What’s new in Plasma Active?

We’ve been busy bees in the growing Plasma Active team, so it’s time to post some progress updates. In case you forgot, Plasma Active is a KDE project to create a desirable user experience for the device spectrum, with its first focus to create a system suitable for tablet computers. In my first post about Plasma Active, you can see the basic shell running on a 10 inch Viewsonic Viewtab. In this post, I’m using a Wetab to demo the current state of Plasma Active. The Wetab is one of our test devices. It’s a nice target device since it’s Intel Atom-based, which makes building Plasma Active a bit easier, and thus shortens our development-testing-deployment cycles considerable. The Wetab can currently be gotten from German Ebay for 219€ + shipping, so it’s also quite affordable.

Back to the software, though. Our focus in the past weeks has been two-fold, we’ve done a lot of “small fixes” which greatly improve the user experience. The other class of changes is less visible at this point, but still fun and exciting.


Virtual Keyboard Layout

new virtual keyboard layout The virtual keyboard is using a layout that is more suitable for tablet computers, containing more characters on the first, easily reachable “page” of it. This makes text input a lot less annoying (let’s face it, touchscreens are not ideal for typing as they lack haptic feedback, so it can only become so good). There’s still a bunch of things that would make the keyboard better, and of course it has its fair share of bugs, but it basically works and isn’t too annoying, either.

Top Panel and Window Switching

We’ve also done some work on the top panel, holding access to network, power management, the calendar and a bunch of other things. While the panel would slide out a bit in our early versions to make the hit area bigger, we found that this intermediate step is not necessary, we increased the default height of the panel a bit which works nicely. The panel is still meant to be slided out, but for a different purpose. We will be putting a strip of window previews in there, replacing the current appswitcher sitting in the top left corner. Most pieces for the new panel-and-window-switching mechanism are already in place, but it’s not finished yet.

Snazzy new Activity Switcher

New activity switcher in Plasma Active During Tokamak, Marco has merged a new, snazzy Activity switcher into Plasma Active. This activity switcher offers a wheel-like interface which you slide in from the right. It has previews (or rather post-views ;)) of your activities, and you use a small slider on those previews to switch to an activity. (These activities right now provide spaces for different sets of widgets, but will be given more meaning thanks to the Contour project, which develops a semantic workspace framework for Plasma Active. As all the parts necessary to make basic activity handling in Plasma Active work, we’ve decided to merge this new switcher already, since the “old” one was really very basic, and wasn’t quite so intuitive, due to lack of visual feedback (i.e. previews).

Try it!

open-slx has created a new Plasma Active image, which can be run live off of a USB stick, you can find the latest version here (spot the plasma-active.current.iso). There are also openSUSE and Meego packages available (the latter being a bit less mature, but we’ve made really good progress in the past days.)

If Plasma Active has spawned your interest, or you would like to find out how you can get your software to run on and integrate well with Plasma Active, get in touch with us, either on IRC, or via our mailinglist. You can find more information on the Plasma Active pages on communitybase.

17 Responses to “What’s new in Plasma Active?”

  1. TheBlackCat says:

    Really nice! Are all of these widgets going to be available in the mainline plasma release as well? The application switcher sounds like something that could be used on the desktop, and the activity swicher looks like it could be great on the desktop with minor modification as well (for instance putting the activity thumbnails closer together). Something similar to the activity switcher could also make a really nice application switcher on the desktop. I also know people have been requesting a desktop switcher with dots like you have there.

    • sebas says:

      The activity switcher is probably easy enough to adapt to Plasma Desktop, though it’s really made for touch-screen devices, and not all that ideal for mouse input. But sure, it can be done quite easily thanks to the design of the Plasma framework. Whether or not they’ll be available in Plasma Desktop mostly depends if someone is going to find it worthwhile and do the integration work for that. There’s no big technical barrier.

  2. Nathan Hourt says:

    Looks beautiful, but the keyboard needs work. Way too small for a touchscreen device, and remember, a tablet is often held with two hands. It would be far better to split it in half down the middle, and put a half on each side, within a thumb’s reach, otherwise you have to hold the tablet in one hand and hunt/peck with the other, like you do on an iPad. This is KDE/Plasma; we’re better than iPads. :)

    • sebas says:

      The keyboard is fairly basic right now, but I don’t think that splitting it in two will make many people happy (surely, some, but for the majority it’s probably better in one piece). The keyboard is easily interchangeable, so I’m hoping we’ll be seeing more options here in the future.

  3. shamaz says:

    Nice article. Why don’t you publish it on news.kde.org ?

    • sebas says:

      In general, we don’t do development status updates on the Dot, the Dot is really more for official news, and stable releases.

  4. nowardev says:

    mm debian iso ?
    i have tried the suse iso before.. but it’s was a pain do a usb bootable … just doesn’t work i have googled == lost time == give up

    • sebas says:

      Not sure what went wrong for me, but using either the imagewriter program (which is basically a graphical UI for dd, as far as I understand), or using dd directly both seem to work fine. I’m not sure what a Debian iso would make easier. If you have problems booting the current iso’s, pop by on #active (on Freenode) and we can get you going.

    • trebor says:

      have you tried UNetbootin? That works for me.

  5. Fri13 says:

    I tried Plasma Active few weeks ago when the OpenSUSE/Fedora test image was released and I wanted few things for keyboard.

    1. Possibility to resize the keyboard
    2. Possibility to move keyboard or separate it to two parts (for both thumbs)
    3. New layouts
    4. New themes
    5. Easy way to get keyboard hided and back (gesture up/down?)

    And with tablets you can write well if the keyboard is just big enough. There is no need for haptic feedback if writer knows own fingers what keys just pressed and keyboard supports at least 10 touchpoints so it does not make mistakes if pressed more than 2.

    • sebas says:

      A bigger keyboard (such as the one in Active now) works better than a small one, but a physical one is for me still miles ahead of any virtual keyboard, mainly because of the haptic feedback. Some people might have grown used to virtual keyboard, and I think they work fine for input of single words or small texts (Hello Generation Tweet!), but for long texts, it still sucks.

      As to your suggestions: The bigger keyboard makes resizing less necessary, and I think it should not be necessary. Might be a cool feature, though. Separation of the keyboard into two parts might be cool as well, but not sure about the suitability for average users (non-geeks). New layouts are possible and relatively easy to do — the layout description lives in easy-to-understand XML files. The keyboard uses standard Plasma theming. Hiding showing of the keyboard should happen automatically in the majority of cases, but at least a hide button would probably not hurt.

  6. Boerny says:

    Nice preview. But why a top panel? I would prefer a side panel (xxxx is the panel)

    ___________
    |x |
    |x |
    |x_________|

    and let the panel where it is when the screen rotates! just change orientation.
    _______
    | |
    | |
    | |
    |xxxxxx|

    • sebas says:

      Might be worth an experiment once we have the new panel setup runnning (and thus we can test it), and shouldn’t be that hard to change thanks to all of the UI being done in QML.

  7. Markus says:

    Is the virtual keyboard based on Maliit ? If no, may I ask why not? Seems to be a good way to avoid duplicate code.

    • sebas says:

      We’ve looked at it, as it seems a nice option. It was complex to build and package though, so we turned down this option for now. It might be worth re-evaluating in the future.

  8. Tjaart says:

    Wow!!!! just…. WOW!!!! Plasma mobile, tablet etc… looked like it was standing still until this project came along. It really is something amazing. Is all of it QML with OpenGL? How will the applications be written? I’m really curious to see what comes next.

  9. kaddy says:

    First thing Kde need’s to do is make sure that Plasma Netbook Inteface runs on a Damn Netbook smoothly since it is designed for it…….. Kde is too heavy on resources to run on a netbook with effects enabled… disappointing…. gnome 3 runs super smooth though. shame