Dual-monitor users benefit from having more

Two monitors may be better than one

Stefan Thibeault, a programmer at a clothing manufacturer in Montreal, is convinced of the value of using dual PC monitors. Doing so has given him a much larger electronic workspace, eliminated such annoyances as the need to frequently alt-tab between applications and cut down on his trips to the printer.

In short, the dual-monitor setup has made Thibeault more productive at work. "I couldn't live without it," he said.

But when the IT manager at Thibeault's company asked other employees if they wanted dual monitors last year, few jumped at the offer. Thibeault can only speculate as to the reasons why. He said it may be that people were concerned about losing desk space, or that they weren't certain of the benefits of using dual screens.

For users like Thibeault, though, the ability to display e-mail on one monitor, a browser window on a second and perhaps an application on a third, and then to seamlessly move their cursor from screen to screen, is a work benefit they feel passionate about. About a dozen users who have multiple monitors were interviewed for this story, and in almost every instance, they said they now can't imagine working with just one.

Denys Beauchemin, an independent wireless and storage consultant in Texas, U.S., is so committed to using dual monitors that when he travels, he packs a monitor in his suitcase to set up next to his laptop screen.

"It's a bit of a pain to lug around, but I'm so addicted to multiple monitors," Beauchemin said. "I think they're a real boon to my productivity."

Nonetheless, workplace adoption of dual screens can be hit or miss, especially if an IT department isn't actively encouraging or supporting the use of more than one monitor. Technical support may be needed to make it possible; desktop systems, in particular, may require a video card upgrade that can support separate video outputs. Laptop users may be in a better position, particularly those who use docking stations.

Windows Vista does include support for multiple monitors, as does Windows XP and even Windows 2000 to a lesser extent.

That means end users with the initiative to create their own dual-screen setups can do so. For instance, Jason Quint, an accountant at The Home Depot's HD Supply wholesale distribution business unit, has an LCD monitor on his desk and has configured his laptop screen for side-by-side use. "I can look at one spreadsheet while typing an e-mail," Quint said.

The experience of using dual monitors isn't without glitches. For instance, if a laptop is disconnected from a standalone monitor, upon restart an application may look for the second screen. Some users said they also "lose" their mouse, but both issues were characterized as minor and quickly fixable.

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Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld

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