The More The Merrier

Published Date
01 - Jan - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jan - 2007
 
The More The Merrier


Why waste your time minimizing windows and searching through all those apps on your taskbar?


Remember the days when using a computer meant just having one browser window, one mail client and maybe an office application? I know a lot of us found just those three windows intimidating at times. Today, however, whether it's at work or at home, we've got so many things happening at once that it's hard to keep track of everything that's open on your Desktop. No, don't worry, we're not going to be preaching about silly taskbar applications or telling you how to [Alt] [Tab] better… instead, we wonder why the majority of the computer users in the world stick to just one screen!

Why?
In the heyday of the good old CRT, where the average monitor was a 15-inch monstrosity that weighed as much as you and occupied most of your desk space, this question would seem stupid. However, the LCDs rule the roost today, and with the amount of multi-tasking expected from all of us, the whole "lack of desk space" argument falls flat-pardon the pun! Televisions aren't cool unless they're LCD/Plasma gizmos, and a computer monitor also just has to be an LCD today. So why buy one when you can get two? Sure… that is, if your daddy has a multi-crore business and loves splurging on your whims! For the rest of us unfortunate souls, when we think two monitors, it's usually our spanking new LCD and the antique CRT that's now collecting dust. Regardless, if you have more than one monitor, you should be using them all!

There are quite a few ways in which you can put multiple (two or more) monitors to good use, but before we get to where this can be useful, let's look at…

How?
Laptops! Everyone seems to be buying one, or being given one by the company. Well, most newer models have support for an external monitor as well as its own LCD screen. Just look for a VGA-out on your laptop. If it's got one, you can just hook up another monitor (CRT or otherwise) and start using multiple desktops. This is usually provided for people who need to give presentations, so that they can hook up to a projector, and is a standard feature on any business laptop.

What if you are a desktop user? Well, a few of us have dual graphics cards, for gaming. Most of them will either be NVIDIA or ATI solutions, and these will allow you to hook up at least a monitor to each card. Those with just one graphics card will need to look for two DVI or VGA outputs on the card to know whether the card supports two monitors.

If your card has only one monitor output, but your motherboard has onboard graphics, you may still be able to use two monitors. The rule is generally that the onboard and GPU chipset manufacturer should be the same. So an onboard ATI solution will work with an ATI graphics card; ditto for NVIDIA.

For those whose hardware does not meet the above hardware criteria, the only option is to use one of the many hardware or software solutions we have listed a little later.

Apart from this, you obviously need two or more monitors. Though the ideal setup is to have two identical monitors-so that you never have to deal with colour or brightness changes when looking from one to the other-any two monitors can be used.

A good way to find out whether your display adapter supports more than one monitor is to go to the Display Properties (right-click on the Desktop and select Properties). Here, under the Settings tab, if you see icons for two monitors, or can see more than one monitor in the Display dropdown, you already have a dual-monitor capable display adapter. Just plug both monitors in and the display adapter should recognize them both. You can also connect your TV up to your computer if the adapter has an RF output. Though standard TVs are terrible for displaying things such as office applications, Web pages, or basically anything involving text, they're perfectly capable of displaying video.

Whatever the case, just make sure you select the "Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor" checkbox so that you can use both monitors together.

What Good Is This?
Whether you're using two monitors or one TV and one monitor, chances are you can relate to one of the usage scenarios below:

  • For those who need to work with MS Excel, and have to keep referring back and forth between two or more spreadsheets.
  • When using Explorer to search through drives and find and move files from one drive to another.
  • Using any two related applications, such as an HTML editor and a browser, to make changes and check the changes you've made.
  • Viewing video while working on an application-when a single computer has to cater to multiple users, one can watch a movie while the other works.

The last one is especially useful when the kids want to watch that cartoon Digit provided in the DVD, while you need to work on that project that the boss wants first thing in the morning!

Other Options
For those of you who wouldn't mind spending a little money to get the most out of your multi-monitor setup, there are quite a few hardware and software options that can enrich your multi-monitor experience. Let's take a look at a few examples:
 

Ultramon (www.realtimesoft.com/ultramon)
This is a utility that will help you use your multi-monitor setup better. It features support for more than 10 monitors, adds a "move to desktop" icon to all windows, extends the Taskbar to all monitors, so that only the applications displayed on a particular monitor show up in the Taskbar of that monitor… etc. It will even break your windows wallpaper over the displays, allows you to mirror the display instead of extending the desktop (ideal for presentations), and even run different screensavers on each monitor. At $39.95 (Rs 1,800), it's not very expensive for professionals or serious home users.
 

MaxiVista (http://www.maxivista.com/)
This is a software solution that is best suited for those with a desktop and a laptop. It adds a virtual display adapter that sends display information over the LAN to another computer to display the first's desktop. Basically, you can display your desktop's display on the laptop over the LAN, or even extend the desktop so that only certain windows get displayed on the laptop. Whether it's wireless or wired LAN, you won't notice the difference because MaxiVista monitors the LAN speeds and adjusts the optimal colour depth of the second desktop.
 

MouseJail (www.dr-hoiby.com/MouseJail)
When you have a multi-monitor setup, the most common problem happens when gaming. Some games just don't lock the mouse to the screen that the game is displayed on. So what happens is that you move your mouse during the game and it ends up on your extended desktop, pausing or exiting the game. You can start games that have this problem using MouseJail-your mouse will be locked to the screen that contains the game. It's freeware, so enjoy!
 

Monitors
For those of us with a bank balance, settling for old monitors might not be the perfect answer to our troubles. There are quite a few display solutions available out there, and we'll list out a few to help you get started finding the perfect one.

9X Media (
http://www.9xmedia.com/): Take a look at their X-Top series with anywhere from two to 30 LCDs placed together.

WORKSHOP



First connect the monitors to the VGA/DVI outputs.In case we had an ATI onboard working with a ATI Radeon 1900XT


For ATI graphics, you need to enable their surroundview option from the BIOS.The procedure is similar for NVIDIA solutions


The BIOS and statrup screens are displayed on the two monitors connected to the GPU.The onboard is enabled after windows starts


Here's how you will be able to work on Adobe Photoshop on one screen, have the toolbars on another and leave the third for other activities


Flash designers will find this setyp a gift from god! You can move the timeline to one monitor, design in one and code in another


For better control, you can use Ultramon. This will give you their Smart Yaskbar, which gives you better control over your monitors

Digital Tigers (www.digitaltigers.com): These guys boast of clients such as NASA, Microsoft, and Dell, and offer "affordable prices" for their screens. A triple display 21-inch will set you back by a mere $2499 (Rs 1,13,000)!

As you've seen in the workshop above, setting it all up is really easy. Now you can sit back and enjoy the extra desktop space, but a word of caution: we learnt the hard way that it's very hard to get back to using just a single monitor… this writer found himself looking to the right (where the extended desktop was) into a blank space, and moving the mouse pointlessly to the right every time he sat on another computer! It's addictive, and once you get the hang of using multiple monitors (which is about an hour at most), you will find your productivity soar.

So if you're used to working on several applications simultaneously, you just have to give this a try! Let us know how it goes!


Robert Sovereign SmithRobert Sovereign Smith

Robert (aka Raaabo) thinks his articles will do a better job of telling you who he is than this line ever will.