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Multiple Monitors: Windows XP Versus OS X

I have completed my hardware upgrades to the new Mac Pro. The system is now sporting 5 GB of memory as well as a second video card. That second video card now gives me the ability to expand beyond two monitors. Since I had plenty of LCDs sitting around, I decided to put them to use. I now have FOUR monitors attached to my Mac Pro.

Why? Because I can.

But, now that I am doing it, is it all roses? No. So, which operating system is better in this department? Windows XP or Mac OS X?

Fitts’s Law

One of the things that constantly strikes me about this issue is how both camps have such rock solid opinions. Well, truth be told, it seems it is the OS X users who get the most defensive about it. Apple is, of course, thought to be the king of interface design. In most areas, I would agree. When it comes to multi-screen support, I disagree.

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Fitts’s Law is often quoted. Wikipedia defines it as:

Fitts’s law (often cited as Fitts’ law) is a model of human movement which predicts the time required to rapidly move to a target area, as a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target.

It has an equation and everything. More simply stated, the idea is that the larger the target, the easier it is to use. So, the idea with the top menu bar in OS X is that it covers the entire top of the screen. The mouse cursor cannot move beyond it. This means that any flick of the mouse upward will hit the menu. Very large target.

Beyond Fitts’s Law

OK, Fitts’s law is a workable model. But, how does this translate into real-world use? That’s where I fail to see the point of it in the design of OS X. Let’s look at REAL WORLD use of multiple screens in both operating systems.

In Windows XP, multiple screens is easy. You install the video cards, install the drivers, and then all the screens will appear in your Display Properties. You can move them around in relation to one another, etc. When you operate an application on a particular screen, the menu bar goes with the program. So, no matter where the application is, the menu bar is within a short distance of your workspace.

Now, let’s take OS X. Driver installation is a non-issue because Apple so tightly controls the hardware. It does properly detect all screens. It doesn’t always detect the proper native resolution for the monitor, but that is an easy thing to correct. Changing arrangement and settings of multiple screens is really easy with OS X. You can give each screen it’s own background (harder to do that in Windows). Visually, the interface for managing multiple monitors in OS X is solid.

Practically, though, it is a nightmare. And that is due to the simple fact that the top menu bar is tied to one screen. Sure, you can easily choose which of your screens is primary (and hence which displays the menu and the Dock), but it does not move. That top menu bar is used for every application. All of Apple’s GUI design genius looks really stupid when they can’t think of something better than this.

So, I have four screens attached to the Mac Pro. If I am working with an application on the far screen, I have to scroll over TWO SCREENS to get to the menu bar for the program I am working with. I cannot barely put into words just how frickin’ idiotic that is. Here is a picture from my office to demonstrate:

OS X Multiple Monitor Hell

The Verdict

OS X multiple monitor support is strong. I actually like the way it handles it better than in Windows XP. But, practically, it loses BIG TIME to Windows XP. Windows is so much better than OS X when it comes to ease of use in a multiple monitor environment.

To get around this, Apple needs to do one of the following:

  1. Make the menu bar follow the active application.
  2. Give an option to the user to embed the application menus inside the program menus.

#2 might be harder to implement because it could involve the cooperation of the developers of all applications for OS X. The top menu bar has been a staple of OS X for awhile now and it is hard to change. I understand that. But, #1 should be easier to implement. Until Apple does something to make this easier, I guess they’ll just have to continue to condition Mac lovers why this idiocy actually makes sense (some think so).

Until Apple grows a brain on this issue, leave it to a third party utility to help make things a little easier. The utility is called DejaMenu. It will allow you to set up a key combination that will duplicate the top menu bar in contextual style. So, if I am working with that application in that far left monitor, I can hit that key combination and I get the entire contents of my top menu bar (which is TWO SCREENS away, mind you) right at my current cursor position. Not as easy as Windows XP, but this makes it much easier.

So, in this match of Windows versus OS X, Windows wipes the floor with OS X and then spits on it. OS X is just plain harder to use when you have more than one monitor. And it is disappointing that users like myself have to outsmart the stupid design by using third-party add-ons, becoming kings of keyboard shortcuts, or speeding the mouse cursor up to light speed to flip across several screens.

This should be easier, Apple. There is so much smart design in OS X. Why not this?

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24 thoughts on “Multiple Monitors: Windows XP Versus OS X”

PicklePumpers says:
Having used multi-monitors since I found out about it maybe 8 or 9 years ago I can tell you is is hugely useful if you are a developer. You can have your reference material, e.g. your design specs, up in one window while you have your dev environment up in another. Or if you are building webpages you can have a full screen copy up WHILE developing.

Basically I just don’t think people know how to use multiple monitors. Seldom is it useful for me to have a single app span multiple monitors; it’s just too much space to look through. In my experience what multiple monitors are good for is displaying reference material while you are working on your main data on your main screen. In fact I often have multiple sources of data I want to see at the same time like two servers’ performance live and my log app in the middle.

Paeregrine says:
Hey, I’m working with a four monitor setup on a MacPro as well, using one ATI Radeon x1900 XT card, and one NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT card for graphics. The problem I’ve been running into, and one that no one can seem to answer, is why my games won’t run properly anymore. When I open Spore, Heroes of Might and Magic V, or Battlefield 2142, I just get the into black screen and it stays like that for maybe an hour. Then, after the computer is done picking it’s nose or whatever, and an hour and change has gone by, my game starts up and runs just fine.

Have you encountered this, and what could the possible fixes be, I’ve heard that the Spore Mac release is actually just running Wine internally and the same maybe w/ BF 2142. Could that be the root of the problem?

Thanks in advance,

Thom Pantazi says:
Funny thing is as a guy who has spent the last 28 years working on a PC of some sort, I am without a doubt a Microsoft expert. I have had dual and triple monitors for years on me Windoze machines. I have coveted the idea of a quad of more setup. Some people say it is over-kill but I do modeling and each screen gets used extensively. Having said all that, last summer I finally broke down and bought two iMacs: one for me, and one for my daughter. At first, I was frustrated with the switching issues. But as time went by it turned around. Now I hate having to go to work and use my Dell. I love my Mac in every way but one. That is the dual monitor setup. As you so clearly stated the hassle of locking the menu to a distant monitor is a royal pain.

While some here have complained that your monitors would make you move physically, they miss the point totally. When working on monitor four, you have need of things that only are available on the menu. The menu being on the far away monitor is the problem. If it weren’t there, you wouldn’t have to move ether the mouse or your chair. What these people are missing is that you can and do use the other monitors to work separately from the work being done on the monitor on the other side. This is not always the case but it is frequently.

In my case, I have an iMac 24″ connected to a 22″ external monitor that is on a swing arm. The setup is in my den and I sit at a big overstuffed chair with the iMac to my left on an end table. The swing arm monitor is used to pull the screen in front of me so I can look at it without having to twist my neck. A solution could be to make it my primary monitor but the problem with that is that I frequently disconnect the swing arm monitor and put it away. This is true when we have guests. Another use is we will watch a movie or hulu show on the swing arm monitor because I can easily swing it around for easy viewing by everyone. Both of these things would be better with a menu on the monitor in use rather than on a distant one.

Like other posts, I came here looking for a solution to my frustration and regret that I am stuck with this problem. I also came here to see what kind of idiot would make such a blatantly bold and ridiculous statement as to say a XP is better than OS X. I stand corrected. After reading the article I completely agree with the author’s position. In addition, if this problem were present on a Windoze environment, I submit someone would have written a utility to work around it. The work around community seems to be much stronger on the Windoze side.

Having said all that, I still love my Mac and will not give up on it. I may have to get some software development tools to create a workable solution on my own.

James Shaw says:
Completely agree with you. I just have 2 monitors and already feel this is a big problem. Searched for a solution on the web and came across your blog.

Having the menu be part of the window (or at least follow the window) definitely makes more sense in the multi-monitor scenario. I would also argue that in a single monitor scenario it’s still better to have the menu bar be part of the window. I think that Fitts’ rule is stupid: when a user needs to access the menu on a Mac, he would have to travel more to the top of the screen to access it, vs much less distance on the focused window (most of the time focused window is not full screen); it’s no brainer to me which one is more efficent.

I feel UI-wise Windows trumps Mac OS in general. The UI widgets in Mac OS don’t stand out as much (tabs, buttons, etc, like in Safari). It’s harder to tell that they are there. I never really understood why Apple is famous for more intuitive UI design.

VonMagnum says:
It never ceases to amaze me how the average Mac user (I own two Macs and a PC (which runs XP and Linux), BTW plus two AppleTVs and an iPod Touch) does little more than offer EXCUSES for why the Mac can’t do something right when on the rare occasion it does something wrong or stupid (and then they’ll call you a ‘hater’ when you argue the point) and this is definitely one of those situations. I’ve never understood the blind loyalty and fanaticism surrounding Apple. What is so great about stuffing a computer into a monitor shell so you can’t add any internal expansion and then have to stuff crap all over your actual desk surface because some brainiac didn’t consider backup drives or anything else except the base look when they designed the thing? And laptop GPUs are better than desktop ones in a so-called “desktop” machine? Or is it just that Steve Jobs is obsessed with THIN so much he forgot all about functionality along the way?

In any case, those are the Macs weak points and they come down to choosing ‘pretty’ and sometimes ‘simple’ over useful. It’s getting so bad that professionals are finding Firewire disappearing and staring at reflections because Steve decided that glossy looks pretty and matte looks passe despite the fact that some of us prefer NOT to stare at our own reflections when trying to get some work done. And since Apple refuses to allow anyone else to build the hardware they do not want to build or offer (i.e. no clones), they’ve pretty much created situations where they’re telling their customers if you want a matte screen so bad, throw out all your Mac software and go buy a PC from Dell, knowing full well you’re unlikely to toss out your entire software library to make the switch (and while virtualization is allowed to make it easier to switch from Windows to Mac, Apple will not allow you to virtualize OS X to make it easier to switch back to Windows). Thus, Apple just screams of both arrogance and hypocrisy (just witness the mini-display port on the new laptops for which there is exactly ONE monitor in the entire world (by Apple of course) that it will plug into without a $99 adapter (sold only by Apple of course) so that you can use it with a $199 monitor by someone else. If Apple could tax you for the air you breathe, they probably would…unless you subscribe to iTunes and buy at least 5 songs a month and name your first born Steve. GREED is the word I’m probably looking for.

I’ve digressed WAY off course here but these are the things that are driving me NUTS about Apple, which is sad because I have despised Microsoft for SO SO long (I used to be an Amiga and C64 user once upon a time and know full well just how BAD Microsoft’s OS has been…at least until XP came along, which is almost tolerable. They then took that and threw it right down the crapper with Vista, which is utterly utterly HORRIBLE. This is where OS X comes off smelling like roses for the most part except for this multiple monitor business and an utter disdain and lack of support for (in both software and especially hardware until recently) games.

Here’s the gist of the matter. Apple could solve their multiple monitor issues as outlined above with two simple changes and they could even offer it as an option in the monitor preference pane. I see absolutely NO REASON why OS X could not simply clone the menu bar AND the dock for ALL SCREENS. It’s repetitive, yes, but it’s also FUNCTIONAL. Why should I EVER have to move over to another entire screen just to get to the dock (same goes for Windows start menu and task bar, BTW, which also only appear on one screen) to access such basic functions and tools? If it doesn’t hurt to have a dock and menu bar on a ONE monitor system, why in the world would it hurt to have them on each monitor in a two, three or even a 10 monitor system? Then each workspace would be self-contained (don’t forget the drive icons as well) and you could work wherever and whenever you want without any preconditions or issues. You select the app to start on the screen you want and/or drag it there and continue working as normal. It’s not only simple, it’s also elegant and functional. You don’t need the menu bar to “move” or appear on the working screen. Just have it there all the time on all screens just as it would be if you only had one monitor. The problem is solved, everyone is happy and Mac fanatics don’t have to make an excuse, but can go back to gloating about how great OS X is.

I would suggest this simple change to OS X to Apple, except that Apple almost never listens to its customers and instead seems to live in a perpetual state of going “lalalalalala” with their virtual fingers stuck in their ears. They do not respond or listen (and probably don’t even read) any feedback you provide. I’ve tried to get very simple bugs fixed in AppleTV now for over a year and they do not respond, reply or fix any such things. The fans probably have a good excuse for why that is, but the reality is they don’t care. Apple doesn’t offer products that customers WANT. They sell products they want to SELL. They do well when those two accidentally coincide (e.g. iPhone, iPods) and very poorly when they do not (Newton, Pippin, the TAM, etc.)

Ironically, Linux has solutions and new problems for the multiple monitor situation. On the one hand, you can have two entirely separate spaces and each monitor can have its own task bars, docks or whatever you want (Linux has endless options, which also means it lacks unified standards coherence and thus commercial software) but this system has one major drawback and that is you cannot move windows between monitors at all. On the other hand, as long as you start a program on the one you want, you don’t need to as everything you would need otherwise (menus, start bar, task bar, whatever) is already there. Or you can have something similar to Windows and OS X with the ability to move programs between screens with the added ability in KDE to ADD extra start and taskbars to the 2nd display (imagine that!) The downside is a lot of software doesn’t properly recognize the so-called Twin Mode (which on some level is just one giant screen with an artificial separation between the two) and tries to open halfway between the two screens and other such nightmares that arrive from the lack of non-unified standardization. Everyone just does whatever they want in the Linux world and so you get a lot of anarchy. And where Mac users are fanatics that often have little actual knowledge, Linux users usually have a lot of knowledge but no people skills and serious god complexes. Windows, of course, has bugs, viruses, spyware and bloat. NONE of them are ideal. Choose your own poison and don’t expect any of them to listen to anything approaching REASON.

Nino Arconi says:
“ this match of Windows versus OS X, Windows wipes the floor with OS X and then spits on it. OS X is just plain harder
to use …”

Well said !

This is true not only re:dual monitor support (thats why i came to your article).

Mac OS is an inferior to Windows when it comes to usability in nearly every area. Before fixing dual-monitor support, Apple should write a decent mouse pointer-balistics slgorithm in OS X mouse driver (so we dont have to use 3rd party drivers to relieve strain on our wrists), completely rewrite Finder (what a joke of a file manager this thing is!), fix drivers that hang and freeze the whole os (wireless and bluetooth in leopard) – i dont remember having to restart my laptop from power button while using windows for 10 years before i switched to mac, and i do it several times a week now, fix smb networking support etc etc etc …

As for 3rd party utilities — oh yes, Mac OS and Apple are “easy to use” “everything just works”, hahahahaha, they spent nearly $500 000 000 (that’s half a billion) for advertising last 12 months — and i bought and installed plethora ot 3rd party tools just to be able to work somehow. Marketing clowns !

Oh well.

I guess I’m going to give my shiny ssd macbook air to somebody as a gift and by lenovo x30. One year of pain is enough …

Alex says:
The distance between your screens is ridiculous. As someone above said, you’re going to have to move your chair anyway. If you had 3 screens next to each other the problem would be negligible. I’m sorry, but I feel if you had your monitors closer than 6 feet apart, the problem would be negated. Definitely not worth the scathing article. I’m still chuckling at that distance, LOL.
David Risley says:
Alex, the monitors were right next to each other. There was only one that was a bit further away, and the distance wasn’t that far.

Since this was posted, I have moved to 3 screens. The problem still persists. This is indeed a design issue with OS X.

kASTOR says:
I’m running both OSX and windows xp from my Macbook pro using bootcamp and spend alot of my time using two monitors. I tend to use OSX while working because of the software I use and the OS reliability. However I play the occasion game on xp and can’t for the life of me figure out how to set up duplicate displays to play games on my external monitor. Leaving me playing on my 15″ macbook screen rather than my 22″ monitor with a much higher resolution. Can any one give help with this (or state the obvious as the case my be)!
MacALot says:

On a Mac you can put icons anywhere you want to, in the dock, in the menu bar, or make an alias of an original.

And who cares about the position of those items, trash, start etc?

On a Mac Pro do you know how to switch from a large TV 42″ back to the 22″ desktop monitor>? On the Pro there is a dual input jack card for the monitors.

How do you do it?

Mr Roberto says:
Agree and disagree. I have a triple-monitor setup on my Windows XP workstation (used for Photoshop), and dual monitors on my Power Mac G4.

1. In terms of setting up, OS X wins hands down. It automatically detects monitors without having to reboot — you can swap in a new one even while the OS is running. This is massively useful if you tend to move the CPU box around a lot.

In my case, for example, I have a 12-inch Powerbook. During the day it hooks up to a 22-inch LCD and external keyboard/mouse and ius used for office admin. At night it turns into a media centre when I plug it into my 40-inch LCD TV. All I have to do is put the Powerbook to sleep, unplug it from one site and then plug it into the other site and it automatically recognises the new setup.

2. In terms of usability, I agree Windows XP is better. The menu bar sticks to one monitor on the Mac, putting it away from the application when it’s being run on the secondary monitor.

This is not so bad IF the drive icons and dock were actually movable, so that you can keep the menu bar on the screen where you open apps the most, and have the drive icons and dock on another monitor to clear more space for the app.

What Apple needs to do is allow dynamic movement of the desktop icons. In Windows XP, you can select and move the desktop icons — including the trashcan and start bar — wherever you like. In Windows XP you are in control. With OS X you’re stuck with what Apple thinks you should have.

Russ says:
I’d separate the general subject of multi-monitor support from the design choice of Menu Bar placement. Menu bar placement certainly affects the other. Just say menu bar placement sucks (I’m used to it) on the Mac and is worsened by multi monitor use.

But the big thing is: The low overall support for multi monitors on Windows sucks really badly compared to the Mac for one big reason: Losing Windows. It’s probably a combination of OS and Application developer issues, but I often lose a window in XP when changing monitor configurations.

Example: I use a laptop (closed) with 2 monitors connected. When I disconnect, often an application will be orphaned over on the now non existent monitor. Closing the app and relaunching sometimes brings the window back up in never never land again. Pretty stupid. Microsoft: Don’t ‘display’ a window where no monitor real estate exists!

I haven’t played with Vista enough to know if it’s any better.

jared says:
I have the same thing happen with OSX. When I have my 24″ external monitor hooked up to my new macbook pro and disconnect the external monitor. Often times windows are still on the external monitor and I can’t find them. Other times it brings them back all crazy.

I love my mac, but I wish it could handle multiple monitor multi tasking at least as well as windows does. Serious, each screen needs to have a menu bar for each application currently active in that screen. This is just crazy that this is not the case.

It would also be nice to be able to disable spaces on certain monitors. so for instance I would like my external monitor to stay put, while I change spaces on the laptop. That would be nice.

Tom W says:
I experimented with dual monitors on both my PC and on my Mac for a while – thinking I’d be more productive with the extra screen space.

Honestly, after about 4 months with it, I ended up buying a single 24″ LCD for my Mac, and a single 24″ LCD for my Windows XP PC.

Multiple monitors isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, no matter HOW the applications handle them. For one thing, I like to play 3D games occasionally, and they still don’t allow spanning the view across 2 displays in any game I’ve tried, whether PC or Mac OS X. (Well, I think Microsoft Flight Simulator might be a rare exception that supports it, but that’s about it.)

Under OS X, the times I found a second display most useful were when using MIDI and music-related software, where you can drag over windows containing mixers, time-counters, waveform editors, or what-not to the second screen – freeing up the primary display to show all your recording tracks. In this scenario, having the application menu bar available on the secondary display is worthless.

No matter which OS I used, I’d also say that purely ergonomically-speaking, you don’t want to have one of your displays way off to the side. Instead, you can do 4 LCD flat panels in a 2×2 grid using one of the display stands designed for the purpose. Arranged in this manner, you won’t care so much about having to scroll WAY over to a menu bar and back. It all feels like it’s right in front of you instead.

Paul says:
There is one killer multi-monitor feature in XP with ATI/AMD drivers that may not be possible on MAC.

I use a PC for multitasking AND as an HTPC while working on the PC. An HDTV tuner card is used and main viewing is on a 1920×1200 LCD which provides near ideal quality viewing. But if I move my view to the PC monitor, I still want to see the video in a small window while working on other things.

With AMD “TheaterMode” settings, I get video in the player window on the PC monitor (non-full-screen) while the same video is shown full-screen on the HD monitor. In addition, the HD monitor is properly shown at 1920×1080 with small bars above and below.

Both video windows are fully de-interlaced at very high quality (perfect HQV scores for newer AMD cards).

Dual display is important here because as I shift focus between the two monitors, I get the exact user mode that is appropriate without changing any settings. When controlling the tuner, or file playback slider, I see video, instead of the black box that would normally appear on a dual video display where the controlling display has been set to secondary.

MB says:
As a computer user since 1985 – I have used both Macs and PCs extensively. And the author raised some good points that got me thinking… And led me to DejaMenu which I setup to launch when I squeeze my mighty mouse (instead of the default expose).

I’ve often wished there was an option to mirror the menu bar on different screens because of the mouse moving issue – but I always knew for me there would be a better solution – I think dejamenu is it for me.

Looking through the comments, I Strongly agree with comment #3 – I am an interactive developer, and constantly have 10 or so programs open – but I never think in a program centric mindset, it is always document centric – I think this is the reason I always feel like I am going against the flow when trying to do my work in a PC – need to Maximize every window environment.

Deja menu is great for me, because I can just move across my 3 monitors to the docs I am working on, and squeeze my mouse to bring up the menu. It’s the simplest solution for me.

Thanks for raising some good design critique – I never would have found this otherwise!

Eureka says:
In fact, I have to agree with the article.
I use a MacPro with three 30″ ACDs.
My main screen is in the middle and the other ones left and right in a 45 degree angle.
Even though is kind of hard to access the the menu bar, I got used to use QuickSilver to do that. One key combination (option+space bar) to open apps and stuff and another key combination (command+space bar) to open the menu items. It’s even faster than going all the way up to me menu bar as I can write a few letters of what I want in the menu, quicsilver way.
So, accessibility depends on how you are using your Mac.
Also, in my secondary monitors, I always use apps that don’t require much intervention like monitors, graphs, downloading files, etc. Even if I am using a Virtual Machine, being it windowed or full screen, the content is all there.
Spaces is nice but I kind of like to see all the information I need at (almost) the same time. Spaces is just way too distracting for me (even though I use it very often too).
If you need help setting up QuickSilver to access your application menus, visit this page:
J says:
I think that most of the ideas here are real but not realistic. I work on 2 monitors all day on my G5. Very rarely do I ever run into a sit where I wish I had more than 2 monitors. So the whole idea of 30″ displays is practical is you need that much space. I do not. I think until people come up with their own OS that handles EVERYTHING perfectly then you shouldn’t bash the so called “stupid designs”. Nothing is perfect, but it works better than most things.

This just sounds like a Mac bashing party on something that isnt even really practical for most uses, like the image that shows the monitors setup above, get real… lol

Peter says:
I agree with the article. It’s dumb that I have to move to the other screen. It took me a while to get a Mac to work on again, because I prefer to work in OSX. Yet this multiple monitor baloney has me ready to switch back to Windows. OSX gets pretty much everything right but games! Why does this have to be this way?

I understand that maybe most people don’t need to go to the menu for half their apps as much as I do, but doggone it I should be able to have my apps open in whichever the heck screen I want, when I want! If Windows can make it work, then OSX ought to make it work even better. Just give me a second menu bar, for crying out loud!

Here’s what really gets me (and I simply MUST believe it’s a quirk on my system, I can’t believe Apple or Mozilla is this dumb): when I right-click in Firefox, the context menu appears on screen one.

basic says:
Using multiple monitors on my laptop (the laptop lcd and a hdtv), I’ve found it confusing and unintuitive. I am currently running VLC on my hdtv, and can’t leave the current space that i’m in on my primary monitor without losing the video.

I use spaces heavily, and think it would make a lot of sense to designate certain spaces for applications in the second monitor, allowing more control over multiple applications on multiple monitors.

Bill says:
The point is that all design is compromise and too many other virtues would have to be sacrificed for a very limited number of people in limited circumstances. The price of MDI is substantial loss of usability in other areas that would affect most users instead of a small few. And it isn’t something people feel needs to be “fixed” anyway. The tens of millions happily using it that way for twenty years suggests it isn’t “brain-dead.” It just assumes a different sort of organization consistent with the rest of the system’s design.
novie says:
I’m not doggedly defending the Mac here, was speaking from what I believe to be Apple’s point of view as a total system maker — no they’re not known for creating things that work when cobbled together. If you’ve seen a friend want to replace the battery in an iPod, you’ll see it as either a symptom of a disease or a thing of beauty that there is no battery slot you can just pop off.

I spend more time in Windows anyway, though I do have a Mac as well, and I’m not particularly satisfied with how both OS X and Windows handle multiple monitors. In Windows XP there is still a primary monitor – the Start Menu/Quicklaunch stays on one monitor and the taskbar doesn’t handle items as intelligently as it could (again, an outside utility like Ultramon steps in). Haven’t worked long days in Vista yet so maybe they’ve done something there I’m not aware of.

David Risley says:
It is a matter of preference, really, and my view is that OS X should be designed to accommodate it. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask – especially since Windows does such a better job of it and Apple remains so snotty that Microsoft can’t figure things out.

It just seems to me that OS X’s design lends itself to ask the question on whether to have more than one screen. And, that should not be the case. I know I can use Spaces. I know I can spring for a 30″ monitor. But, my preference is to be able to see several apps at once, and not have to buy a 30″ monitor when I already have several laying around.

I fail to see how the document-centric approach, Fitts law, or whatever it is has any bearing on this very basic GUI design choice.

Bill says:
I’ve pent the last few weeks working all day on an XP system (I’ve used Win off and on since 3.1 and even admined a WfW network for a while) and I have to admit that extra monitors are much more useful there, but I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment and it has nothing to do with the menus per se. It’s the application container windows–they really *need* to be full screen in order to work with documents effectively. If I shrink the app window to see around it I effectively reduce the screen size for any docs associated with it. Minimized docs are contained in there too, so if I want to retrieve a minimized Photoshop doc I have to first get the PS app window back and then hunt for the desired doc inside it. Dragging content between docs from different apps is such a pain it isn’t worth it. Etc., etc. At that rate a screen per major app starts looking real good.

It’s the document-centric thing again. With a Mac I just click whatever doc I want and the relevant menus etc. are shown. Drag content directly between doc windows and the desktop, shuffle them around freely, they all minimize to the same place, exposé will quickly let me find something, etc. Like papers on a desk. Windows constantly makes me divert my thought process from the task at hand to ask “what does the system need from me so I can get to my stuff?” Every task begins with considering which application is called for and switching between them like rigid modes, either because of the container window or because file and data types aren’t recognized very reliably, forcing me to use the “File Open” dialogs far more often and other similar considerations. On a Mac I sometimes absent-mindedly forget which app I’m using for a moment because I just clicked the doc I wanted and started working on it. Multiple monitors on a Mac just aren’t that useful because they aren’t that necessary and the single menubar is a big part of the reason why–in a good sense. A second display for a big page layout, video monitoring, an audio mixer or scientific data monitoring or other stuff is useful. More than that, not so much.

novie says:
good points, although the distance between those monitors in the picture is a little absurd, youre going to have to move your chair for that, not just the mouse :)

i believe apple’s stance on this is that they’d rather you use one massive 30″ cinema display than two 15 inchers, and that the majority of users with more than one monitor consciously or subconsciously use one as a primary, whether theyre in windows or os x. in my own work experience, and as Bill noted, most people set up a second monitor for email, tool palettes, etc. all secondary uses. most work actually gets done in a single frame. case in point, as i type this, im looking at just one of the three monitors i have going.

also use Spaces of course.

Bill says:
Glad you found DejaMenu useful. I’ve used two-monitor setups on Macs for graphic arts work many times. Layout, photo, or other artwork on one monitor, all those tool palettes and the menus on the other. Works great. I’ve never imagined a real use for more than two monitors, and Apple’s core professional audience have always been multi-monitor users in graphic arts, video and photo editing, music recording, scientific data acquisition and modeling and the like. (Twenty years of bulletproof m.m. support attracted many of these people in the first place.) I’ll grant that with four of the things a single menu bar has its shortcomings but keep in mind that even two monitors represents a fraction of a percent of users of any platform.

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Nov 1, 2007

643 Articles Published