Plasma Active: Crunching towards One

Plasma Active aims at creating a desirable user experience for a spectrum of devices, based on a fully Free software stack, developed in the open. The first release is planned for October. In the following article, you can read about the latest status and recent improvements made.

One our way to our first release (begin of October as it currently looks like), we’re in serious make-it-work mode, crunching bugs left and right and filling in gaps of the workflows we want to suppport in our first release of Plasma Active. As we’re a month away from that, it’s a good point in time to give an update of our progress towards Plasma Active One. So where do we stand today? What has been the progress lately?

An Activity as web launchpad

My overall impression of the state of Plasma Active is very positive. We’ve made some tremendous progress, and are now at a point where we’re confidently calling it a beta. If we continue at this rate, Plasma Active One will be a very interesting first release, and a lot of fun to use. The basic functionality is in place, the focus is shifting from filling in gaps in the UI towards performance and interaction improvements, and bugfixes. In ten days, we’ll be meeting at the Basyskom offices to finish Plasma Active One, plan the release process and communication bits around it and think about what Plasma Active Two will look like.

Contour

Contour, our semantic workspace has seen a number of UI flow improvements, better visual hints and ergonomy enhancements. Switching between activities is much faster now, and it has become easier to add Bookmarks and applications launcher to the Contour activities right now, and a few bugs in the wallpaper handling have been fixed. The top panel now drags a lot smoother. Contour feels solid, performs well and really starts to work nicely for every day use cases. I’ve been starting to use the Activities more actively, it serves as a very useful tool, and brings a very innovative concept to the tablet. Most importantly, it adds real value, while not getting in the way. Mad props to basyskom for working with us on this integral part of Plasma Active. The Contour workspace offers resources such as documents, bookmarks and applications), connected to one Activity. As an Activity, you can think of “Planning a trip”, where you’d collect your ticket receipt, bookmarks of the hotel, your reservation) for example. The Contour shell shows those resources, and you can extend this with Plasma widgets which provide additional information, or small apps inside your activities. Activities also serve as launchpad for apps and the webbrowser. On the left, you find the recommendations panel, which are “magically” (based on real science!) provided by the system based on their relevance to the current context. The recommendations are non-intrusive, but turn out to be quite useful during normal usage.

Kwin compositor

We’ve integrated a few performance fixes in KWin now. One fix is especially interesting, as Kwin now skips disabled plugins entirely in its frame rendering cycle. This makes a noticable difference on a desktop system, but it really pays off in Plasma Active, where we’re using only a very limited number of effects.
We have experimental Balsam packages that use OpenGL-ES for the compositor, which fare nicely in my stability tests. Martin has been making kwin a real winner.

Keyboard Improvements

The virtual keyboard now works in more applications, some would not pop up the keyboard when needed, which makes konsole for example pretty tedious to use. Fixes for Kate, Konsole and Calligra have already upstreamed.
Getting at the ‘second layer’ of keys in the keyboard is also much easier now, as double tapping shift acts as ‘lock’ here. There’s also a good bunch of performmance improvements in there, so typing also feels more swift. It’s now also possible to quickly move the keyboard to another screen edge, in case it hides interesting information beneath it. Aaron has been bugsquasher No#1 here.

Webbrowser's history and bookmarks

Web Browser

The Active Webbrowser has seen a bunch of improvements which make it a lot more usable and enjoyable. New features include that opening windows is now fixed. I’ve implemented sharing cookies across the whole system (using KDE’s cookiejar), uses KIO for loading (and caching) the page content, remembers passwords and completes your text input from the browser history and your bookmarks. KDEWebKit makes all this very easy. Marco fixed Flash support, so watching youtube on your Plasma Active tablet is now possible as well, in that area we’ve successfully surpassed the iPad. ;-)
I’ve borrowed the Adblock implementation from Rekonq, so the browsing experience a lot cleaner now, which is especially important on mobile devices where you might be short on bandwidth (blocked ads are not even loaded at all), the screen space is often more limited, and animations used in banners are an unnecessary drain to the battery. The browser is maturing. Features such as Share-Like-Connect extend the web browsing experience naturally to the overall workspace, which also serves as a launchpad for the webbrowser as you can see in the first screenshot. On top of all that goodness, Marco has created a purty icon for the Active browser.

Recent Screencasts

Marco has published an interesting blog with a movie showing Share-Like-Connect, on of the new concepts we’re delivering with Plasma Active.

OGG version

Aaron explains and demoes the overall concepts of Plasma Active and Contour, its semantic workspace.

If you’d like to read up on the general ideas of Plasma Active, our wiki pages provide an excellent starting point. For our German-speaking audience, the Plasma Active section on the open-slx Wiki is a good place to share experiences and ideas.

Personal wishes go out to Maurice, our tireless Meego-Ninja who broke a finger in a bicycle accident, and Fania, Contour chief-design princess who got married.

16 Responses to “Plasma Active: Crunching towards One”

  1. rrh says:

    Hello Sebastian!

    I have a few questions: first, what about third level of keyboard? How to type all these ą,ś, ü, é, etc.?
    My second question concerns WeTab. In most countries, including mine (Poland) it is unlikely to see it in stores, e-stores, auctions. The only way to get it is import form Germany (tax!).
    So, the more general question is, what devices will be supported by Plasma Active?

    cheers!

    • Allix Davis says:

      The plasma active wiki mentions ViewSonic Viewpad 10 , WeTab , ExoPC and Lenovo Ideapad 10 however other tablets based on the x86 architecture should work fine (eg. Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550, MSI 100W ) , i am using a acer iconia w500 with plasma active.

  2. Bugsbane says:

    Looking good! I like the concept of a universal share-like-connect, rather than having each app implement these kinds of features separately (in inconsistent ways). The multiple levels of pull down on the top bar looks great. I’ll be curious to see how well the recommendations engine manages to select items that really are worth my time to look at. A lot of it’s value hinges on that one, so I’m hoping it’s great! I’d also be curious to know if there’s any subtle way of the system alerting the user that it has (new) recommendations for them. Maybe a subtle glow around the tab (like autohidden panels do on the KDE Desktop when the cursor gets near).

    The thing I’m really hoping to hear though is something that addresses all tablets main draw back… they’re usually very cumbersome for entering any kind of text, even just url’s. On Android there are some interesting attempts to improve the situation, from speech recognition (could we use Simon?) to my personal favourite, Swype.While it has an annoying habit of memorising words you’ll only ever use once, and it tends to be a love or hate kind of thing, Swype’s method of entering text without having to repeatedly lift and tap your finger for every character doubles my typing speed on my current tablet. It would be awesome to have something like this on Plasma Active, too, especially if it could be pared with nepomuk to give more accurate guesses of what you’re typing (eg if you’re typing at the start of the url bar, chances are high that you meant http, not htto).

    Are there any ideas or plans floating around Plasma Active towards improving text entry? Given it’s universal use, I imagine it would improve the experience of virtually every user.

    Anyway, thanks for the fab work. Active looks like it’s maturing rapidly and I’m looking forward to loading it up full time on my old Dell Latitude XT. Go team Plasma!

    • Aaron Seigo says:

      i’d love to see something swype-ish as well (among other larger keyboard improvements) but i don’t think we’ll get that for Plasma Active One (just not enough time). in subsequent releases, though, i’m sure we’ll be giving the keyboard ever more love :)

  3. BajK says:

    Although this looks nice I think there is definitly a need of improvement in the Oxygen icon theme.
    The share-like-connect buttons just look horrible in the panel (especially compared to the tray icons) and maybe black tray icons or something?
    And what I always hated about Oxygen were the arrows, the refresh icon and the close button. Just look at the keyboard, it’s aweful having that red X and even worse that green arrow. We need arrows that look more like the oxygen scrollbar arrows or something like that but the current arrows are not pretty.

    • blubblubblub says:

      I agree with you about the icons in the top panel – they are really hard to see.

    • Aaron Seigo says:

      every single example you gave are place holders. they are not actually intended for those purposes at all, and are what we refer to in the plasma team as “developer art”.

      so this has nothing at all to do with the quality of the oxygen icon theme (which honestly is one of the best free themes around) and everything to do with plasma active getting a few pieces of place-holder art replaced (as intended) with final art pieces.

  4. BajK says:

    Oh, and for the keyboard: What I always miss on tablets is a NUMPAD. Would it be possible to add a numpad to the right of they virtual keyboard? There’s lots of space (make it an option of course) but I’d love having them easily accessible.
    Also you should have a look at the Android keyboard Smart Keyboard which has a really nice special character input (just tap and hold a key for a brief time and the associated special character that is there on the special character level normally will be entered).

    • Aaron Seigo says:

      the Plasma Keyboard (same one we use on the desktop, btw :) does support a numpad .. it’s just not enabled by default in the tablet layout. you can alter the tablet layout, or bring up the “full” keyboard manually. perhaps in future we’ll make this globaly settable on the tablet.

      question of curiosity: how does the numpad, on a tablet, improve on having the numbers in a line for you?

      as for long-tap showing special characters, that’s on my todo :)

  5. asssd says:

    I believe you are doing a very goog job but, imho, you need a new theme and a new icon set: I’d suggest a more gnomish theme… or at least more similar to android or ios. I believe that styles fit very well on mobile devices.

    • Aaron Seigo says:

      one of our goals is to make the tablet UI blend very nicely with the plasma desktop and netbook interfaces. the look of things not being suitable for mobile devices (or in particular: tablets, as that’s what we’re working on at the moment; it’s really impossible to lump all mobile devices in one camp as screen size, resolution and usage patterns vary fairly dramatically) is not something we’ve heard at all during hands-on usage and testing.

      of course: feel free to create and/or sponsor the creation of the look you’d love! it’s fully themable. :)

  6. Thorsten Schnebeck says:

    A little bit OT, but I find this presentation quite interesting and maybe this is also interesting for the plasma active team:
    A Nokia presentation about designing patterns of human interactions:
    http://vimeo.com/28758945

    (Of course they have a focus on mobile phones)

    Bye

    Thorsten

  7. Hi Sebastian,

    About the keyboard: Do you know the Neo-Layout? The additional layers might be quite cool for the on-screen keyboard: http://neo-layout.org

  8. Allix Davis says:

    I would love to see the newsreader app support opml files or google reader as its quite cumbersome having to add the rss feed to one long line. If i could code myself i would help out :)