March 16, 2008
I've been a multiple monitor enthusiast since the dark days of Windows Millennium Edition. I've written about the manifold joys of many-monitor computing a number of times over the last four years:
I have three monitors at home and at work. I'm what you might call a true believer. I'm always looking for ammunition for fellow developers to claim those second (and maybe even third) monitors that are rightfully theirs under the Programmer's Bill of Rights.
So I was naturally intrigued when I read about a new multiple monitor study from the University of Utah:
Researchers at the University of Utah tested how quickly people performed tasks like editing a document and copying numbers between spreadsheets while using three different computer configurations:
- single 18-inch monitor
- single 24-inch monitor
- two 20-inch monitors
Here's what they found:
- People using the 24-inch screen completed the tasks 52% faster than people who used the 18-inch monitor
- People who used the two 20-inch monitors were 44% faster than those with the 18-inch ones.
- Productivity dropped off again when people used a 26-inch screen.
I dug around a bit and found the actual study results (pdf) or something very close to it, if you're looking for more detail than the summary I've presented above. This isn't the first time the University of Utah has conducted a multiple monitor study. It's very similar to the multiple monitor survey they conducted in 2003, also under the auspices of NEC. I agree it's a little sketchy to cite a study from a display vendor that advocates-- surprise-- buying more and bigger displays. But bear in mind they did find diminishing productivity returns with 26 inch displays. This is something I personally experienced, and I dubbed it the The Large Display Paradox. That finding isn't exactly going to endear them to display vendors.
Patrick Dubroy took a skeptical look at the multiple monitor productivity claims and found several credible sources of data. I'll combine his finds with mine to provide a one-stop-shop for research data supporting the idea that, yes, having more display space would in fact make you more productive:
Patrick, despite his skepticism – and remember, this is a guy who didn't see a productivity difference between a 14 inch laptop display and a "big ass LCD" – came away convinced:
After looking at the studies, I think it's fair to say that some tasks can be made significantly faster if you have more screen real estate. On the other hand, I think it's clear that most programmers are not going to be 50% more productive over the course of a day just by getting a second monitor. The tasks that can be improved are not the bottleneck to programmer productivity.
I'm not sure what Patrick was expecting here. Let me be perfectly clear on this matter: more is more. More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows, you can do actual productive work. With a larger desktop, you can spend less time mindlessly arranging information, and more time interacting with and acting on that information. How much that matters to you will depend on your job and working style. Personally, I'd be ecstatic if I never had to size, position, or arrange another damn window for the rest of my life.
Choose own your path to happiness, whether it's upgrading to a single 30" display, dual 24" widescreen displays, or three standard 20" displays. As long as it results in more usable desktop space, it's a clear win. I support all of the above scenarios, and more importantly, the existing research does too. The price of a few monitors is negligible when measured against the labor cost of a programmer or information worker salary. Even if you achieve a meager two or three percent performance increase, it will have more than paid for itself.
What does get a little frustrating is when people claim that one large monitor should be "enough for anyone". This isn't a zero-sum game. Where there is one large monitor, there could be two large monitors, or three.
Sometimes, more is more.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
In Linux you can just have multiple virtual desktops, which I think accomplishes the same thing nicely. Too bad Windows makes you buy so many monitors to get the same effect.
If I had to count the number of times I've alt-tabbed, minimized or moved windows I would not be able to fit those numbers in a a 32-bit hash function. I can smell a second monitor already.
BOYCOTT ADDITIONAL MONITORS !!! SAVE YOUR MONEY !!! SAVE RESOURCES !!! LESS IS MORE !!! LESS IS MORE !!! LESS IS MORE !!! LESS IS MORE !!!
you can just have multiple virtual desktops, which I think accomplishes the same thing nicely
With all due respect, there is absolutely no way that virtual desktops are "the same thing" as more real, physical desktop space.
I'll invoke "more is more" on this logic too. Virtual desktops work even better when you have more and larger monitors.
Multiple monitors are good, but only when they're similar in size, pixel density, and placement. I used to try to hook up monitor to my laptop and use the two screens, but I could not find a placement that was seamless enough to use for real work. Whenever I had to switch screens I had to mentally adjust, which got quite tiring after a while. Now I just close the laptop and use the external when at my desk.
What Patrick told is true. Most programmers are worse than we think. There are a lot of thinks to improve for productivity. Monitor space and numbers are the last things in the list.
I agree that 'more is more', but more monitors will become a mess in the long run. I will be happy to manage 10 windows rather than 10 monitors. More of anything is just annoying. There should be a middle ground. Right?
I disagree with TuffGuy. I have a MacBook running Leopard (ie. it has Spaces), a Vista desktop with 2 monitors and an Ubuntu desktop with two monitors. The Ubuntu desktop is by far the one I prefer to use when I have to do multiple instances of document editing, but the Vista desktop (which has no virtual desktop software) comes close, Vista notwithstanding :P. Having virtual desktops alone on my MacBook isn't nearly as useful as viewing and editing something side by side on my Vista machine.
Now if only I could cart around an extra monitor with my MacBook...
I personally like to have some legroom in my desk. Doesnt that apple desktop get in the way?
Hum, this is not a "beware of the global warming" way of solving the "too many stuffs on a screen" problem. Having 2 screens seems to me rather strange solution, because we really focus only on a few windows in the same time frame.
A smarter way would be using virtual desktops. I tend to have a virtual desktop for Net related stuff (browser, chat), one for the music stuffs, one for editing, one with all the shells. It fits well with the "focus on a few stuffs at a time way", and is also "global warming" friendly.
YOU CENSOR FREE SPEECH !!
Get a bigger desk :).
I hate it when I have to use less than 2 monitors.
Virtual desktops are a replacement for monitors in precisely the same manner than alt-tab is a replacement for virtual desktops.
I have used multiple monitors more than once, and they are quite luxurious, but I found I was always focused on one, and eventually it became a distraction to look at other monitors to find what I wanted. Alt-Tab becomes the quickest option to find that next, vital screen, and is quite intelligent in both Windows and Linux (It finds the most recently used window) so now I am happy with one good monitor. I think the productivity gains with multiple monitors are minimal, although the geek brownie points are significant. After all, if Joel Spolsky buys his programmers dual monitors it must be the best, right????
Sorry, not for me, I need to work, and as a home based business, I am interested in what works, not what looks good. the second monitor is now wrapped in glad-wrap in the garage waiting for a hardware failure.
Regards, Phil S.
Why stop at 3?
I find the USB - Video adapters interesting:
When the time comes to extend cheaply, rather than having to buy another video card :\
But yeah, I'm finding my two cramped now, mostly because I use one to "scrapbook" apps that I might use/throw up quickly, and one to concentrate what I'm working on all by it's lonesome.
But a third to handle email/twitter/builds/distractions that I check way too often, would also be nice.
Now if only I could tell programs which screen I want toasts/pop ups/notifications to appear, it would be nice.
for some reason (perhapse HTML) my ''alt - tab'' was removed from the above post. it should have read ''Alt_Tab'' becomes the quickest option to find that next,....
I got a 20" LCD to replace my old 22" CRT, tried using both at once (same size, same resolution) but it was really more hassle moving your mouse and your windows between monitors than it is worth. Now I just turn the extra old guy on to watch TV or a Movie while I am surfing or to distract me while I try to work ;)
Clearly there is no such thing as one size fits all. It takes some experience to make multiple monitors work more efficiently than a single monitor.
I now have 3 monitors at work. Generally I only use 2 screens most of the time (IDE, test runner), but when I need documentation or need to run a TS or VM session that 3rd screen is invaluable. I find it so much faster and more intuitive to look, rather than context switch (ALT-TAB).
After having 2+ monitors since my first real job in 1998, there's no way I can go back to a single monitor. The productivity gain for me personally is too substantial. There's nothing worse than having your computer, software, monitor, whatever, hold you up. Which leads to, "if you can't change your work place, change your work place."
I'm obsessive-compulsive and I couldn't stand the asymmetry of having a taskbar on only one of two screens, or the ugliness of having a gap in the middle of the taskbar. So I ditched my dual 19" monitors for one 24" monitor. I'm more productive with the new configuration, because I no longer am spending my time trying to figure out how to lay out my applications on my desktop, like I was when I had two screens.
I think you would like Ultramon, a windows extansion which gives you a taskbar that stretches across multiple monitors. And it works just as you'd expect. Well worth the $30 or whatever it costs (shareware). It also adds handy buttons (optionally) to your window title bars to throw windows to the other monitor, etc.
Since i LOVE to have MANY apps and windows open, ultramon is vital to me. Combined with my 2 huge LCDs, It massively increases productivity, and the buttons to throw windows around help to reduce the 'dropoff' i have since i have two very large LCDs.
Also, one thing to note is that programmer productivity is different from many users. It's not about 'focusing on one window at a time'. Programmers don't do that. Programmers need one window/screen of code, one window/screen of the running/debugging application, and one screen of documentation. With a single monitor, it's constant switching between these 3 states. With 2 (or 3), they are all visible at once. No focus problems!
I've been thinking about getting LCD arms as well, but that will have to wait until I buy my 22" LCD first - as it is, the tablet PC I'm using now has stretched my budget to the limit.
I don't think virtual desktops are quite the same thing as actually having physical screens. There are many situations that can't be fulfilled by just virtual desktops - dragging files around from multiple folders, for instance (I like to maximise my folder windows widthwise to see file details). Or having a video playing alongside a word processor (one of the TED conferences, for instance). Not to mention click-and-dragging text from one window to another.
Now I'm trying to find a way to display the desktop (Win+D shortcut) on one monitor without going to desktop on the other monitors as well. Any ideas?
First let me say that I’m the biggest proponent of multiple monitors that exists in the world, at least for programmers. I cannot code without two monitors anymore. To the point that I literally carry around two notebooks when I have to go out of town because I’ve grown so accustomed to the environment (it isn’t the same or even as good but is enough to get). I do think it’s really important to have two matching screens though in that I think there’s a cognitive penalty to having your brain switch gears to interpret a different resolution/quality/etc… every time you look over.
All that said I think (and have anecdotal proof) that it depends a lot on the task being performed.
I run an IT department for a Mental Health Agency. We have clinicians who have sessions with their clients, then document those sessions on the PC. They are heavy computer users because they have to document everything they do.
I did a “multi-monitor trial” with them and found that it did almost no good. Same was true of our finance department (though bigger monitors gave us a huge performance boost there). I think it has a lot to do with the complexity of the task being performed and the amount of data available from the computer to the user. Many programming tasks involve a lot of research plus there are tons of output displays and toolboxes so multiple monitors enhance the experience. For straight office workers though I find it does very little good.
@Anyone suggesting virtual desktops I mean no offense to those who suggested it but the idea that Virtual Desktops are the same thing is laughable. I’ve used Virtual Desktops since the days of OS/2 and they were nothing compared to having multiple monitors.
@Andrew T. Back in my “traveling PC set-up and repair” days I had a customer who used 6 monitors (he traded stocks) and it was a sight to see. That said, you really need more horsepower than the device you linked to can provide. Anyone wanting to go medieval monitor-wise should really look at something like the Nvidia Quadro.
I could hardly imagine a life without a second monitor anymore. In the modern multitasking world, how else would you efficiently manage Outlook, Word, Excel, 2 Browsers and several Messenger conversations? And those are just the applications that contain the reference of stuff i'm working on, not the actual applications I actually perform work with.
I'm working on Visual Studio 2005 via RDP, which means that this only works on one screen (as XP-Win2003 RDP does not support dual screens), and i'm virtually begging to get a bigger screen for that.
In the moment where you have to use 2 applications at the same time (one for reference, i.e. the Specs and one for implementation), 2 monitors already paid off, but i think that 24" is the maximum sane size for most people, as on bigger sizes you spend more time searching than finding. With 2 monitors, you have the border of those monitors as a "fix point" that makes orientation a lot easier than one too bog screen with a lot of "wasteland" between the borders that prevent you from memorizing a certain point.
I find it amazing that this issue is still being debated after all of these years. I have been using multiple monitor for the last ten years. While I usually use at least two, there have been several periods when I had 3 monitors hooked up. When I am in a situation where I am limited to one monitor I find it very restrictive and frustrating. Even with a multi monitor setup I still use virtual desktops for grouping of windows for a particular activity.
It doesn't really matter to me if it is one screen or two as long as my available resolution is at least 2560 wide. Two small screens are usually a lot cheaper than one very large screen.
The extra resolution is invaluable for monitoring log file, server stats, viewing reference materials while working and keeping tabs on communication channels.
I guess if you are blessed with being able to dedicate 100% of your attention to a single task and don't benefit from having your work and your reference material visible at the same time, then go ahead and stick with your limited screen real estate. As for me, I will take as much screen real estate that I can afford.
I don't think I experience any productivity gain from having a second monitor. I do find it very much more comfortable having a second one just for email and IM, however. There may be an unperceived gain from simply being more comfortable. I do, however, find an enormous gain from having a real chair, desk, mouse, keyboard and monitor over using a laptop on a couch, at a table or at Panera.
At work I have 2x 17" LCD's.
What makes me special ;) is that I have my right one rotated 90 degrees.
This gives me some interesting viewing options. I do most of my work on the left (normal) monitor and use the right (rotated) monitor for viewing and reading web pages, pdf's etc. Both monitors are at the same resolution, but having one rotated is handy to test the scalability of web sites. The screen actually resembles and A4 sheet of paper making reading lengthy sites/docs easier.
I, personally, use EVERY application in full screen. A bigger monitor gives me a ridiculously small advantage. I don't use my "desktop" at all. Personally, I think that the whole idea of resizeable windows is a burden to productivity. I can think of almost no situation where I would want to have two different application visible at the same time.
Don't get me wrong, I don't single task. But if I want to look at a different application, I WANT TO LOOK AT A DIFFERENT APPLICATION. It almost never does me any good having part of a different application in the background, showing part of it behind my current window. If I cared to look at it, it's only one alt-tab press away. If I don't, it deserves no place on my screen.
Having tried both, I seriously think people who have multiple applications visible at the same time need to re-evaluate what they are doing. Are you really using your screen space right by having windows at half size so you could look at something in the background ? Do you ever actually look at it, without at the same time shifting your entire focus (in which case you might as well press alt-tab) ? Can you look at two screens at once, or would alt-tab safe you precious time that you would otherwise use to move your head and eyes and refocus on a different screen ?
At work I have a multi-monitor setup - 2 x 19" monitors, in portrait mode to maximise the vertical space. Which I find nicer than having the monitors in landscape as you can see more of a document, source code, etc on it.
I also use a multi-desktop application, as I find it nice to be able to switch between sets of open applications, each set up for a specific task. It works quite well, I can have an environment for code editing on one desktop, be doing a code inspection on another, and working on a quick bug fix or documentation task in another.
I've found that this setup has increased my productivity because I tend to only have the applications for the task at hand available on the desktop.
That being said, I wouldn't mind some improvement to the alt-tab metaphor for handling more than two different applications.
Maybe I'm reading the data wrong, but doesn't it say in the data that 1x24" monitor is more productive than 2x20" monitors, despite the latter having more screen real estate?
I'm not seeing how this justifies having two monitors...
I love the idea but don't get used to it.
Two monitors is confusing me.
But moving to a widescreen LCD is well worth it, it works well with all those IDEs like Eclipse/Aptana, and Photoshop where you can have all the little windows on the side and finally.. a decent amount of space for your code.
For those of you who want to check out some dual monitor eye candy, I have a group setup on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/dualmonitors
Pop over and show us your setup, or, if your thinking of getting a dual (or more) monitor setup, come for some inspiration!
In the spirit of 'use what you've got' I have 19" and 15" LCDs next to each other. I find that I use the big one as a front and center screen, for the window with the stuff that I'm focusing on. The smaller screen gets the peripheral-vision-monitoring stuff. Not just a messenger window with a slow conversation, but also progress dialogs that I don't like hidden underneath my active window. In that way, a second monitor is a luxury gimmick at best, allowing for even more things to simultaneously distract me from what I'm supposed to be doing.
However, productivity really increases when working (think editorial work on technical documents full of internal references) on large documents, when I typically find myself jumping between two or three locations in the document continuously. MS Word allows multiple open windows for the same document, which ocmbined with a sufficient amount of screen space reduces scrolling by several orders of magnitude.
I absolutely agree!
I used to work on a single 20" and boy did my productivity increase when I got my second 20" monitor. A lot of people say a single 30" is better than dual 20", i'd say quite the opposite. The dual monitors enables us to easily maximize windows on monitors individually (using software like Ultramon), having it on a single monitor requires us to manually resize the windows.
But there is a cutoff point. After getting my second 20" I wanted more, of course. You can see what I ended up with at:
Two of them were good, three was probably better, but four gets too wide, and a quad setup simply isn't usable. My current setup with two 20's and a 30 in the center is absolutely perfect. I've got the 30 as my primary monitor, plenty wide for lines of code (well, almost) and the 20s are great for documents, tutorials, helper applications, remote desktop, management studio or whatever other applications one might have running.
I can never imagine going back to a single monitor. Never.
More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows, you can do actual productive work.
I believe you need 3 screens because you have to deal with the Mac window manager which is just a pain. Grabbing and resizing windows is such a hassle (need to grab de title bar or the right bottom corner and drag) you end up with getting all your windows maximized and switching from one to other with expos or meta + TAB. (Like Ms windows users but without expos).
Linux users do not have this problem (depending on their window manager). Most of linux's WM propose you to resize or move windows by right or left cliking anywhere on them while pressing meta. This allow you to move windows almost outside your screen and makes your desktop instantly bigger then your physical screen !
You can choose to keep some windows above or below the others and can turn them into transparent to see what's happening under your current windows. The keyboard focus can be configured to follow the mouse instead of having to click on windows. Clicking on windows has the side effect to bring them to front hidding other windows on the same screen.
Wider screens may affect productivity but I do not think multiple screens (especially 3 screens) might show a dramatic improvement in developpers productivity.
More is more indeed. Not better, though; if you're not monitoring (sorry) the whole surface of your desktop, then having the extra surface is a waste. It would only save two Ctrl- arrow presses for me while producing distraction when anything actually happens on a side screen. The only reason I'm not going further to claim that task switching is all I need is that in its current form, it's too sequential, and when I have more than 3 windows that I visit frequently, it feels like using reel tape instead of a disk drive.
By the way, not making explicit after your first quote that two 20" monitors ended up 5-6% less productive than a single 24" one is, well, not very gentlemanly.
Ctrl- arrow , that is. No HTML, hmmm.
"In Linux you can just have multiple virtual desktops, which I think accomplishes the same thing nicely. Too bad Windows makes you buy so many monitors to get the same effect."
Really? You can read one spreadsheet while entering data in another with virtual desktops? No? Guess they're not the same then...
The key here is being able to SEE various windows while working on whatever you're doing.
Also, there are third party tools to get virtual desktops in windows...
Dual monitors? What a comfort. :) The system I got at work is my 15#8243; laptop screen. ^^
Something related: Will they ever change the way "Show desktop" aka Windows-Key + D works? At the moment, it simply minimizes everything, and when you hit it again, it does an undo on that. If you, however, hit Windows+D in order to, well, actually DO something on the desktop, like opening a file, launching an application, whatever gives you a new window, you cannot undo the "Show desktop" anymore.
Wouldn't it make more sense if it would bring the desktop into the foreground in the z-order, and after hitting again, back into the background?
I would definitely have problems trying to code without 2 monitors these days. I now have 2 x 20inch displays at home as well as at work, and since we introduced them in development two years ago, every other department has them, so management has to be congratulated on being able to see the productivity gains.
Odd that you spent time resizing windows Jeff. Is that because you have such big monitors though? I never resize a window since I'm on a laptop and things are either maximised or left at the same size. I don't mind lots of ALT+TAB as that feels fluent.
What I would like to see you focus on, next time you blog about multiple monitors, is how this affects all the 'health and safety' aspects like neck-strain and seat position....surely with 3 monitors your neck must be on the go all day, like you're at a tennis match?! Whereas with one monitor you keep your head pretty still. Do you notice the difference in your muscles?
"More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows[..]"
No! It just replaces it with another way of slowing you down. Instead of either resizing windows to tile them, you deal with having to move the mouse twice the distance, constantly turning your head to multiple screens (assuming you actually use the extra monitors, not just having stuff open "incase you need to quickly glance at it"), having to deal with applications that don't work nicely with dual screens (windows opening centered across both screens, half on each monitors)
The only particularly useful thing about multiple monitors is being able to have multiple things on screen at once, but I find having two things I'm looking at on difference screens slower than having them next to each other. When I had two monitors on my home computer, I ended up shoving download progresses, system monitors and other stuffs I could have easily just minimized.
There are times a second monitor is useful (nearly all my works machines are dual-monitors - one TFT and one calibrated CRT), but I can easily do without.
Yeh, the research may say you are more productive with multiple monitors. It also says your more productive with a single, bigger screen. And a smaller one. And I'm sure you could find the research to prove using multiple monitors makes you a communist if you look hard enough - it seems like there's research to prove everything is everything..
Yeah, people with three monitors never have to work out after work. ;)
I run with two 20" widescreen Dell LCDs, both at home and at work. I generally have a couple of instances of Visual Studio maximised on the left-hand one, and Outlook, Thunderbird, RSS Bandit and the MSDN viewer maximised on the right-hand one. SQL Server Management Studio doesn't live on a particular screen.
It's like my left-hand screen is my "do work" screen, and my right-hand screen is my "look stuff up" screen.
I also totally recommend UltraMon. The extra taskbar and the "move to next monitor" button are totally worth the money.
The next step, of course, is to persuade work to get me a third monitor. I don't see any studies about the relative productivity levels of 2 monitors versus 3, though.
I used to have two 20 inch monitors. Recently I bought myself a 24 inch widescreen monitor. The plan was to place the 24 inch between the two 20 inches. After a couple of weeks of that configuration I noticed that I was hardly using the two 20 inches at all. I've since removed them from my desk and placed them in storage.
I think there is a point where more is no longer better. I find the 24 inch monitor is enough space for most of my day to day tasks. There are occasions when I wish I had my two 20 inch monitors back (for example, comparing two spreadsheets side-by-side), but they occur so infrequently that I'm not tempted to return to that configuration.
I'm all for the magical number 7 (plus or minus 2) (from Miller, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magical_Number_Seven,_Plus_or_Minus_Two)
When you have more than a number of apps open at the same time, your productivity will drop. It's far better to concentrate on a small number of tasks and get those done. As Joel Spolsky described (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000022.html), programmers cannot multitask (without taking a performance hit).
Having more monitor real estate is better to get things done, probably up to the limit described, but having too much will have the opposite effect. I think the way to go is to do a ruthless redux of all excessive apps. For instance, at this moment, I have five open Tabs in Firefox, one in IE7, three open Excel Workbooks, one open Access DB, Outlook and one Windows Explorer. Total apps: 6.
Enough already. Sometimes I'll have fifteen to twenty windows opened, and then I'll close some just to keep focused.
For example, I could close Access, as I'm doing things in Excel at this point, or I could close two Excel workbooks and finish what I was doing in Access. And really, I should be working and not writing in Firefox.
So, I’ll leave you with this. Having too much visual real estate is too much. More is not unlimitedly more.
I use two monitors at work, and I certainly found my productivity while programming is certainly increased. I use the main monitor in front of me for Visual Studio and my secondary monitor for internet / google / msdn, or if I have to examine data while I code the secondary screen will contain the data.
I think of it like this. Its the same as having one sheet of paper to right on and another to read from. if the one you were reading from was stapled below / or above the one your writing on you spend more time flicking between the two physically, lifting the paper, reading try to remember, form something to write, bring back writing paper, try to remember what you were about to write.
Compared to having the piece of paper your reading from beside the piece of paper your writing on, you don't get taken out the flow so much as you just swivel your head, have a quick read and continue writing.
I think one of the factors that may be frequently overlooked in these productivity surveys is *reduced printing costs.*
It took me a while to convince my boss to take one of the cheap monitor and graphic card combos we had and slap them onto my machine. With just those added to my machine, there was such a significant drop in the amount of stuff I had to print--because it was RIGHT THERE ON THE SCREEN--that my productivity soared.
Like many developers, I'm nowhere near the printer, and the documents I want to print are frequently large, including hefty graphics. Not having to print that stuff anymore means I can stay at my desk, and keep working.
For me, it's about keeping my arse planted in the chair where I get my work done, not treading a hole in the carpet between myself and the printer. It also reduces toner, ink, and paper costs. I wonder how many of these studies are factoring that in. Because believe me, my boss noticed, and knew right away that he got a major return on his investment in very short order.
How come I'm always getting your posts a day late and 100 comments deep? - This is after clearing the cache and hitting refresh countless times... ugh... bottom of the barrel I am.
At my company, it's funny to me... those offices and cubicles I notice with = 2 monitors are typically developers... and those with 2 are typically systems admins/engineers. This is only my opinion of what I see... bare in mind.
I spend a lot of my time at the moment programming using a development environment, SQL Server Management Sudio, Excel and Visio.
At work, we have a large 24" widescreen primary monitor and a 19" second monitor.
Most of the time I telecommute, where I have just one 19" monitor.
Until you compare these two methods of working, you simply won't understand how much more productive it can be to have your primary with your development environment, and secondary with your reference materials (excel, visio, SQL server).
When at home, I am constantly flicking between applications, writing stuff down, copy/pasting if possible just to get the info I need. All of this is eliminated by having just two monitors. I can easily see having 2 monitors increasing productivity by 50%.
I don't know. Most of the time I spend programming is done thinking, so the computer (including monitor(s)) doesn't really matter that much.
I think that one thing that gets overlooked is that screen size (in inches) doesn't necessarily correlate w/ desktop real estate (resolution). For example I am currently using my PC as a media center so I have a 32" aquos hooked up to it.. 32" might sound nice (its actually way too big (again in inches)) but its resolution caps out at 1366x768 which is pretty limiting and certainly LESS desktop real estate than a 22" lcd that offers 1900x1200.
Just remember, screen size and desktop size are not one in the same!
Dual 20" at work, actually three of them but the third is on a second box. All flat LCDs so that I get more real desktop space back. Like someone else above, I tend to have my Visual Studio instances running on one monitor and things that I mostly look at or interact with minimally on my right (dbgview, help, mantis, etc.). That setup works well for my brain and I like to have my VS instances maximized on one screen. I think I'm more productive with this setup but it is also just darn convenient to glance rather than to navigate through a windows stack each time I need to get to something.
My boxes are on a shelf above the monitors so the floor is clear - and I like that because having legroom is probably more important to me than having more screen real estate.
I use 7 screens on 3 machines (machines hooked together using Synergy, a mouse/keyboard sharing tool).
I have 2 computers I normally use at work. 1 (laptop) is the "corporate" platform, and 1 (beefier desktop) is an unencumbered one for development.
Each has 2 displays, although I use the laptop display for 1 of them. I use Synergy (http://sourceforge.net/projects/synergy2/) to share the keyboard, mouse, and (text) clipboard.
True - very rarely do I use all at once. Many jobs focus on one system or the other.
The usefulness of multiple screens is (no surprise) dependent on what job is being done. To say multiple monitors is (or is not) without saying for what job is not totally useful. Many parts of my job don't even need 2. But some benefit from 4.
My extra monitors take place of paper that used to be strewn about the desk - reference materials, notes, documentation, etc. All that stuff that is now NOT paper.
Seeing the application running, and the code executing at the same time is wonderful.
I find it interesting that even the linux guy up top didn't mention alternative ways of managing windows. Any quality programmer-oriented editor will be able to manage multiple open files, even VS has that. I find a 22" widescreen monitor to be just fine. I have a browser on one side, a terminal, or debugger, on the other side towards the top of the screen, and an editor, usualy emacs, below it. That is all I need as a programmer, in fact I frequently just ssh in from home.
-I find I can only use multiple desktops(ie virtual screens) when I have multiple independent tasks going on at the same time. When I am programming I need everything at a glance, no technical mumbo jumbo.
-As some other people mention sometimes even the separation between monitors is too much of a disturbance. For me, I start seeing diminishing returns with larger monitors around 23" widescreen. Larger than that and I have to change my focus too often.
-To me the main benefit of mulitple monitors is the health benefit. If you stare at the screen too much your eyes go bad. You need to keep them moving, and refocusing. I especially need the benfit because I already have pretty bad eye sight.
There's a freeware named VirtualWin doing almost the same thing for windows.
I've been through various configurations (multiple smaller displays, 1920x1200 display, currently provided with and using 4x19" lcds at work) and am starting to question this mode of thought now.
We have a natural field of vision of around 16:10, similar to a single widescreen. when you make this wider by adding more monitors (say 1 to each side) you destroy this fixed field of vision and introduce a lot more horizontal movement. my central 2 lcds at work are great (I'd still prefer a central single 24") but the ones to the far left/right are on the verge of being useless, they're just too far away and require some substantial head swinging. they're okay as sort of stand-by displays (I use them for outlook, remote desktop etc) but the utility of of extra displays is destroyed once you go past 3 displays (or 1 large one). more is no longer more.
in visual studio I'd welcome the extra height of a 30" LCD, whereas on 3x20" (for example) I'd just end up with a lot of wasted horizontal real estate even with documentation open in another window (readability of documentation on a screen that wide is another issue altogether).
the key benefit really is when you're reading from one screen and writing to another. you clearly benefit from 2 displays in that case. but even in that case for some it might be faster to actually alt-tab than to twist their neck to see the other display (again, depends on display size and distance from screen).
despite all this thinking/analysis I'd like to say I still do some of my best work my 1024x768 resolution notebook, and am starting to lean towards thinking of the whole multimonitor issue (and even large monitor issue) as futile exercise of sorts. don't get me wrong - i'm not making an outright assumption that it's a bad thing here, just starting to really not see much benefit in the idea of more "real estate" lending to productivity. it might give you more space to put stuff but that doesn't equate to a more intelligent solution or a new idea. for example it wouldn't be out of line really to have some kid somewhere a kid on an 800x480 asus eee code out the next facebook without knowing anything about resolutions. you don't need as much firepower for this stuff as the people trying to sell you it would like you believe, i think. it reminds me of the whole graphics card market situation where they're selling stuff for quite literally a 150 times the cost (integrated $4 graphics vs $600 graphics) which people are willing to pay up to, heck, even buying multiples of the things, and the end result isn't much different (if not worse due to all the distractions provided by the newfound hobby!).
whatever works. i'm sure you and al core will stick with your desktops, and for all i know i'll change my mind again next year and be using a 9-monitor display grid to, um, well, let me go and find a use..
I think this may be one of those cases in which scientific results don't capture the whole story.
If you're going to time a person performing tasks with one monitor and then with two, you wont see a huge productivity difference. But if you then ask them, after they've completed the tasks, how enjoyable they found it, multiple monitors will win every time.
Multiple monitors means less frustration which means happier people which means better work in possibly less time. Of course, I have no proof, I'm just saying.
I would love a dual monitor setup. Often I am doing work on something, but also talking to a few people on IM. I find having multiple windows tiled on one display too noisy, especially when the program I am working with is already noisy (like VS) and the people I am talking to are saying lots. To be able to shunt them to a second monitor would be a great boost I think. I also quite often need to have a reference document open, whether that be some websites for an essay or documentation for an API and again to be able to have that on a second monitor would be useful. Two smaller monitors allows you to comfortably have the main item you are working with filling the majority of the central screen whilst having other peripheral tasks tiled on the secondary screen. Again, having it all tiled on one large screen just makes it too noisy for me.
Certainly there is a point of diminishing returns -- more is more up to a point.
Is the purpose of more monitors to reduce hiding windows, which reduces mouse clicking and/or keystrokes? Value is measured in time saved from the mechanical convenience, and the brain not losing interest by having to wait while finding the window they were after.
I'd love to get myself a BIG monitor at home, but one of the main things I use my home PC for (apart from work) is photo editing, and larger monitors all seem to suffer from fairly poor colour rendition and uneven back-lighting.
Two monitors wouldn't help me much for that as I want a large single window for the image I'm working on. (Though admittedly a second monitor for the browser and toolbars might be quite good).
"I can think of almost no situation where I would want to have two different application visible at the same time."
Really??? Assuming you are a programmer then how about:
- having your app, debugger and test tool on screen at the same time.
- referencing details in a spec while coding.
- copying values in code to/from a spreadsheet/database/doc.
- writing code while referencing an example.
Aiming for my third display as soon as I can.
More is definitely more. No more flipping between windows to get something done. One on one screen, one on another.
VM on on screen, remote destktop on another.... chat windows, browsing. All less vital tasks, but still important no longer impeed my primary view and I can easily shift my glance betwixt them as needed.
A third monitor would be more of a good thing.
I recently convered an entire office to double LCD displays from single cruddy tubes. A very, very popular switch - I assure you, esp. since 2 of the apps that get used constantly (practically simultaenously) work best full screen.
More is definitely more in this case. I just wish the 1680x1050 wasn't so darn, well, SHORT. I also wish the next step up wasn't so darn expensive.
It's not uncommon for me to have three major windows open at once and to bounce between them: A web page, the source or CSS for that page, and Firebug to help highlight components of that page and make live changes to styles. Having all three visible at once is considerably more productive for me. While I don't have any specific numbers, I work with the same software packages at work and at home. Work features 2x23" monitors. Home sometimes features a laptop monitor at a lower resolution. While I can still work at home, I'm often trying to figure out which window I want to toggle to or re-arranging windows to see what I need at that time.
I'll keep my 2 monitors for sure. Some days I want three, but I think the return eventually diminishes.
I think that what is true for the average user is not NECESSARILY true for the power user. Obviously, the better you are at switching to a different specific window, the more the multi-monitor advantage will be mitigated.
Of course, there are other ways that multiple monitors help you; for instance, if you are writing up comments on a particular design prototype, it helps to have the prototype up in one window and your text editor up in another.
Still, I'd like to see the tests run with a big group of power users instead of typical users.
I like 3 monitors- but why should they all be the same?
It's just like multi-core cpus: right now the manufacturers are building cpus with identical cores, because it's easier and we're still getting used to the idea. But it looks like the best performance can be had from building a cpu with several different cores, each optimized for different tasks.
I propose a 3 monitor setup like this:
Monitor 1, in the center, is a 22 inch widescreen set at 1680x1050 or higher, for general purpose work.
Monitor 2, to one side, a another 22 inch widescreen, but it's oriented 90 degrees the other directly. This monitor is optimized for reading long documents.
Monitor 3, to the other side, is a small old 15 inch piece of junk. Use this monitor for laying out GUIs. That way, you'll end up with something that still looks good on older systems.
I was suprised by how much a widescreen monitor as a second monitor improved my productivity. It is especially useful in Visual Studio where you can finally see an entire line of code without scrolling. I can also see the entire subject line of emails and all the file details in Windows Explorer.
Dual montitors also allow you to do more multitasking. It makes it easier to refer to some some sample code while editing in your IDE.
There are a few annoyances though. When I boot up I frequently need to reconfigure my monitor setup. Sometimes I even need to disconnect my monitor cable to get anything on either screen.
I think the reason for the productivity dropoff with the 26" monitor is that most modern UI's really don't deal with it well...
Windows just has the maximize button... as if I ever really want my web browser to take up 26", widescreen, of space.
Mac OS is a little better, in that windows "maximize" to their content - but they still don't automatically dock with each other, and end up scattered around the desktop unless you very purposefully and carefully rearrange them. Expose helps this a bit in terms of finding things, but it doesn't help you when you're trying to actually get the productivity gains of two monitors - ie, looking at two windows at once.
Is there any add-on for Mac OS or Windows that would help with this? Sort of dividing my one giant monitor into two smaller virtual ones, and being able to toss windows between them, doc them to guides (or each other), maximize to a preset half or 2/3ds of my screen? Are there Linux window management apps that work this way?
Just curious. Universal snap-to-edge of the window and maximize to open space sort of behavior has been something I've been wanting in windows (and Mac) for years, and with bigger and bigger displays, it seems like it's becoming more and more pertinent.
I have not spent much time working with multiple monitors. Right now I'm working on a non-wide screen 19" LCD on each of 2 PCs I use daily. I run everything possible maximized.
Modern development Studios/IDEs have so many docking windows, some of which I use extensively, so I don't want to constantly open/close or hide/unhide them. My coding window seems to always shrink, which I hate.
My Nirvana would be a 24" wide-screen monitor. I imagine with that I could run in a higher resolution without sacrificing readability and be able to open all the docking windows I normally use and have lots of space left over for coding.
I can also envision running two screens so I can run an app on one and debug it on the other, but given a choice, I'd rather have the single larger screen.
I've been a multi-monitor advocate for years. In 1992, we were able to add a Hercules graphics card to our PC, and connect an amber monitor, so that we could run our app on the little monitor and run the color-coded source code debugger on the 20" CRT. It was heavenly compared to one monitor. Finally I got even our mainframe folks to agree to just try a 2nd monitor. Now they'd cry if the extra one was taken away. My developers are slowly migrating to use 3. One day I just want my wall to be my monitor. You're right - it's about real estate. If I could have one big one, I certainly would.
Like some who posted before me have said, if you have more than one monitor, do yourself a favor and get Ultramon. The "move to next monitor" and "maximize to entire desktop" alone are worth the price. And with the ability to assign such commands to a hotkey, you can perform much of your window management with just your keyboard. It also allows the very satisfying ability to move a maximized window to another monitor by just clicking and dragging (rather than having to demaximize and then drag it over).
As a developer who switched to a three-monitor configuration I can tell you without a doubt that multiple monitors absolutely increases my ease of use and my productivity.
My strong opinion is that anyone who doesn't advocate multiple monitors either has not experienced the glory of multiple monitoring or is for some reason refusing to admit the logic of using them.
I don't know, people don't always make sense. However, I propose that if you have the option to use multiple monitors and still choose not to, then you are:
a. a sadomasochist,
b. like being less productive,
c. refuse to simply 'get with it'
My two cents:
At work I have two 19" fullscreen's side by side and a 19" CRT off to the side. I keep my e-mail and a remote session on that CRT and glance over at it occassionally when new mail or meeting requests come in, or to keep tabs on the remote server. The other two I have Visual Studio spanned across and when I'm running, I often have IE in the second screen and Notepad++ in the first. I can't tell you how wonderful it is not to move stuff all over the place all the time.
At home I have a 19" widescreen next to a 37" widescreen (it's an LCD TV / Olevia 337H). I am far less productive when using the 37" to do any kind of development with, but it's excellent for gaming while keeping tabs on other apps (browsers, instant messaging, etc.) over on the 19".
I just thought I'd add in my perspective on the "too big = a problem" point brought up in this article.
No! It just replaces it with another way of slowing
you down. Instead of either resizing windows to tile
them, you deal with having to move the mouse twice the distance.
I have made an app that lets me have 2 mousepointers. One Active and one Inactive (that is grayed out). With a click on my 4:th mousebutton I switch between those two mousepointers. So I dont have to "move" my mouse to the other screen, I allready have a sleeping mousepointer waiting for me there, just click the mouse button and the active mousepointer is grayed out and the inavtive becomes active and Im over there in less than an hartbeat.
There is a util (shareware I think) out there on the Net that does exactly that, but I wrote my own version of it just for fun.
constantly turning your head to multiple screens (assuming you actually use the extra monitors, not just having stuff open "incase you need to quickly glance at it"),
As a programmer I dont have stuff "laying around" on the screen, I use ALL of the screen area on both screens. Visual Studio has lots of toolboxes and sidebars that needs space. Most of the time I have one Visual Stuio maximized on each screen and are debugging between those two so I can allways se the code from the caller application that called the code in the serverapp and have a full view of whats happening. For me there is NO OTHER way to get that overview and fast understanding of whats happening when debugging.
I dont have to turn my head, but maybe thats because I only have two ordinary 19"-monitors and have my face at least .5 meters from them.. In an 3 monitor scenario I can understand the turning head thing... But not with 2.
...having to deal with applications that don't work nicely with dual screens (windows opening centered across both screens, half on each monitors)
Actually, I have not had any of those problems at all and Im an active user that uses a broad set of applications. And also, there are many applications (nvidia control panel f.e.) that enhance windows to take care of that IF you would like to configure different behaviour than normal.
Hey Now Jeff,
I'm looking forward to the day I join the 3 monitor club but for now 2 is better than 1.
Coding Horror Fan,
For the love of Pete, Jeff, please tell me that's not your desk with the pink iPod Nano on it?!? I thought the iRiver Clix was your mp3 pony?
What's up? Is the end of the world close at hand?
My bad, looks to be red. But still!?!
My primary job responsibilities are as a system administrator, and I see multiple monitors as a necessity. Anytime you are running applications on a remote computer, it is essential to have the ability to look at both local and remote machines in full screen.
Previous to this, even though I worked at a computer full time, I had never had a dual monitor, and did not understand what the hub-bub was about. Now that I have used a dual monitor setup, I find it improving the productivity of other 'local only' computing. It took me being required to get used to the idea before I had my 'a-ha' moment.
On a more philosophical note, I have always considered the desktop metaphor lacking in specifically the physical disparity between every desk I have ever worked at and every computer screen I have ever used. Multiple monitors are a move towards an equality between metaphorical parties, and therefore *should* more closely mirror the way any given user uses their physical desk, e.g. all users enjoy an increase of productivity up to their usual physical productivity. FWIW
I would think multiple desktops are good for some purposes, and multiple monitors are good for others.
In my case, programming, multiple desktops works well, I have my development on one desktop, a reference page (web browser to look stuff up) on another, etc. Most of the times I'm bouncing between two windows on one page (IDE and test site browser), when I'm stuck I flip to the research desktop and do my lookups. I use a third sometimes to move files around.
For a co worker (fiscal manager) she has two displays, usually one is the accounting system and the other is a spreadsheet. For those instances when she needs to work out something complex before input, she can use the spreadsheet, and check the results with the accounting system. For her, its a matter of having view of everything at the same time, no to mention wicked fast cut and paste between windows.
Though I like the 52% increase statistic, justifies the 19"+ display I want to replace my 15" one. :-)
its really interesting that no one has touched on WHAT your doing on those monitors to begin with. if your doing basic word processing a dual monitor is useless yet if you are into tasks like coding (using one to code the other to test) then you can have tremendous improvement.
take that to something like audio/video editing, cad/cam and you should already be requiring the second monitor not hoping for it.
another issue here is the OS's ability to ergonomically let you switch things around. but i wont go into that to not get flamed here...
Does anyone remember the movie Grandma's Boy?, where the antagonist programmer would lie down on a recliner, where he had a complicated array of monitors hanging above him? I think he had his office made to closely resemble the techy interior of the Nebuchadnezzar from the Matrix.
(BTW, Grandma's Boy is very funny, but also insanely offensive. Be warned!)
"Each monitor is in 1280x1024 resolution at 70Hz refresh..."
I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure that refresh rate has no real effect on LCD monitors, since they aren't actually "refreshing" in the same way a CRT does. Most LCD monitors I've seen recommend you select 60Hz for optimal results.
jeff, it is so sad to see those three beautiful monitors not have a seamless wallpaper spread across your workspace. go to http://www.mandolux.com/ to rectify this abomination now! unless of course that is a screen saver in which case i will go cower in the corner. :)
You can procrastinate on one monitor while working on the other! It's GENIUS!!
Being a student programmer currently studying and still learning to program, having 2 monitors is absolutely vital for me, I'm not sure I could go back to one screen any more..
I'm always having reference documents, sample code, websites and other such help info open on one screen, whilst having VS2005 on the other, and it works a treat. The time it would take to switch between them by alt-tabbing would take too long, compared to just glancing at the code / info on the monitor next to it.
Also, with the use of UltraMon, I have one long task bar, separate desktops with separate wallpapers and icon layouts, and moving windows in between monitors is just a case of using the handy shortcuts the program builds onto your Windows forms. If I have several windows on one monitor, the task bar lets me change between them with a single click, with each task bar working for each monitor seprately via the power of UltraMon..
I can't imagine working without a dual monitor. The additional productivity is immeasurable. I work with a few windows open at the same time, usually my workspace, specs, email, and chat. Having to shuffle through these every minute or so is a real hinderance, especially with tight deadlines. In fact, I'd rather go into the office to use my dual monitors rather than work at home with just one.
Virtual desktop is not a solution to users that we suffer of carpian. Second monitor is great. I personally use it for MSDN help, so I don't need to change between windows, and main monitor is just for programming pleasure.
I must say that the title of this blog entry is a bit disingenuous. Having read the title alone, and having read previous blog entries, I didn't expect to see a balanced discussion. I didn't get one, either. :) 52% faster at ' tasks like editing documents and tossing numbers between spreadsheets' does entice me, if I was doing data entry.
More monitors won't make you a good designer. It won't implement your design into code correctly, either.
That being said, they're not without benefit, either. More real estate to have watch windows up, or perhaps to have your requirements design documents up side by side - that's good stuff. But I fear that most folks will use the other monitor to read RSS feeds, or reply to blog posts mid morning (guilty as charged).
This is no news to graphic designers and Mac users. I had two CRT monitors on my Mac 10 years ago, when a good monitor might weigh 15 pounds and cost $1500. When your job depends on the spatial arrangement of information, the advantages are obvious.
I'm using 2 monitors. My nVidia GeForce card has 2 DVI outputs.
How do you guys use 3 or more monitors?
Do you have a second graphics card?
Here's a technical question for the dual monitor experts.
What's more performant, 2 video cards or 1 with dual output?
Which hardware spec is more relevant for dual monitor performance?
The blog has become a burden to read, so God know's what it's like to write. You've become a dull 'readers digest' of tech blogging. A banal drudge combination a list of trivia and a pointless retrospect on things that don't matter. What you write about has little worth and no meaning. I can only hope you do it for a little money and a the self-induced ego stroke. You're like Scott Hanselman's nerdy cousin who knows what CAS and RAS stand for, and that through the faux-encouragement of ad revenue and obsession with page views, now thinks you have something worthwhile to say; please, you don't.
Next Week on Jeff's Tech Digest - Are Gold Cables Worth the Extra Money? PLUS!!! Programmer Horoscopes YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO READ!!!
But how do you connect the third? :)
Is it possible without a second video card?
Like to hear more about why 3 monitors is so good. I've got 2 now, it be the end of the world if I ever had to go back to 1. So why 3?
In my experience using 1, 2, and 3 monitors to write code, design websites, etc., two 21-24 inch monitors is all that is necessary 99% of the time. The third is nice to have dont get me wrong, but hardly ever have I found myself thinking "what would I do without this third monitor". That said I'd never give back my third monitor, but it only marginally increases productivity when compared to the upgrade from one to two monitors.
I have the opportunity to compare 2 setups. I office at home and also have an office at one of my clients. At home I have 3 19" LCDs and at the office I have 2 22' wide screens. While 2 22's are better than one but there is no comparison to the 3 19's. I constantly have SQL Management Studio open on one, Visual Studio open on one and usually Firefox or Excel open on the third.
I wish I had another monitor. It'd be the perfect place to put SSMS or query analyzer.
To those banging on the "use virtual desktops" drum, consider a simple scenario where multiple monitors works.
Suppose you are writing code and you need to see the documentation for a function that takes complicated parameters (think structures with bitfield members, so you need a few documentation pages to work with).
With multiple monitors, you put the documentation on an auxiliary monitor(s) and stack windows so that you can see each one; you spend a one-time window management cost then get your work done.
With a single, large monitor, you have to resize your code window and all documentation windows in the hopes that you can find a configuration that lets you see everything you need. If this doesn't work, you need to Alt+Tab between windows occasionally as the information you need has been covered by a different window. You pay the window management cost many times, and might even resort to printing the documentation and putting it in a document holder, thus simulating multiple monitors and wasting paper.
Virtual desktops make it no better. If you stack the documentation on a secondary virtual desktop, you still have to switch away from the code editor desktop to see the documentation, then switch back. You still can't put more information on the screen at the same time, which is the goal of multiple monitors.