How to Use KDE Plasma Activities

Plasma cashew iconThe concept of activities is a new feature introduced with KDE 4. In the old desktop model of KDE 3, the desktop was a program called “kdesktop”, which gave users the ability to have a number of virtual desktops. Although other tools like Superkaramba could be used to add more features, the essential KDE desktop ended there.

When activities were introduced into KDE 4, they did not make much sense in isolation. In addition to having virtual desktops, there were activities, which the user could create and configure to have different wallpapers and different widgets. Much of the virtual desktop functionality of KDE 3 was absent and not directly connected to Plasma activities.

With the release of KDE 4.5, Plasma has reached a much higher level of maturity, and activities can now be integrated with virtual desktops, dual monitor screens, and with the Dashboard feature.


By default, all virtual desktops operate on the same activity and look identical. If you add a widget on desktop 1, it will be the same on 2, 3, and 4. Similarly, icons, panels, and anything else you add will all be the same. With activities, however, you can separate each desktop into truly independent workspaces.

KDE multiple=

To have a unique activity for each desktop:

  1. Open System Settings
  2. Under the “Workspace Appearance and Behavior” section, click “Window Behavior”
  3. Click the “Virtual Desktops” icon.
  4. In the Layout section, check “Different widgets for each desktop”
  5. Click “Apply”.

Desktop activity settings

After you have enabled this feature, you can add unique icons, widgets, and wallpapers to each individual desktop.


KDE automatically recognizes dual monitor configurations and creates separate activities for each screen. Therefore, each screen has its own panels, widgets, icons, and wallpapers. Turn on the “different widgets for each desktop” feature, and each screen will additionally have separate activities for each desktop. For example, if you have a total of four desktops per screen, you would end up with eight activities, each of which can have its own set of widgets and wallpapers.

KDE dual screens separate activities

To configure your screens in KDE:

  1. Open System Settings
  2. Under “Hardware” click “Display and Monitor”
  3. Click the “Multiple Monitors” icon
  4. Check “Enable multiple monitor virtual desktop support”
  5. Click “Apply”.


Those familiar will Mac OS X have most likely used the Dashboard feature. When the user presses a hot key, a dimmed, translucent layer appears over the screen, displaying widgets the user has selected. Since version 4, KDE has offered a similar feature.

KDE Dashboard with widgets

The default hot key for KDE’s Dashboard is Ctrl+F8, but the Dashboard feature behaves like a “show desktop” button, only bringing to the foreground the widgets currently on the desktop. In order to have a separate activity for the Dashboard with unique widgets, you must do the following:

  1. Open System Settings
  2. Under the “Workspace Appearance and Behavior” section, click “Workspace”
  3. Next to “Dashboard” select “Show an Independent Widget Set” from the dropdown menu
  4. Click Apply.

KDE Dashboard settings


The default setting for the KDE 4 desktop is called “Desktop”, and it only displays widgets. Those widgets can be icons, Folder View, weather, taskbar, and many other types, but, in this mode, the desktop will never behave like the former KDE 3 desktop or similar desktops in Gnome, Windows, and other interfaces.

Some prefer this new feature and love KDE 4 because of it, while others have avoided KDE 4 because they prefer a traditional desktop. Fortunately, KDE has options for both. To change a desktop to a traditional interface:

  1. Right click on the desktop
  2. Click “Unlock Widgets” (If you see, “Lock Widgets”, leave it as-is)
  3. Right click again and click “Desktop Settings”
  4. Click “Activity”
  5. In the dropdown menu for “Type” change it to Folder View.

Once selected, the entire desktop will become a Folder View, allowing you to specify which folder it will display. You can also repeat this for any of your virtual desktops, configuring each one to display a different desktop folder.


There are many possible other uses for activities, such as those used in the KDE Plasma Netbook interface. You can also create activities for any purpose you want and select them with Alt+D+A (or right click on the desktop and select Activities). Each activity can have a unique name and unique function, and you could even completely change over your desktop for working during the day and entertainment at night. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination. For more information about Plasma activities, visit KDE’s Userbase.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton is a freelance writer from Indianapolis. He is an avid user of free and open source software and strongly believes that software and knowledge should be free and accessible to all people. He enjoys reading, writing, teaching, spending time with his family, and playing with gadgets.


  1. You should also check out the experimental Activities manager (right click on the desktop and select 'Activities…' and assigning windows to Activities using the window menu (alt-f3). In the future we will all have digital video wristwatches, /and/ semantic activity based window management. It's very raw at the moment though.

  2. There is no “Workspace appearance and Behaviour” section in KDE 4.5's System Settings. It's been split to both “Workspace appearance” AND “Window behaviour”. The settings you're on about are found in the latter section.

  3. What if you just want to have separate backgrounds for your separate virtual desktops WITHOUT assigning separate “activities” to each desktop? (You know, the way you USED to be able to do in KDE 3.x?) I need the flexibility of opening any application or utility on any virtual desktop I want or transferring already open applications at will between desktops and yet I need to be able to tell BY SIGHT (of the background!) which desktop I'm on at any given instant.

    Is there a way to do that, or have we “progressed” past that?

  4. Using activities does not add any complexity to your desktops unless you choose to take advantage of it. In other words, if all you want are different backgrounds on each desktop, you can do that with the “different widgets for each desktop” setting, without adding any other configuration changes.

  5. System settings is divided in 6 sections, each with several modules. The first section is “Common Appearance and Behavior”, and the second is “Workspace appearance and Behavior”. “Workspace Appearance” and “Window Behavior” are both under this second section.

  6. > Under the “Workspace Appearance and Behavior” section, click “Window Behavior”
    > Click the “Virtual Desktops” icon

    This stuff is really difficult. It used to be the case that you could simply choose which desktop to apply a wall paper to. Then you improved it. Now, it seems, you keep improving it with every minor release. STOP IT. Dang! Please fix this page to account for the fact that “Virtual Desktops” has been moved to a new and better place: directly under “Workspace Appearance and Behavior”. Thank you.

  7. maybe I’m quite stupid I find this “activities” stuff quite useless. Ok I can have diferent desktops showing diferent backgrounds and widgets by enabling it with a click. Then, where is the “activities” use with this? useless , complex and useless as I see it. maybe the word “activitie” is what confuses me…

    1. Or maybe you don’t get the word “Activities” ;)

      I use it to make my desktop look different for my different activities i do.
      For example I have a School activity which only have some folder views for shared dropbox and for my school stuff.. Then I have a activity for my more personal computing stuff for when I’m home with all kind of widgets and different folder views aswell as a different wallpaper..

      And that works really great!, gives you different looks and feel for all you “activities” and also easy access to the programs you use the most for different activities.

      But it also took me awhile to get use to the idea.

  8. What about system resources?
    What happen if I “close” an activity? Does the resources are released?

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