Does More Than One Monitor Improve Productivity?

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:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

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.


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.

Advices ?


OOPS!! :wink:

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 :wink:

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.

Fellow Ben:

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!