Plasma Active brings a flexible, elegant, activity-driven user experience to a spectrum of devices. This article is part of a series of articles about different perspectives on Plasma Active. This installment looks at the user story, and aims at answering the questions “what does Plasma Active bring me as a user?”, what are the underlying concepts and how do we plan to achieve these goals.
For the user who wants to enjoy the Internet, multimedia and data away from his laptop or desktop, right now choices are rather slim. This means, for example, that you will choose a platform with some sort of critical mass, meaning that your favourite 3rd party apps are available, enough services supported, etc.. A Free software platform has to bring a lot to the table for users: There’s a lot of cool software available, systems such as Plasma Active offer a system without lock-in to a single vendor, but rather being able to take apps across vendors and devices. Plasma Active already comes with a good amount of interesting widgets, new ones are being developed all the time, the development platform is proven to be stable and working in real world use, and it’s easy for 3rd parties to develop and bring support for (even “4th” party) services. Plasma Active extends the Free software ecosystem into user experiences for devices, bringing a critical mass with it.
I personally use Plasma Active almost every day, I prefer the tablet form factor for “light reading”, checking on news, social networks, the blogosphere. For me it’s an ideal “on the couch in the living room” device, although I tend to use it in trains for reading and watching movies as well. With its powerful email client Kontact Touch it allows me quite conveniently read longer email threads. The virtual keyboard works well enough for entering short texts. For longer texts, I usually either plug in a keyboard and put the tablet into a stand, so it feels more like a ‘stationary laptop’.
Plasma Active has been designed, from the ground up for the user. Our goal is to create an elegant experience for the user, with as little friction in the UI as possible. The device(s) support the user’s workflow, are ergonomic to use on a given formfactor. The device should get the work done, be fun to use and flexible enough to easily adapt to the user’s wishes and needs. In our development process, this is strongly reflected by the integral role designers play. Usability and interaction engineering is not an afterthought, but the driving force behind the work we do.
Contour, Plasma Active’s primary workspace uses semantic technologies to represent to the user. On a low level, this means that the user deals with photos, persons rather than .jpg files and email addresses. The semantic layer provides the data abstraction, including files, online resources, but also more abstract things such as locations. The Contour shell uses this information, and melds it with smart algorithms into a mapping for the user. The building blocks of this mindmap of the user’s digital life are activities. Activities are easily created, customized and removed, and you can use them go group similar items, bookmarks, widgets, apps, images, music tracks or videos. Activities allow you to organize all the interesting things you encounter while using your device. The Share Like Connect feature allows you to interact with these activities, so instead of generally bookmarking a website, you can also directly connect it to one of your activities and have it neatly organized among the rest of your digital artifacts.
Plasma Active devices are interconnected and work together well, as they offer similar functionality across a range of devices. In Plasma Active One we’ve delivered the first bits that will lead to this goal: The Contour shell which gives a stronger connection between the user, his data and network and the device. In future releases, we will enhance Contour to provide more handles and “background support” to the user. Share-Like-Connect’s like and share features provides stronger connections to the (social) network, a perfect feature for the Free Culture community, and one of the strong selling points of Free Software (even if for many people outside the “geek crowd” perhaps not consciously). It will also be used to easily share anything across devices, imagine watching photos in a group, moving an interesting article from your desktop onto your tablet to read it on the couch or on the go, showing your friends on Facebook, Google+ and other social networks your preferences.