My multiscreen mantra

My multiscreen mantra

Summary: I recently got my home workstation environment nicely aligned with a three-way split between Windows 7, Mac OS-X and Linpus Linux. Quite apart from sharing processing load and being able to segment home and work life more effectively, it allows me to try and out more web pages on more browsers and (if I am honest) looks pretty cool too.

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I recently got my home workstation environment nicely aligned with a three-way split between Windows 7, Mac OS-X and Linpus Linux. Quite apart from sharing processing load and being able to segment home and work life more effectively, it allows me to try and out more web pages on more browsers and (if I am honest) looks pretty cool too.

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Of course, there are solid code development reasons for wanting a multi-screen set up. For example, would you find it useful to have one screen tracking a software change and configuration management (SCM or SCCM) tool and another showing your as-it-happens development environment?

Author of the Coding Horror blog Jeff Atwood wrote some time ago now that, ”Multiple monitors [are] most useful when an application has palettes or when two or three windows need to be open, such as for programming/debugging.”

One might logically suppose that multiple screens would be fairly mandatory in extreme programming environments, so just how many do you need? Developers working on multifaceted GUI related development projects may even want to break up and individually view parts of the total user interface if it is large, complex and/or intensely rich in nature.

Of course some games developers will need multiple-screens from the outset as they may be programming for game play options that allow additional screens to support camera views and/or partial ‘surround-view’ with the use of three or even four screens built to be housed in a row.

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Going back to my reference to change management and the use of multiple screens, SCM vendor PureCM points out that if you’re writing code or fixing bugs in, say, Visual Studio – then you’ll be wanting to view your SCM tool separately to reduce the possibility of introducing errors caused by switching from one to the other.

PureCM’s technical director Mike Shepherd is on the record with the following statement, “The roots of using two screens go back a few years. Looking specifically at the Visual Studio environment, Microsoft provided an SCM interface to give access to source control. While this provided a common interface to many external programs and tools, its use was limited in scope. The SCM interface route doesn’t sit easily with more modern development concepts like task-based development and refactoring, making the two-screen approach an ergonomic compromise with the potential to introduce issues.”

OK so this might sound like the most obvious subject in the world to talk about as so many of us are using more than one screen now, but hey – there’s a technical justification to be made here and sound reasoning to back it up isn’t there?

The argument that it ought to be easier to work with your main development tool and have your SCM tool seamlessly integrated with it must hold water surely? This way you can perform tasks such as managing changesets, merging changes and getting line-by-line histories to find bugs more directly within Visual Studio itself.

Right that's it for today, now to plan the integration of my xBox 360 Live somewhere into my blossoming hedgerow of electronic windows.

Topic: Software Development

Adrian Bridgwater

About Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater a freelance journalist specialising in cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects of software engineering and project management.

Adrian is a regular blogger with ZDNet.co.uk covering the application development landscape and the movers, shakers and start-ups that make the industry the vibrant place that it is.

His journalistic creed is to bring forward-thinking, impartial, technology editorial to a professional (and hobbyist) software audience around the world. His mission is to objectively inform, educate and challenge - and through this champion better coding capabilities and ultimately better software engineering.

Adrian has worked as a freelance technology journalist and public relations consultant for over fifteen years. His work has been published in various international publications including the Wall Street Journal, CNET.com, The Register, ComputerWeekly.com, BBC World Service magazines, Web Designer magazine, Silicon.com, the UAE’s Khaleej Times & ITP.net and SYS-CON’s Web Developer’s Journal. He has worked as technology editor for international travel & retail magazines and also produced annual technology industry review features for UK-based publishers ISC. Additionally, he has worked as a telecoms industry analyst for Business Monitor International.

In previous commercially focused roles, Adrian directed publicity work for clients including IBM, Microsoft, Compaq, Intel, Motorola, Computer Associates, Ascom, Infonet and RIM. Adrian has also conducted media training and consultancy programmes for companies including Sony-Ericsson, IBM, RIM and Kingston Technology.

He is also a published travel writer and has lived and worked abroad for 10 years in Tanzania, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and the United States.

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12 comments
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  • My multiscreen mantra

    The boss had a cow when he saw me with 3 screens on my desk until I showed him the price for a 4 channel KVM. The additional screen, keyboard and trackball was cheaper by a hundred dollars!
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Nice one.

    Don't ya just love that four-way monitor? I'm not sure if it's real even.

    Adrian
    Adrian Bridgwater-3dc6b
  • My multiscreen mantra

    At my new workplace, everyone has between two and four monitors on their desk. They are typically distributed in various combinations across Windows XP, Solaris/OpenSolaris and Linux. It is exactly as you describe, the advantages of being able to develop, test, and monitor/debug, each without disturbing the contents of the other, are tremedous. Likewise having adjacent monitors on different operating systems.

    I have had two significant problems in adjusting to working in such an environment, both related to having adjacent monitors which are connected to different systems. First, not being able to copy-and-paste between them, and second repeatedly forgetting that I can not move the mouse cursor between them, now matter how fast I spin the trackball.

    There are a couple of practical considerations to keep in mind when setting up a workspace like this. Multiple monitors on the same system will work best, both of the computer and the user, if they are all the same resolution. Linux will actually handle different resolutions properly, but I can tell you from doing it with my laptop that it is confusing and distracting. It will be even better if they are the same size and shape, so the desktop stretched across them looks continous to the eye. So obviously, the ideal setup is two or more identical monitors on the same system. Conversely, there is a small advantage to having different make/model/size/shape/resolution monitors when they are connected to different systems, because your mind is able to easily track which one is which (or at least my mind is).

    Oh, and if you find out that four-way monitor is real, I want one.

    jw
    j.a.watson@...
  • My multiscreen mantra

    The 4-way looks like a rack of panel PCs edge to edge. The one on the far left looks too fat front to back to just be an LCD panel (unless its an old one).

    Personally I (cue the dreamland-music!) vote for 1 screen, 75" diagonal (or bigger, I'm not picky!), 16x9 aspect ratio, 16000 x 9000 resolution, 32 bit color, picture-in-picture, etc etc! lol!

    I read tales, very much like urban myths, that billgatus de Borg was putting wall-sized LCD panels all over his Seattle mansion to display digital copies of the world's masterpieces. He was supporting some sort of initiative by art preservationists to document art treasures in as much digital high resolution as possible. His take on the deal would be legal digital copies of all he helped to copy. I guess that's better than stealing the artwork outright! I have no clue how real any of it might be but it sounds like a good urban myth.

    I think the ultimate monitor arrangement will be the hologram "halo" depicted on the TV show Caprica on the SyFy satellite channel, virtual sensory everything. They're going to have to figure out a way to overlay the holograms on the reality seen and heard through eyes and ears! Maybe something more like Neuromancer.
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Thanks for your comments Jamie -

    You know it's funny, I was watching a BBC programme last night on the creation of the web and listening to Tim Berners-Lee talk about HTML and the 'bringing together' of different data (information management) from disparate systems...

    ... and then here I am talking about wanting three different screens on the same desk. Connected via the web yes, but without considerations like screen resolution (which you point out) and also the ability to move a mouse cursor between one or the other (which again you point out), which again of course I can not do in my case.

    Xwindows thank you too - can't find many images on the web for Caprica and I don't get SKY - I presume this is the show:

    http://www.syfy.com/caprica/

    AdrianB
    Adrian Bridgwater-3dc6b
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Yeah that's the one. Unless you're into shiny extremely tall killer robots (the Ceylons), I wouldn't bother watching the whole 2 hour pilot.
    Caprica is a "pre-quel" series for the SyFy series BattleStar Gallactica (the recent one).

    The hologram "halo" device is a headband with flashing LEDs (kind of dumb) but the concept is cool. Virtual reality INSIDE your head!
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Hi Guys! I saw a friend of mine showing all who were interested that he could use a single mouse and keyboard between a PC and Mac. He would flip his pointer off the edge of his PC screen and it would appear on his Mac screen instantly, and he'd be able to control either machine normally. A bit like having a hybrid computer.

    After reading your blog Adrian, I dropped him a line and he pointed me in the right direction for getting the information to you.

    The first link is the <a href="http://lifehacker.com/106123/how-to-turn-your-dual+monitor-pc-into-a-dual-mac+pc-system">Lifehacker</a> website, which contains a brief overview of what's possible.

    The next link is for the <a href="http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/">synergy</a> application, the one you'd want if you intended to play with this thing. It turns out it works on some versions of Linux, so you could end up with a three in one solution.
    roger andre
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Hi Guys! I saw a friend of mine showing all who were interested that he could use a single mouse and keyboard between a PC and Mac. He would flip his pointer off the edge of his PC screen and it would appear on his Mac screen instantly, and he'd be able to control either machine normally. A bit like having a hybrid computer.

    After reading your blog Adrian, I dropped him a line and he pointed me in the right direction for getting the information to you.

    The first link is the <a href="http://lifehacker.com/106123/how-to-turn-your-dual+monitor-pc-into-a-dual-mac+pc-system">Lifehacker</a> website, which contains a brief overview of what's possible.

    The next link is for the <a href="http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/">synergy</a> application, the one you'd want if you intended to play with this thing. It turns out it works on some versions of Linux, so you could end up with a three in one solution.
    roger andre
  • My multiscreen mantra

    While Synergy is one option, Roger, and it does let you copy and paste between PCs the way you need, JW, we've had problems with it - it hasn't been updated in ages and Simon found it very flaky under Vista and above in user mode (and running in admin mode is such a bad idea). It is the only one doing both Mac and PC however. We used Multiplicity for a while, but that stopped being developed too. Now he's using <a href="www.inputdirector.com">Input Director</a> which had a new version just the other week.
    M
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • My multiscreen mantra

    XWindowsJunkie - not an urban myth at all; it's how the da Vinci codex Arundel and codex Leicester notebooks came to be available to page through on the British Library site: go to http://ttpdownload.bl.uk/app_files/xbap/BrowserApp.xbap or http://www.bl.uk/ttp2/ttp1.html if you want to see the Shockwave version rather than the one that needs IE.

    Gates bought the codex from a collector (who had kept it in his library), had it digitised and lends it out to museums every year. He announced the British Library app, Turning the pages (the pages turn in IE, though not in Shockwave) at the launch of Vista.

    "I feel very lucky that I own a notebook. In fact, I remember going home one night and telling my wife Melinda that I was going to buy a notebook; she didn't think that was a very big deal. I said, no, this is a pretty special notebook, this is the Codex Leicester, one of the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. And I personally have always been amazed by him because he personally worked out science on his own, and he understood things that no other scientist of that time did. And his work is amazing. He would work by drawing things and writing down his ideas. So he built these notebooks about how light worked, how water worked, how weapons would work. Of course he designed all sorts of flying machines, like helicopters, way before you could actually build something like that. So every one of these notebooks are amazing documents
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • My multiscreen mantra

    There is a fork of Synergy that I've just come across, Synergy+ which seems to be filling in the gaps (at least in fixing many of the bugs that made it impossible to use on Vista or Windows 7).

    I've not used it yet, but there does seem to be an active community building. Let's hope it can deliver more than just a bugfix, and something more like the Synergy 2.0 we were promised nearly four years ago...

    S
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • My multiscreen mantra

    Thanks guys..... Just thinking, it must have been a lonely position at times. Bieng able to dream up these amzing engineering projects before their time.
    roger andre