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.