When I noticed a recent burst of activity from a number of the productivity junkies at Lifehacker showing off their awesome desk/cubicle layouts involving about eight screens, and a friend of mine proudly announced that he’d spent his Arkwright Scholarship money on a second monitor, I couldn’t resist the temptation of giving this whole dual monitor thing a go. My desk was crowded to the extreme: two external hard drives were selfishly sitting exactly where I wanted the second monitor, and paper, stationery, food, cables, multimeters, a keyboard, a mouse, playing cards, a tape measure and some old editions of the New Scientist occupied most of the rest of this space; clearly there was a problem. Using some of the ideas from Lifehacker about elevating the monitor and caching stuff beneath it, I proceeded to construct vaguely convex structures from bent acrylic, old books and power adaptors in the hope of squashing cables and other such paraphernalia into the cavities thus fabricated and sitting the 19″ primary monitor on top. This left the secondary (15″) monitor enough space to perch precariously atop a German dictionary.
There was however a hardware problem: the primary monitor was plugged into the only VGA socket available on my desktop, the other being a DVID, and I wasn’t sure whether the RADEON graphics card and XP would manage to work together to split my desktop into two screens. I eventually managed with the unfortunate consequence of a bit of imbalanced latency between the two screens. No biggie…
I’ve assigned two windows permanently to the secondary monitor: Mozilla Thunderbird and a Pidgin conversation window which I’m using for Twitter, and after using it for a few weeks I’m definitely starting to see all sorts of advantages. I don’t need to expend effort to check my email (all I have to do is glance to the left). I can use more than one maximised window at once. I can monitor what’s happening on my XP computer while I’m working on my Debian machine. There are a few untoward side-effects: print screen seems to have partially stopped working; memory usage is generally higher, perhaps just a consequence of having more programs open at once from having more screen space; I get glare from screen 2 while working on screen 1 (which I have subsequently attempted to minimise by skinning thunderbird and pidgin with dark themes); programs are constantly opening in the wrong screen, it’s harder to find the mouse pointer, and there’s this oddity that lasts a few seconds when I boot up:
I have to say though, overall, despite the annoyances, I came out of it with more screen real estate, theoretically higher productivity, and, for me most importantly, a clearer and less cluttered and wire-filled desk. So if you happen to have a second monitor sitting around, I’d definitely recommend going for it and setting it up as an auxiliary screen.