Dual monitors is addictive

For the past two weeks I’ve been running an interesting dual monitor setup. I have an old Mirror Door PowerMac G4 which has outputs for both standard DVI and Apple’s own ADC. I had been using an ADC that came with it for a while, but over the summer I was using a smaller Dell monitor because I needed some extra desk space. But since moving into my new room I decided to go ahead and set up both monitor. I was a bit skeptical of the experience because I had never used a dual monitor setup, especially with two different types of monitors.

However after using a dual monitor setup for about 2 weeks, I’ve become so used it that I would find it difficult to work with only one monitor (unless maybe if it was a very large one). I’ve been using my Dell monitor as my main working monitor with a browser or text editor open and the ADC monitor as a ‘monitor’ for iTunes, feeds, email or documentation that I need (including API documentation, tutorials and also school assignments). It takes some getting used and occasionally applications will pop up on the wrong monitor. But once you get used to it is really worth it. One major benefit is that you are no longer continually swapping between your work and whatever you are using as reference material. Combine that with something like virtual desktops and you can neatly compartmentalize all your work and not have your IM bleed into your school paper or vice versa.

Unfortunately I might have to go back to one monitor. My schools new network policy now makes it impossible for students to run servers from their rooms. However, we have a colocation facility where we can move our servers and leave them running. I’ve decided to go that route because I’ve become very dependent on my personal Subversion server, which is great for keeping track of multiple versions of documents. That means that my G4 with its dual outputs has to go. I do have an old Core Duo Mac Mini which has a single DVI output which I’ll be using as my desktop machine. That means that the ADC monitor will become effectively useless. Apple does have an ADC-DVI converter, but it costs $99. I would much rather spend $50 more and get a newer, larger monitor.

I’m pretty determined not to stay with just a single monitor. After realizing how much easier it is to work with two, I would probably be constantly finding myself wishing for another monitor. I’m currently in between buying a nice widescreen monitor for under $180 or simply scavenging a smaller monitor (like my current Dell) from the IT departments throw-aways. Considering my status as a starving college student who has to move back and forth about twice a year, a smaller old monitor would be the most reasonable choice, but a larger monitor would come in handy for having more stuff open at the same time (which can be quite important when you’re a developer using a number of different technologies at the same time) and it’s certainly better for watching movies and the like.

I’ll probably keep off the decision until I actually move my Mac into server room. The best thing at the moment would probably to get a smaller Dell and try it out to see if it meets my needs. Unless there is some pressing need to get a larger monitor, I’ll just stick to the smaller setup.

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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