to Application Menu 5.3 showing the people you've been in touch with recently, along with their realtime status information. The first part of this is handled through Activities; dealing in people data, however, is facilitated by a recent addition to KDE Frameworks 5: KPeople.
     

KPeople

Application Menu's Recent Contacts category in Plasma 5.3
Recent Contacts in Application Menu 5.3: Powered by Activities and KPeople

The KPeople framework allows applications (including the shell) to retrieve lists of people and information about them (status, contact metadata), as well as perform actions on them - e.g. initiate a chat, as used by Application Menu when you click on an entry in the Recent Contacts category.

The data backing this interface is provided by backend plugins. The first implementer of a fully-featured KPeople backend is of course our very own Telepathy instant messenging suite. In the future, other KDE communication apps will integrate with KPeople, making conversations had e.g. in KDE's IRC client Konversation pop up in Application Menu as well.

Closing thoughts

Both the enhanced Activities backend and KPeople are very fresh. While we work hard to line up everything behind them (implement additional data sources and optimize those implementations, for example), they are still exposed somewhat carefully in Plasma Desktop 5.3. The Recent Contacts category in Application Menu, for example, is disabled in this release by default, because a Telepathy release entering conversation data into the Activities knowledge store is still pending. It can be enabled from the widget's config dialog.

In future releases you can expect us to make more of these pillars as our confidence grows, with additional UI functionality built on them and more prominent placements of it in various areas of the shell. Lots of work ahead!

MAR
29
2015

PyKDE Future: Seeking a New Maintainer

For anyone who has been paying any attention of PyKDE5 over the last year or so, it is no secret that development and maintenance has been at a standstill. I've been very busy with a family and small children, and that eats time like you wouldn't believe. (Unit number 2 is almost 6 months now, healthy and happy I can report.) But another important factor is that my interests have shifted towards web related technologies over the last few years.

So, it is time to put the call out for a new maintainer or maintainers. I would also like to put in a bit of an apology to anyone who has depended on PyKDE5 and has had to put up this wishy-washy state of limbo for the project. And I would also like the thank people for the occassional drive-by commit which has helped keep the existing functionality mostly working.

Anyone interested should contact me. I'm willing to help and advise anyone who wants to learn the ropes, and to facilitate a transition to new management. If you are interested and curious but don't want to stick your hand up immediately and commit yourself, then still email me and I can forward on some information to you which may help explain how PyKDE5 works and is updated. It should give you an idea of the task at hand.

JAN
25
2015

A new year and a whole lot of stuff (part 1 of 2)

It's been an awful while since I last blogged, we all go though periods where things get rather crazy all at once or boring, mine went though both.

JAN
11
2015

New TODO application that blocks distractions while you work

TL;DR: flow is a sticky TODO manager with support for the pomodoro technique and blocks distractions (cat pictures too) while you're focusing on a task: git, AUR, Windows, OSX

"A good task manager application is one that can beat a .txt file."

NOV
30
2014

Comparing text style support in Calligra, Abiword and LibreOffice

This weekend I spent time on preparing for the ODF Plugfest again. The test software ODFAutoTests now has many more tests. Most new tests are for text styles. I've created tests for each of the possible attributes in <style:text-properties/>.

NOV
30
2014

Table View and Report Barcodes junior jobs

Kexi has improved quite a bit since the last time, especially in Reports. We're close to supplementary 2.8.7 release within Calligra, then 2.9 will follow and Qt5/KF5-based 3.0 with a shiny mask.

We're about to reach the point where it's very very hard to find comparable Free Software reporting tool in terms of usability. If you don't know why reporting software may be useful, try to generate 50 or 500 pages PDF out of structured data with just mouse clicks and no programming. Get the report file generated in 2 seconds or less. Or print the report directly without creating intermediate PDF or ODF or HTML files that will pollute your computer... It's data that matters.

NOV
24
2014

ODFAutoTests gearing up towards the 10th ODF Plugfest in London

In two weeks time, users and developers of OpenDocument Format software will meet up for a two day ODF plugfest in London. In preparation of the plugfest, I have spent last weekend, refreshing ODFAutoTests. ODFAutoTests is a tool for creating test documents for ODF software and running these documents through the different implementations.

NOV
22
2014

Blog Moved

I've moved my developer blog to my vanity domain jriddell.org, which has hosted my personal blog since 1999 (before the word existed). Tags used are Planet KDE and Planet Ubuntu for the developer feeds.

Sorry no DCOP news on jriddell.org.

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