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Netbook, Pages and what they're for

As presented on this blog a bit ago the central and more important view for Plasma Netbook Shell is this so called "Newspaper" activity: applets are positioned in an arbitrary number of columns (default two), one on top of the other, scrolling when there isn't enough space, giving you actually an "almost infinite" vertical real estate

At the beginning this was decide just for a screen size issue, but with time this has been revealed to be a damn good metaphor that could have been expanded, so let's see what the direction is.

As said pretty much over the place, the "netbook" is not a little laptop is a totally new class of device, that is kinda inept to do what the computer has been used for ages, create content.

The shift we are seeing now, is a shift on using the computer to create content only in certain moments (i.e. work ;p) and most of the time just "consuming" content or creating only really lightweight type of content (hello microblogging).

A different beast, a different use

This is what has been called (and somewhat mistaken for) the shift towards the web based content, but is not just limited to that, the web is just the pipe to convey this content and often the web browser is a kind of a suboptimal tool to access some kinds of that content, but this is another story.

The netbook is the perfect device for a quick check of that content when you are on the move, or not want or have the possibility to use a bigger but sometime inconvenient computer.

Now, there is something that needs full focus of the attention of the user ad of the machine, like reading a big article on a website or watching a movie, and there is something that instead most of the times needs a quick "peek" at it to see if there is something changed, and -maybe- only in this case I'll give full attention on that task, like:

microblogging: what my friends are saying? or just update your status with a line or two of text.

Facebook or sites like that: often just used as microblogging, if i need some more advanced features of the website i will give full attention to it

Weather: often all is needed is just a quick answer: will it rain tomorrow?

Email: at start just want to see the titles of the few last emails, only if there is something that looks important i will give the attention to emails right now.

There are other examples, like appointments, to-do lists and similar things.

The concept of giving "full attention" is indicated in plasma by that little "full screen" icon i talked about here, this is available both in the usual plasma desktop and in the scrolling page layout of the netbook. this button will launch an application, like akregator for the news widget and gwenview for the picture frame or just open the a web browser to the proper URL in the case of services like remember the milk or the weather.

Pages and activities

The concept of the newspaper is perfect for that, it contains widgets that will give this quick "peek" on the possible information sources one could be interested on the internet, giving a quick idea, as soon as the device is turned on on what could be interesting/important and what definitely won't be.

This video gives a typical work flow of the netbook Plasma interfaces: it shows how is easy to add and remove "pages" and organize widgets in them, keeping the concept of "activity" that was introduced in the plasma desktop, so one could have a page that informs on what's going on in several social networking sites, or showing some news from rss sources and so on, having another page activity that is more work oriented perhaps showing appointments and work related emails (widgets for emails and appointments still won't be available in KDE SC 4.4, but they are in the works)

OGG version

Web client widgets

Here you can see some widgets that can attach to web services: the microblogging client, the 3 opendesktop plasmoids, and the Remember the milk client

network widgets

The first thing one can notice is how they look very similar, they're pretty good at their task and some guidelines on how to do a widget like that can be extrapolated:

  • You may want to follow this look and behavior when the service you want to connect offers a list of "stuff" that can always be interesting to give to the user, such as microblogs, news items, friend list, email messages, whatever.
  • This list should be presented as occupying the total or nearly total area of the plasmoid (maximizing the content, minimizing the "chrome")
  • don't make assumptions on how big the widget will be, test it from a very small size (always think to run your widget in a cellphone and ask yourself if it would look usable in there), to very big
  • when there isn't enough space, make it scroll the content, some UI elements (like the input field of the microblog applet) are in fact less important than the content, so shouldn't be always visible stealing from the content, you may want them to scroll away as well
  • make it work in the panel, so in 90% of the cases you may want show the content in a popup
  • Scrollbars nested in other scrollbars are not really good, so when embedded in the newspaper the widget should get longer to not have a scrollbar (well if it won't become -exaggeratedly- long)

Some of those points, like scrolling, automate resize and panel-friendliness will be got almost for free using standard Plasma components, like Plasma::ScrollWidget and Plasma::PopupApplet

In the future I hope (is this a new year resolution? i don't know :P) more and more of this kind of widgets will surface, with the procedure to create them more and more easy and automated when possible (and I also hope to see them written in the simple javascript bindings). This kind of widgets will also be the key to start to colonize new type of devices, from cellphone like tiny things to 10 foot interfaces like mediacenters

Ah, by the way, hopefully

I'm going to Camp KDE 2010!

Where I will give a talk about all this stuff :D

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