Expand Two or More Monitors
Jun 10th, 2008 9:17 PM, 6 comments
This is long. If you get bored, just go read the last two paragraphs. If you do though, you'll miss out on some good tips and a proper schooling.

I've never been a fan of using more than 1 monitor. Everyone at my current job has 2 monitors on their desk. This has always struck me as odd for 1 main reason: what possible benefit can a project manager or someone in HR achieve by having more than 1 monitor on their desk? I'm not even convinced that developers necessarily *need* two monitors. My only guess at this point as to why our company decided to spend an additional $150,000+ (assuming they even got a decent deal) on seconds monitors for everyone is because someone higher up in the food chain must have read this article.

"adding an extra monitor will give your output a considerable boost — 20 percent to 30 percent, according to a survey by Jon Peddie Research"

You've got be kidding me?! This is, by far, the most useless statistic -- not only is it completely arbitrary to try and measure someone's "output" when using a computer, but also it's so poorly worded that it would lead you to believe that you can add 3 additional monitors for potentially a 90% boost in output. Or perhaps you've a network administrator and your "output" is web pages on your web server. Slap another monitor on your web server, and they'll output 20-30% faster! Unbelievable! I mean, technically adding an additional monitor of the same size gives you exactly 50% more output -- and that's a fact, jack... albeit another completely useless one. I think the article must have been funded by Dell, HP, or someone trying to stimulate the economy.

"So now, while I am editing this article on my main screen, the screen beside it shows the outline or earlier draft I am working from — and, sometimes, Web sites or other documents I keep referring to."

Maybe instead of spending an extra few hundred dollars on a monitor, someone could learn some keyboard shortcuts. Even if you use a mouse, which most people do, your left hand is ALWAYS planted on the left side of the keyboard. Your thumb and your pinky finger can easily hit ALT+TAB in a split second, your eyes can then read your reference material, and when you're done (your left hand shouldn't have moved), you hit ALT+TAB again. This is, without a doubt, no slower than moving your head to view your reference materials (which is generally required with 17"+ monitors). Hell, even Chris Johnson can ALT+TAB like a pro, and he doesn't even have a pinky on his left hand.

That said, as of last week, I have two monitors on my desk.

I was fine with having only 1 since I started working there in 2005, but the problem I had is I had a 17" ViewSonic that could only do 1280x1024 and wasn't the most vibrant thing available. I asked on multiple occasions to get a larger monitor, was promised one, but was ultimately turned down. That in itself is actually pretty funny and worthy of its own write up. How can you tell someone "no I will not buy you that $289 monitor, but I will buy you these two $189 monitors instead"? Either way, now that I've had the two monitors on my desk for a while, I've discovered some things that I'm just not a fan of.

Now, I'm not trying to sound arrogant, but out of all of the people I know, I would consider myself to the fastest person at navigating a PC with Windows on it. I'm not saying I can type the fastest out of everyone I know, I'm just saying that I can make the most efficient use of the mouse, the keyboard, and general shortcuts to complete a task the fastest. That said, here are some issues I have with running two monitors:

  • Sometimes to close a maximized window, if my hand is already on the mouse, I'll snap the cursor up to the top right corner of the screen and single click (or to the top left and double click, if it's closer). With two monitors, you lose out on one of these options depending which screen you're on (unless you've decided to stack your monitors vertically, then you lose out completely on the bottom monitor). I use this technique in Visual Studio as well to pull out the side-docked tabs, but having two monitors messes this up as well. It would be nice to set boundaries on the seams between the monitors and disallow the mouse to pass through certain areas or maybe have a setting that only allowed it to pass if a key was held down (CTRL probably).
  • For some reason, a particular window can span through the two monitors without any problem, but the mouse cursor cannot. It's kind of annoying to see the mouse sort of flick over when you reach and pass the seam. It should move smoothly between the seams. This is doubly annoying when you're trying to click a side-docked tab on the edge of a seam and miss.
  • New windows should open on the screen that I am looking at. Haha seems impossible, right? No.. new windows should simply open on the screen where the mouse cursor (or keyboard cursor) is, because that's generally where the user is looking. The keyboard cursor could be on a separate screen from the mouse cursor, but in that case an option should be provided to let the user choose which overrides which.
  • The ALT+TAB interface should also appear on the screen that the mouse/keyboard cursor does.
  • Need more task bar options. The only task bar option you get is to span it across both monitors, which simply looks awful (does anyone actually use this feature?). It would be nice to have an identical task bar in all monitors -- with an additional option that allowed you to show every window in all task bars, or only windows that are displayed on that monitor in the matching task bar.
  • And this is the only hardware issue I have -- monitor chrome. It's way too thick on most monitors and makes having dual monitors a lot less seamless. Lessen the chrome so there's not a 2 inch gap between my screens.

    As I was annoying myself with all of these little things, I did a few Google searches to see if I could find some solutions. The best thing I came up with was UltraMon. It's a pretty helpful aid which partially solved a few of my complaints. For example, it'll put additional task bars in every monitor (but it's not a real task bar, a limited one they created). Also there are some hot keys that I defined earlier today:

  • CTRL+` - This will lock the cursor inside of the active window, allowing me to snap my mouse to either corner and close it. Remember how you always have your left hand on the keyboard -- it works pretty well. Also, once the window is closed, the cursor is no longer locked, so you don't need to "unlock" it.
  • CTRL+ALT+UP - This will maximize the window across all monitors (even if your monitor settings don't normally allow this). It's pretty helpful when viewing long-ass lines of configuration files or code.
  • CTRL+ALT+LEFT/RIGHT - This will move the active window to the next or previous monitor. This one is really great if I'm staring and my right monitor, hit WinKey+E which opens Explorer on the left monitor, and I can quickly CTRL+ALT+RIGHT to move it where I'm looking already. It even works on maximized monitors, which is really the best benefit -- before you'd have to double click/restore, click, drag, release, double click/maximize.

    Really, I just don't see the huge draw to more than 1 monitor. There is one though, and for a lot of people. I remember Noah being one of the first people I knew that had two monitors. He spent a small fortune on the monitors themselves, and also some state of the art video card that would support them (back in 2000 or 2001). Even Luke, I know, spent a very large sum of money on two 24" wide screen monitors in 2006 or 2007 while running some ancient 1.3ghz computer.

    All I'm saying is that you need to learn a hot key or two and save yourself some money. At the end of the day, your output is limited by how quickly you can type, how quickly and accurately you can move your mouse, how fast your brain functions, and how much you have to wait on your computer. One, two, or even three additional monitors will not increase your productivity no matter how much you think it will.
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