Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dual Monitors

Recently my organization came up with the idea to provide dual monitors at work. It seemed to bring some cheer to the developer community in my company (it was announced at a gathering). I joined in polite applause while my mind clamored to list the actual productivity gains if any. Talking to other people did not elicit much information besides the most obvious ones.

Then I did some research on the world wide web and found some interesting articles on the subject. First and foremost, dual monitors are old hack. People have already experimented with 3 or more and the debate has died down mostly. Yet since this is the first time that I may have such an experience (yes, my company is still to make it actually come true), I thought it would be interesting to find out how others use them simultaneously.

Since the topic is on usability, who better to know and design than Microsoft. While there are the hardcore developers who would differ, this article from Microsoft is good enough for us other mortal developers. After that I went ahead and find out how the developers actually position their monitors and what kind of data they keep open. Some examples:

Most of the time when I am writing code, I am referring to a certain design document or probably another piece of code with the global variable or some such stuff. With one monitor, I need to always do an ALT-Tab to go to the data, memorize the stuff, come back to the primary app and code and then again go back. Imagine with dual monitors, I will just need to keep the reference data open and probably just shift my glance or at worst move my head and I will be able to get the information needed. A better example is when you are trying to learn something new and you need to constantly refer to the tutorial and also run the application simultaneously.

Also the development environment that I use (and most others) have a lot of small panels within the main app, such as directory structure for the code, page hierarchy for the file, attribute options for UI development, compiler messages, etc., etc. With all these options, sometimes the actual code view becomes cramped and I need to shove them under. And then soon as I change to another page, I will need to pull them out. What a waste of time. With two monitors there is essentially more space on the desktop, with the full application window spread over two displays.

Another simple use is to keep your music, email, calender and such other app open in the secondary monitor. For me specially, I like to listen to music all the time when I do serious work. And sometimes I keep the playlist running just because I would need to shift the window focus to another, search for a particular song depending on the mood and then come back to the app. Having two windows just simplifies the task by letting me glance over the playlist which I have given full real estate to in the secondary monitor and select the song that I like with a simple mouse click, each time, every time.

The people who find this most useful are gamers, and more specifically those that play flight simulators and such. They can keep the different instrument panels on one, the viewfinder on another.

Well from all that I could read and gather, it is supposed to increase my productivity, ergo my company's bottomline. Studies have proven that the actual increase in productivity is an average of 30%, while ranging from anywhere between 9%-50%. And therefore it leads to me to conclude that it would also effect the dotted line on my payslip where it says net cash in hand. Cheers!!!

If you want to read more of the actual developer discussions (they are pretty old by the way), you can find them at slashdot, lifehacker , codinghorror, and many more on the web. Also there are already available wallpapers for such dual monitor setups. Wonder how they will look with the patch of the display in between.

Also reading those articles also pointed to some problems. Highest in the list was neck strain, but I think that would come from a less ergonomic arrangement than advised. Also people had problems with the setup, working as they were with different graphics cards.

Waiting in anticipation for the actual implementation of the promise.
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