Thursday, February 09, 2006

Top Current Windows XP Annoyance: Multiple Monitor Support

If you have ever used multiple monitor support in Windows XP, then it is highly likely you have experienced the pain I will betalking about. I use mutiple monitors when I plug my ThinkPad into a docking station for my deskbound LCD. This is what I think SHOULD happen:
  • Secondary display should extend the desktop without my intervention.
  • The second display should have a taskbar without the Start button.
  • The icons on my primary desktop (i.e. the one permanently attached to my computer) should not move.
This is what Windows XP does:
  • Nothing. I have to do something to trigger the activation of the secondary display. My current method of choice is the Thinkpad hotkey, but...
  • I can't activate extending the desktop as a permanent option. I have to go into Display Properties to turn on extension and move the displays around to the proper location. I do this nearly everyday.
  • After setting up the desktop, my desktop icons are moved to the new extended desktop most of the time. This is inexcusable in a 5 year old product.
Alas, I know there is a utility to do this, Ultramon (thanks to Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Tool List), but I am not paying $39.95 to get functionality that should be in Windows XP. A quick Google for what the situtation will be like in Vista reveals only that there will be unspecified improvements. CNet has this article which mentions mutiple-monitor improvements, best quote:
Suokko said the company wants to make it easier for laptops to connect to any external monitors that happen to be available. "It's there, but it's somewhat complex today," he said.
Also of potential interest for current Windows users may be MaxiVista to use a laptop or other PC as a secondary display. And MS has this article which reitereates much of what I just said. There is also an open source project, Synergy. This is not strictly a multiple monitor solution, but it does allow you to use a single mouse and keyboard across mutiple computers, Mac, Windows, or Unix. I haven't tested it yet, but it could be cool. You might want the Mac GUI for it from SynergyKM (thanks Lifehacker). And as for what the situation is like on the Mac, I have only connected one external display, a project, to my iBook a few years ago, all I remember was that it worked and I didn't have to fiddle with OS X. But I did find this Mac OS X Tiger Timesaver: Using Multiple Displays article on with screenshots. Looks mostly the same as in Windows XP, except you can pick which monitor the Menu Bar is put on. I might have to bring in my PowerBook to work and connect to the external LCD to see if settings persist across monitor connections, which is The Way It Should Be™.