When I bought my first LCD monitor for home a few years back I quickly fell in love with the smaller desktop footprint, the clearer display, and the wide screen aspect ratio.  The only problem was what to do with my old, trustworthy CRT.  My video card had support for multiple monitors and I knew other people that used two or more monitors in their computer setups, but never thought it was something I would do.  I was wrong.

I quickly learned to take advantage of the extra screen space. Due to the different sizes of the monitors, the different resolutions (and aspect ratios), and the different heights of the monitors, I wasn’t able to use a standard layout. Once I got used to the staggered monitor setup and dealing with a few of the bugs Windows had with it, I found there was no going back. Along the way I picked up a new respect for programs running in windowed mode instead of maximized or full screen.

When I started at Ayoka it was difficult going from my home PC to my work PC with only one monitor. When the chance came along to upgrade to a new system that had a dedicated video card I jumped at it and quickly found a spare monitor of the same size and resolution to pair with it. Now we have several other people here that feel crippled on a single monitor system like I do.

The advantages of multiple monitors in a development environment are immense helpers to productivity.  Having research or documentation on one monitor with Visual Studio on the other is incredibly useful. Other things that I tend to mix and match are database management software, calendars, email, instant messenger, test environments, virtual machines, remote desktops, and text editors. I tend to use my left monitor as the primary (my IDE goes here) and my right monitor as my secondary or low priority monitor (like email). I’ve also seen people use a monitor rotated 90 degrees to more closely emulate a sheet of paper, but I’ve never been able to adjust to working that way myself.

There are plenty of case studies out there that argue the benefits of a dual monitor system, and several that argue for triple monitor (eventually I hope to get there). There are also some great software solutions that help to make multiple monitors more productive than they already are. Some of these are:

  • UltraMon – This is considered the holy grail of multiple monitor software.  It has everything.  Get your buddies to buy together to get volume discounts.
  • DisplayFusion or Background Switcher – A desktop background program to let you use the dual screen wallpapers.
  • MultiMonitor TaskBar – A program to allow your task bar to span multiple monitors. Many will treat each monitor as a separate work space and show the task bar button for a program on the proper monitor.
  • If you have large monitors a desktop splitting program like WinSplit Revolution can help emulate multiple monitors by defining lines that allow you to “maximize” windows to regions of the screen.
  • Don’t have two monitors, but have a desktop and a laptop?  Look into software like Synergy or MaxiVista to connect the two and treat one like a second monitor.

Once you get everything setup and running it might take a few days to adjust to the new capabilities of your computer system, but no longer having to treat your desktop as a single priority queue is very liberating.  If you spend most of your time in front of a computer and find yourself having to alt-tab more than twice a minute I recommend giving a multiple monitor setup some serious consideration.  Once you are comfortable in the new environment the only hard part is convincing your significant other that you need more than one monitor (or to hijack the high def TV, that’s my next goal) at home.