Virtual Desktops & Desktop Grid Suggestions for Kubuntu
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Description

by default, Kubuntu only comes with 1 Virtual Desktop, yet it has shortcuts setup for 4 and it also includes the Desktop Pager widget on the panel by default even though with only 1 it doesn't display anything.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. add some desktops for a total to start with of 4 Virtual Desktops
    • I'd also suggest 4 rows to have them aligned in a vertical stack.
      • the reason for the stack is to make it easier to navigate the desktops (up and down only)
  2. disable the desktop pager from the panel because it's not doing anything anyway by default.
  3. Add/replace shortcut for activating the Desktop Grid effect to Meta+D (unused currently)
    • aka Super+D = D for Desktops
  4. Edit the Desktop Grid's effect configuration for Layout Mode from Pager to Automatic
    • this way the keyboard navigation is more simple yet the Desktop Grid looks good by automatically aligning the desktops into a nice grid style.
  5. Modify the shortcuts for navigating Virtual Desktops as the current defaults are awkward at best.
    1. currently we have Ctrl+F1-F4 to navigate through Virtual Desktops, that don't exist. I suggest replacing these or adding the following:
      1. change these shortcuts to Meta+Alt+1-0 (1 - 10 desktops, should a user want more)
      2. this allows for easy access and control while also not interfering with the Meta+1-0 of the task manager apps shortcuts
    2. I also suggest adding Meta+Ctrl+1-0 for moving windows to these desktops. (this is a function of KWin that is unused)
    3. Meta+Alt+Up or Down to easily navigate in a previous / next style movement of desktops
      • Alternative would be Ctrl+Alt+Up or Down as this is used for GNOME as a default and was used for Unity
      • Meta+Ctrl+Up or Down could be another alternative as Meta+Alt+Up or Down does conflict with navigating windows shortcut.
        • However, I would suggest changing this because this function is super weird and not very useful so navigating with Meta+Alt+Up or Down would be the most logical and ideal solution mixed with Meta+Alt+#s
          • this refers to the "Switch to Window Above/Below" function which is not very useful as it repeats the first window you had often
          • plus there's also Alt+Tab and Alt+` which everyone would use anyway.
      • Another option, though this is an addition rather than a replacement for the others would be to use Super+Tab and Super+Shift+Tab to navigate through virtual desktops. This is currently used for cycling through Activities but lets face it 99% of Plasma users dont use Activities and 95% of them don't even know what they are. It's just a wasted shortcut right now.
michaeltunnell updated the task description. (Show Details)

I edited the original comment to add Super+Tab and Super+Shift+Tab option for desktop switching because Activities are rather pointless to be taking of space for such a valuable shortcut.

I've noticed on KDE Neon, which I assume to be vanilla KDE, this is also true. I can't think of a reason to not have at least two desktops configured as default but I guess there is one? I'd like to second the suggestion for configuring at least two if not four desktops by default. I personally don't want them stacked vertically as I prefer a 2x2 grid but I would be fine with changing it if the default was something else. The rest of Michael's suggestion make sense but just adding the desktops is a good first step.

Also, @michaeltunnell suggests using Meta + D but I see that in Plasma 5.16 they are assigning that as the default for Show Desktop. Not sure that matters but figured I'd mention it.

michaeltunnell added a comment.EditedMay 29 2019, 2:49 PM

I personally don't want them stacked vertically as I prefer a 2x2 grid but I would be fine with changing it if the default was something else.

This is the beauty of Plasma/KWin Virtual Desktops, you can have the desktops aligned vertically for keyboard navigation but when you open the Desktop Grid it will display it differently. This is why I suggested to change it from Layout Mode to Automatic because that way the will be vertical for navigation BUT when you open the grid they will be in a nice grid layout as you prefer.

Alternatively, Windows does it left and right instead of up and down. However they use Meta+Ctrl instead of Meta+Alt so I suppose it depends if we want to adopt that paradigm or not. There are good reasons to do it and to not do it.

Edit: now that I think about it, Plasma/KWin doesn't have a shortcut by default for switching desktops at all so that leaves 2 global spots. I say do the Meta+Alt+Up/Down (or Left/Right) but also do the Windows scheme of Meta+Ctrl+Left/Right so people moving over who know that can use that as well. That covers transition and keeps in sync with the Meta+Alt+D to activate the grid.

Also, @michaeltunnell suggests using Meta + D but I see that in Plasma 5.16 they are assigning that as the default for Show Desktop. Not sure that matters but figured I'd mention it.

Well that is certainly annoying because it took them so long to do something that has been in Windows for over a decade but alright. Meta+Alt+D then 😃

Also, @michaeltunnell suggests using Meta + D but I see that in Plasma 5.16 they are assigning that as the default for Show Desktop. Not sure that matters but figured I'd mention it.

Well that is certainly annoying because it took them so long to do something that has been in Windows for over a decade but alright. Meta+Alt+D then 😃

If you saw the kind of pushback I sometimes get when I submit patches for things like this, you'd be happy they wind up getting done at all rather than annoyed that they took so long. :)

Also, @michaeltunnell suggests using Meta + D but I see that in Plasma 5.16 they are assigning that as the default for Show Desktop. Not sure that matters but figured I'd mention it.

Well that is certainly annoying because it took them so long to do something that has been in Windows for over a decade but alright. Meta+Alt+D then 😃

If you saw the kind of pushback I sometimes get when I submit patches for things like this, you'd be happy they wind up getting done at all rather than annoyed that they took so long. :)

I've seen the pushback in some cases and thats why its annoying and why I was somewhat amused as well. Pulling teeth is easier in some cases.

rikmills added a subscriber: rikmills.EditedMay 31 2019, 8:37 AM
  1. 4 seems a lot, and stacking 4 vertically in the pager makes them too tiny. 2 stacked vertically does look just about ok.
  2. Well, if we should have more than one VD by default, then the pager has a desirable use. If we are not, then it just does not show, but appears should a user add some. So either way, I can't see a case for removing it.

I think having two at least makes the feature visible whereas right now it's essentially hidden unless a user knows what virtual desktops are and how to enable them. I'm not sure how many people use virtual desktops but for me it's one of the more useful productivity features, one that attracted me to Linux DEs before Windows had an equivalent feature.

If there isn't more than one configured then I agree that leaving the pager in place makes sense so that's it's available should the user add more desktops.

michaeltunnell added a comment.EditedJul 20 2019, 5:02 PM

@rikmills

  1. I don't think 4 is a lot. I think it is a good number for productivity and also looks great in a grid view.
  2. this might be an unpopular opinion but I think the pager in the panel should not even be there. It should be removed entirely.
    • yes, with more than 2 it's pretty bad, it effectively becomes worthless especially if you have multiple monitors.
      • so when someone does increase it more than 2 . . . they have to manually remove it, or ignore it, anyway.
    • instead Kubuntu should ship a button that simply activates the Desktop Grid. (just a simple kwin command, here's a demo)
      • there is an icon already available to do this in the Breeze icons as well so no extra work there.

*note: I am not saying the Pager is a bad applet, I think it is bad to be in the main panel because it effectively becomes super small pretty much the moment you begin using it. However, create a latte dock on the right or left side exclusively for the Pager applet and that works super slick.


@ericadams

I believe the majority of people don't use them because they don't know they exist. This is why there should be multiples and the above reasons is why I think the pager should simply be removed.

This would make it very easy to introduce the concept to people and it makes it very clean UX in doing so.

Here's my take on this:

add some desktops for a total to start with of 4 Virtual Desktops

This is a design decision I think, so it's alright to implement insofar as it is consistent with other Plasma aspects. One of which I don't agree with is

disable the desktop pager from the panel because it's not doing anything anyway by default.

because I find it caters best to both casual/novice users and intermediate/advanced users. If you're a casual user who doesn't care about workspaces, you don't notice that the pager is there and it won't disturb the user, and if you're an intermediate user who's used to several workspaces, just by adding more it automatically shows on the panel. It effectively removes one step the user would require to configure their desktop, which I see as a plus. Laziness and efficiency come hand in hand here. I agree with rikmills.
In addition, see Windows. It comes with a Task View button in plain sight in the panel to the right of Cortana Search, which as I understand is widely used. Anecdotal, but I've never seen any Windows user use it aside from me despite it being easily discoverable.
Unlike Windows, however, workspaces are discoverable through System Settings, with its own section.

add some desktops for a total to start with of 4 Virtual Desktops
I'd also suggest 4 rows to have them aligned in a vertical stack.

I don't see why set it to be like GNOME (a.k.a. 1D, one axis of workspace movement). You can, of course, but that's just a design decision. The important thing here is that if it were to be accepted, keyboard shortcuts should be consistent with the whole interface. I wouldn't do that: I'd keep what Kubuntu does, namely it can function as 3D, 2D, 1D and 0D, but 0D is default because most users only need one workspace.

change these shortcuts [to navigate through Virtual Desktops] to Meta+Alt+1-0 (1 - 10 desktops, should a user want more)

I mostly agree, instead of simply setting F1 to F4 for navigating between workspaces, use the full set (either F1-F10/F12 or 1-0).
As for the modifiers, I'm still not sure. It's one of those things that should be decided in full, not one at a time. Though since VDG has decided on using Meta for shell/desktop/system actions, then I think it would be either Meta+Alt or Meta+Ctrl. Not sure if only Meta.

I also suggest adding Meta+Ctrl+1-0 for moving windows to these desktops.

Not sure if Ctrl would be the most fitting modifier, I'd tend to argue for Shift instead, but yes, moving windows to certain desktops by number should be done if the previous point is to be done. It should also follow the same keys, that is, if the previous point included F1-F10, then the moving keybinding should also use F1-F10.

However, I would suggest changing this because this function is super weird and not very useful

I disagree entirely, this works particularly well especially with multi-monitor setups and when windows are snapped. Navigation through window focus based on coordinates works best in such cases, Alt+Tab works best when windows are stacked. I don't think we need to break a workflow if alternatives can be set. I'd agree if it were defined that Kubuntu would not include desktop behaviour that caters to fans of i3 because it targets casual users or users coming from Ubuntu GNOME, but I wouldn't particularly like that because Plasma is the only major DE that has enough keyboard shortcuts and functionality to cater to i3 fans (AFAIK).

this refers to the "Switch to Window Above/Below" function which is not very useful as it repeats the first window you had often

Not sure if it's undesirable behaviour, the only issue I see would be users pressing keys one more time than they wanted. In GNOME for instance, because of the absence of this repeats, you'd have to resort to Meta+Home/End to go to the first and last workspaces, otherwise you're forced to press Up/Down several times until you reach the desired workspace.

because Activities are rather pointless to be taking of space for such a valuable shortcut.

I personally would like the opposite, to see Activities made more discoverable because it's something only Plasma allows to exist in the first place, being a 3D environment. But that's just me being opinionated about that, it has no technical value whatsoever.

I'm not sure about modifier keys used, but if the aim is to set Kubuntu to be more GNOME-like, it's all consistent, but I disagree with the premise to make it more GNOME-ish to begin with.

I may not know which modifier would be best, but I agree that navigation keyboard shortcuts need this sort of consistency.

disable the desktop pager from the panel because it's not doing anything anyway by default.

If you're a casual user who doesn't care about workspaces, you don't notice that the pager is there and it won't disturb the user

People don't notice the pager because by default there is only 1 workspace and it doesn't show at all. Most casual users aren't even aware that workspaces/virtual desktops exist in the first place. I think the pager shouldn't be there because it takes up a lot of room and is not that functional depending on how many workspaces exist on the system. A button to activate it would be much simpler in my opinion.

While I don't like Windows, I think the way they handled presenting workspace interaction to be fairly good. Here is a screenshot to activate the workspace management:

They also have Present Windows function and Desktop Grid integrated which also I find quite good in comparison to the Plasma separate approach:

Side note: I found a project on GitHub that creates a combo for KWin which is quite cool if interested.

and if you're an intermediate user who's used to several workspaces, just by adding more it automatically shows on the panel. It effectively removes one step the user would require to configure their desktop, which I see as a plus. Laziness and efficiency come hand in hand here. I agree with rikmills.

How does the pager remove any step whatsoever? It doesn't display at all without more than 1 virtual desktop and to add a new desktop , you have to go to System Settings. The pager doesn't do anything without 2+ desktops and since you have to go to System Settings to get them anyway the only thing it does is save a little bit of time after the user already knows how to set them up in System Settings.

In my opinion, all of the value of the Pager widget has is negated by a single button (similar to Windows, with an icon I linked above) and a right click menu to go to Configure Desktops. If this were to be on the panel at all times by default then the pager becomes obsolete.

In addition, see Windows. It comes with a Task View button in plain sight in the panel to the right of Cortana Search, which as I understand is widely used. Anecdotal, but I've never seen any Windows user use it aside from me despite it being easily discoverable.

This is why I think Windows does this portion better because even with only 1 desktop, Windows still makes the feature discoverable directly on the panel. The Pager in Plasma does nothing without multiple workspaces already existing and the only thing it really does when they do exist is taking up a LOT of space in the panel.

add some desktops for a total to start with of 4 Virtual Desktops
I'd also suggest 4 rows to have them aligned in a vertical stack.

I don't see why set it to be like GNOME (a.k.a. 1D, one axis of workspace movement). You can, of course, but that's just a design decision. The important thing here is that if it were to be accepted, keyboard shortcuts should be consistent with the whole interface. I wouldn't do that: I'd keep what Kubuntu does, namely it can function as 3D, 2D, 1D and 0D, but 0D is default because most users only need one workspace.

The reason is simplistic shortcut function. In my opinion, having multiple rows and columns for navigation is excessive and only adds confusion. It doesnt have to be Up and Down, it could be laid out in a Left and Right manner. In fact, Windows uses a Left & Right manner, as does macOS, Cinnamon, and I am pretty sure some others do that as well. I think Cinnamon uses Ctrl+Alt+Left / Right for the shortcuts.

I suggest using the Windows shortcut of Meta+Ctrl+Left / Right arrow keys because that has a consistency with Windows and honestly, these shortcuts are pretty good shortcuts.

I don't care if the GNOME Up/Down approach is used or not but do think that it should be simplistic in some way and now that I think about it, Left/Right would make more sense.

0D is default because most users only need one workspace.

I disagree because most people have no idea it even exists . . . Windows users, it is easier to be discovered in Windows and even they dont know it exists a lot of the time.

change these shortcuts [to navigate through Virtual Desktops] to Meta+Alt+1-0 (1 - 10 desktops, should a user want more)

I mostly agree, instead of simply setting F1 to F4 for navigating between workspaces, use the full set (either F1-F10/F12 or 1-0).
As for the modifiers, I'm still not sure. It's one of those things that should be decided in full, not one at a time. Though since VDG has decided on using Meta for shell/desktop/system actions, then I think it would be either Meta+Alt or Meta+Ctrl. Not sure if only Meta.

I agree with most of that and I would vote for Meta+Ctrl+1-0 to be consistent with VDG and also consistent with the Windows switching shortcut, that I also believe should be adopted.

I think F1-F12 are just too far away making them an awkward stretch for most people. The numrow has stretching too on some keyboards but not as bad as the function keys.

Note: there is a conflict with Meta+Ctrl+Left/Right as that is currently set to move zoomed in area but I think desktops is much more valuable than that shortcut because the mouse also does the same thing and offers much more control than these shortcuts. (references Meta+- & Meta+= for zooming in and out)

I also suggest adding Meta+Ctrl+1-0 for moving windows to these desktops.

Not sure if Ctrl would be the most fitting modifier, I'd tend to argue for Shift instead, but yes, moving windows to certain desktops by number should be done if the previous point is to be done. It should also follow the same keys, that is, if the previous point included F1-F10, then the moving keybinding should also use F1-F10.

I agree with everything here. Instead of Ctrl it should be Shift. I also use Shift for moving it personally and I am not sure why I suggested the other way. I agree that the shortcuts should be consistent as well.

Meta+Ctrl+Left or Right arrow keys to move desktops
Meta+Shift+Left or Right arrow keys to move windows between desktops

Meta+Ctrl+1-0 (numrow) to move to specific desktops
Meta+Shift+1-0 (numrow) to move windows to specific desktops

I'd also suggest Meta+Ctrl+Tab for the Walk Through Desktops function. :D

However, I would suggest changing this because this function is super weird and not very useful

I disagree entirely, this works particularly well especially with multi-monitor setups and when windows are snapped. Navigation through window focus based on coordinates works best in such cases, Alt+Tab works best when windows are stacked. I don't think we need to break a workflow if alternatives can be set. I'd agree if it were defined that Kubuntu would not include desktop behaviour that caters to fans of i3 because it targets casual users or users coming from Ubuntu GNOME, but I wouldn't particularly like that because Plasma is the only major DE that has enough keyboard shortcuts and functionality to cater to i3 fans (AFAIK).

If we use Meta+Ctrl instead of Meta+Alt then these shortcuts aren't going to be affected by these changes.

this refers to the "Switch to Window Above/Below" function which is not very useful as it repeats the first window you had often

Not sure if it's undesirable behaviour, the only issue I see would be users pressing keys one more time than they wanted. In GNOME for instance, because of the absence of this repeats, you'd have to resort to Meta+Home/End to go to the first and last workspaces, otherwise you're forced to press Up/Down several times until you reach the desired workspace.

I think this is also a moot issue since we wouldnt be changing Meta+Alt.

Actually. . . maybe we should consider Meta+Alt for switching multiple monitors. I am not saying it should be just something to consider.

because Activities are rather pointless to be taking of space for such a valuable shortcut.

I personally would like the opposite, to see Activities made more discoverable because it's something only Plasma allows to exist in the first place, being a 3D environment. But that's just me being opinionated about that, it has no technical value whatsoever.

I agree and now that I've repositioned my opinion to be focused on Meta+Ctrl for virtual desktops, Meta+Tab doesn't need to be edited at all as Meta+Ctrl+Tab could use in order to cycle through desktops. 😃

I'm not sure about modifier keys used, but if the aim is to set Kubuntu to be more GNOME-like, it's all consistent, but I disagree with the premise to make it more GNOME-ish to begin with.

I may not know which modifier would be best, but I agree that navigation keyboard shortcuts need this sort of consistency.

Being more like GNOME isn't my aim at all in fact, now that I've read your reply, I realize that there are better options. I think adopting Meta+Ctrl+Left/Right opens a better approach for things Windows doesn't do yet still offers consistency to users switching and offers a consistency to users in Plasma as well. 👍 😎

thiagosueto added a comment.EditedNov 23 2019, 10:43 PM

People don't notice the pager because by default there is only 1 workspace and it doesn't show at all. Most casual users aren't even aware that workspaces/virtual desktops exist in the first place.

That's precisely the point. Its presence is harmless for casual users since it could only possibly bother them if they start editing the panel—which now requires a right click on the panel and is clearly described, so it cannot be an accident, demonstrating user intent. It is also i) easy to remove if they don't use it, and ii) possibly a way to make workspaces discoverable. On the other hand, for intermediate/advanced users, it can only be positive. This would be the case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", I'd say.

I think the way they handled presenting workspace interaction to be fairly good.

I agree, it's similar to GNOME's Activities, which many people have attested to like and miss from GNOME.

Side note: I found a project on GitHub that creates a combo for KWin which is quite cool if interested.

Aside from kwinOverview, there's also qOverview, neither of which seem to provide a true GNOME experience, or so I've seen on Reddit. I'd also like to see a complete implementation of this so users coming from GNOME could switch more easily.

How does the pager remove any step whatsoever? It doesn't display at all without more than 1 virtual desktop and to add a new desktop, you have to go to System Settings.

The pager being there removes the step of adding the pager widget to the panel, that's the idea. I was referring specifically to intermediate/advanced users, not users in general. Admittedly, it's a small step, but one that seems desirable nonetheless.

A better implementation of this would be to automatically add a pager to the panel once the user creates an extra workspace and remove it if they remove all extra workspaces, but that sounds like a maintainability issue. I might be wrong there.

In my opinion, all of the value of the Pager widget has is negated by a single button (similar to Windows, with an icon I linked above) and a right click menu to go to Configure Desktops.

I don't see an issue with the pager widget being there in the first place so it seems to me as a design choice, but a single button does indeed have the advantage of a right-click menu and making workspaces discoverable. Then again, should we make workspaces more discoverable to casual users in addition to System Settings?

The reason is simplistic shortcut function. In my opinion, having multiple rows and columns for navigation is excessive and only adds confusion.

That is an issue that comes with 2D environments and it gets even worse with 3D, yes. It was my motivation to work on keyboard shortcuts in the first place, but the opposite of what you suggested: I want to make 2D and 3D work better since those are things that are generally well handled by Plasma but require proper shortcuts, 3D (Activities) being unique and such. It's a design choice though, so I'll follow what the KDE devs and contributors will decide.

Ironically, I think that upgrading the defaults from 0D to 1D wouldn't work that well with casual users precisely because of the pager, unless it included only 2 workspaces for less panel space usage. 0D works perfectly paired with the current pager in my opinion, however if 1D were to be default I'd agree with a button like you suggested. Either that or the current pager, but with only two workspaces, regardless of direction (up/down or left/right).

thiagosueto: 0D is default because most users only need one workspace.

MichaelTunnel: I disagree because most people have no idea it even exists . . . Windows users, it is easier to be discovered in Windows and even they dont know it exists a lot of the time.

You're actually agreeing with me here. To clarify my definition of 0D: The absence of workspace functionality or not knowing that they exist does not affect whether 0D is being used or not. 0D is the most minimum graphical environment possible, namely one environment, what you see on your screen. If I'm correct in assuming Windows 10 was the first version of Windows to include workspaces/virtual desktops, then that means that all previous Windows versions with graphical environments were 0D.

I'd also suggest Meta+Ctrl+Tab for the Walk Through Desktops function. :D

If the Meta+Ctrl is to be used (which is something yet to be decided), I see no issue with this keycombo other than the fact that Meta+Ctrl+Tab is just awful to type. By analogy, Meta+Ctrl+Shift+Tab would be even worse for reverse cycling since it uses 4 keys and the only possible hand position capable of allowing this would require the right hand to press Meta, which defeats the purpose of it being a modifier. This is a similar issue to what I mentioned in my GNOME analysis:

Now, I have some harsh criticism concerning some of those key combos. Meta+Shift+’, Alt+Shift+’ and Ctrl+Alt+Tab are completely unnatural to the format of the hand. The fact keyboards are inherently shorter than the average shoulder length means that the hands will always point inwards when typing, so much so that even an alternative to the “home row” has been suggested that accomodates for the hand’s angle; these GNOME key combos push the hand outwards, thus breaking the “The key combo should fit the position/format of the hand” guideline, which leads to strain, which increase the chances of lesion and RSI. In addition, since those keys are quite concentrated on the left side of the keyboard, users tend to accomplish the combo with one hand, in contrast to using the left hand for Ctrl and Tab (or Shift and ‘) while pressing Alt with the right hand, which is also unnatural/uncommon.

To summarize, we have three main design choices here:

  • We make workspaces more discoverable to Kubuntu users since them learning more functionality without being bothered by it is good design; or we keep the discoverability of workspaces as is since casual users won't care about it even if we show them a button for that.
  • We keep the pager as is, in which case the desktop can use either i) 0D as is, namely one workspace, or ii) 1D, but with only two workspaces so as to not occupy that much space on the panel; or we change the pager for a button, in which case more workspaces can be used by default without bothering the user at all and making workspaces discoverable, like Windows.
  • We keep the keyboard shortcuts on Kubuntu set up so as is, namely with a 2D environment (moving between workspaces up/down and left/right); or we keep the defaults on Kubuntu as 1D (regardless of direction) so as to simplify keyboard shortcuts for the user.

I don't have much to comment about Meta+Ctrl because Michael's implementation is consistent with itself, we just have to decide on the modifier keys as defined here.