Multi-monitor and virtual desktop

The size of the display has a direct impact on productivity. Time spent opening and closing applications, switching between applications (even using the really fast "Cool Switch" or Alt+Tab feature), and finding the information in files is time lost. Stock traders know that, and most work with two or more monitors

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on their desktop. But many users are unaware of Windows multi-monitor feature, and how to best use it.

To begin with, Windows multi-media capability is built into the operating system. To use two monitors with Windows you can install a card like the ATI Raedon VE Dual Display card (either 32MB or 64MB) and both monitors will appear in the Monitors control panel for you to assign. The VE Dual Display is a nice business graphics card; ATI includes some nice software with it.

Another approach is to install two independent graphics cards, and both will be recognized. One card will connect your primary monitor, and the other card will be your secondary card. You can continue to add video cards to a Windows system, but make sure that you purchase cards with adequate processing power and Video RAM or you will dramatically loose system performance. With two monitors, you can choose to spread the desktop across two monitors, or have independent displays. These options show up in the Monitor control panel when multi-monitor is turned on.

Notebook computers with two video ports can be expanded to a second display using the Dualview feature. Dualview is similar to the multi-monitor, but the primary monitor is always the LCD. Dualview can be used in either a docked or undocked state.

Windows XP introduces a feature commonly referred to as the virtual desktop. When your video board has a certain resolution limit (say 800 X 600 or 1024 X 768) increasing the resolution further creates a virtual desktop. Your desktop size increases, but you continue to see that portion of the higher resolution screen that you could see under the lower resolution. As you move your pointer to the edges of the screen, the desktop will scroll in that direction. While this approach is probably less useful than the virtual desktops offering in UNIX shells, it is also probably a lot less confusing for users to work with a single enlarged desktop than to remember where things are on multiple desktops.

Barrie Sosinsky (barries@killerapps.com)is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield, Mass.). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.


This was first published in February 2002

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