December is a month for reflection and evaluation. In the past, I've written year-end summaries for these purposes, but this year, I find myself looking at my own Linux desktop instead.
I mean, let's face it: 2014 was a year of disappointments for Linux and/or free and open source software. The long-awaited Vivaldi tablet was canceled. The equally long-awaited Ubuntu Touch was postponed again and again, creating the impression that Canonical has a lot to learn about selling hardware. A Steam box failed to emerge, and Linux gaming percentages continued dismal. Meanwhile, the question of replacing init with systemd continues dividing the community, and diversity issues remain unresolved.
Yet, despite these headlines, most of free software continued quietly along, issuing releases and setting a standard of excellence that commercial software rarely matches.
Many of us, tend to take that level of excellence for granted because we live with it daily. My desktop, for example, is nothing unusual. Hundreds of thousands of desktops must match it for functionality, and no doubt many are more ingenious. But that's the point -- that even an ordinary Linux desktop offers is so rich in performance these days that half of Microsoft's planned innovations are borrowed directly from it.
Distro, Desktop, and Activities
At any given time, I have half a dozen virtual machines, each with a different distribution, but my host operating system is Debian. My choice of distribution lets me choose the mixture of stability and risk I prefer, and gives me a selection of fifty thousand packages. I might have chosen one of the dozens of Debian-derivatives, many that are fine in their way, but I prefer to go directly to their source instead.
My main desktop remains KDE, although Cinammon, GNOME, Mate, and LXDE are also ready to run. However, my main environment remains KDE because of the work tools it provides, such as a multi-item clipboard, and the ability to group the applications I'm working with into a single tabbed window.
I especially rely upon Activities, a KDE feature that organizes work by tasks. I regularly add Activities for a specific task, and I sometimes use one as a dumping ground for when I'm pulling links from the Internet quickly.
However, the three standard ones I always have are labeled Main, Shell, and Games. I've added a switcher on the left side of the desktop, taking advantage of KDE's ability to rotate widgets to minimize the space it occupies. It rests just above the desktop toolkit in the lower left corner. Unless I'm running more Activities than usual, it sits just out of the way of the desktop menu that opens from the top left.
That way, I can give my wallpaper the most space possible. On the Main Activity, the wallpaper shows my collection of Northwest Coast art, each item reduced to about 100 pixels in height. The Game Activity wallpaper is a picture taken at the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Gardens in Vancouver that I am also considering using for the cover of my forthcoming book on LibreOffice.
As for the Shell Activity, it shows a carved spoon by Carol Young, one of the coast's premier female artists. These different wallpapers not only provide variety, but help me identify each Activity at a glance.
The Default Activities
As the name implies, the Main Activity is my default. I've made it a Folder View (an icon collection) of the applications I use. Each is labeled by function.
The first icon by alphabetical order opens Bluefish. Bluefish is where I do most of my writing, which usually needs to be submitted either as plain text or HTML. Although Bluefish is intended for coding, I find that it works equally well for writing. With word wrap, a spell-check and font customization, it has just enough features for me to work the way I choose. Best of all, I can add the HTML tags required with a few keyboard shortcuts. This produces clean HTML that editors can paste into whatever applications they use without difficulty.