The quest for the ultimate desktop experience

If you had the money, would you have six or seven screens? Would you go to high performance computing? If you could set this up in your own home, how far would you go? Article
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

The thrill of having true desktop real estate began when I moved into my new house. I asked you to get involved and you did; thankfully most of your advice was next to absolutely awful so naturally I went my own way. However, having my own office separate from my bedroom or my lap in the living room has entirely revolutionized how I work.

I am no longer the quintessential student. I am now an industrialized, educated part of the online and offline community, and the power I hold lies in these four walls of my office.

For the time being, this will stay as it is. I have yet to fill my walls with the junk, train tickets, memories and the infamous LiveSide stickers, but that will come in due time. What I have in my office includes:

But that's nothing interesting, let's be honest. I knew there were better componentsto be seen, more lights and monitors, equipment and servers to get the juices going of the most hardcore geeks possible. I wanted more, so I searched long and hard for it.

Gallery You can of course carry on reading, but if you wish to take a look at the selection of elite home offices and desktop experiences I have found strewn across the web, head over to the image gallery.

If you genuinely thought my home office was something to aspire to, you will be in for one hell of a surprise. The "Mac and iTunes, but still serious" office

Mitch Haile now works from home in Boston after getting sick of commuting and spending more hours flying than with his family. By spending between 60-80 hours a week at the more stressful times, working in a 26x14ft office that he has built himself, I would very much doubt he would want to work anywhere else.

This desktop space is fantastically laid out. Powered by a Mac Pro running Mac OS X, the 9220x1600 resolution really shows off the visualisation mode in iTunes. As a Unix programmer and distributed software system programmer for data centers, he takes advantage of the six screens he has. Even the space on the other side of the desk (which isn't shown) allows him to work away from the computer on paperwork.

Some of the more interesting stuff in his office isn't even shown in the photo. It is built in such a way, if it survived a nuclear blast, he would be able to use the last remaining minutes from his UPS system to backup and perform a controlled shutdown.

The snack bar and drinks cabinet is a slight let down, in my opinion. I'll explain this before the end of the article. There is a full FAQ on his site which he added after the numerous questions over the years.

The "home office in absolute style" office


This setup is a bit of a mystery after finding it along a Flickr photostream, but is nonetheless quite something to look at. To me, having a spanning wallpaper which spreads from the very left screen right to the very right hand screen is enough to make me giggle with wonder like a school kid.

Each screen is identical with four widescreen TFT monitors, which look to be around 19"-24" in size, along with beefy speakers and a wireless keyboard and mouse.

The "Windows developer extraordinaire" office


Stefan Didak has created the Behemoth of all desktop experiences. A Dutch software developer working for half a dozen businesses at least has a combined desktop resolution of around 7680x2400, and first to accept that indeed, this is an "essential business resource" rather than a "continuous frivolous expense".

According to his own FAQ which he has followed suit in writing, if you were to turn on all the equipment on at the same time:

"The light in the neighborhood dims a little, starts to flicker, then the lights in part of the city go out, and once everything is up and running, the lights slowly come back on again. Some of the systems are always on and are never powered off."

As a software developer, he has created many tools to make his desktop management easier for himself; currently using WiLMA, something he has created from scratch.

With all the lights, LED's and flashing bits around his office, it wouldn't surprise me if it felt like Christmas all year long in that office.

A good portion of the systems he uses aren't just specifically for his use. Using virtual machines and quite a hefty broadband pipe, people VPN through to these virtual machines to collaborate from remote locations to keep a constant development cycle going.

But if it all gets too much, he can always take a laptop into the garden and access everything he needs remotely. Even that would be too much for me, but if it works for him, then we shouldn't criticise.

A full comprehensive list of questions he has answered is available on his site, and is most certainly worth a read next time you have a spare 10 minutes.

The "I run Microsoft" office

Not really that spectacular, really. Is it? Granted, I believe this photo shows Steve Ballmer's office when he was still the CEO of Microsoft, rather than "the big boss" as he now is.

The "student with a middle-aged mindset" office

I am a firm believer that every room in the house should have a specific purpose, and that purpose should be fulfilled. Sure, from time to time I will sit and eat my dinner in front of the television in the living room, but most of the time I find the dining room will suffice for that. In that case, an office should be an office and nothing more.

Don't be spending your time using it as a home cinema or have a drinks cabinet in there; to me, that would negate the point in even having a house if you aren't prepared to leave your office. I am not the only person in the world who likes to have fun at work in their corporate office. Even the former British deputy prime minister had a few questions to answer after the tabloids found out about his indiscretions at work.

But with the time and money you spend on making your workplace away from the workplace an ideal haven for your work, there will still be a door in the corner of the room letting you out from time to time. If I had some of these setups, I probably wouldn't leave my office for a fortnight.

Somewhere along the line, I became horribly middle aged. Eurgh.

As it goes, having the money to support such setups as these examples is one thing. The computing power in some of these desktops are phenomenal; equalling or rivalling consumer high performance computing. The power consumption is a factor to take into account. In some cases, having the collection of equipment presented here can cause the lights in the street to dim, or at least have the electricity companies questioning their own meters, seeing such high outputs towards one single residential address.

I would imagine at some point with the heat generated from these offices, an overhead police helicopter would be understandably mistaken in suspecting that these homes were in fact used for the cultivation of narcotics.

But in my heart of hearts, I could never justify these setups unless I had the broadband power to support what I had. Most of what we do nowadays either lives or communicates with the web a great deal of the time, and with businesses flowing through home offices via VPN connections to virtual machines, the standard ADSL wouldn't suffice. You would need a massive upload and balanced download ratio, and that can only really be achieved if you have access to fibre-optic cables... which most people don't. The infrastructure simply doesn't exist yet.

With unlimited money, what would your home office be? Can you match or exceed these setups? Snap a photo, upload, embed the photo or add a link along with a comment in the TalkBack section.

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