In an earlier post I mentioned that I had got a new (or rather a 2nd hand) monitor, which was a big improvement because it gave better depth in the workspace. At first I couldn’t set up dual monitors as there was a problem with connecting them up, so I set up virtual desktops, which is something of a substitute.
A virtual desktop is quite useful, and works in a more or less intuitive way. If you have to have a number of windows open it can be useful to organise them into groups. For myself I just needed a workspace on one desktop, where some windows are pinned on top of one another; and a second one with my correspondence and blog open (some softwares allow up to 99 desktops, though why so many would be needed is beyond me – 2 to 4 seems to be quite common.)
Once set up it is easy to switch between them using keyboard shortcuts (or a thumbnail pager if you prefer). There is not much to see, and I don’t include screenshots, as you are either on one desktop or the other, but not both at the same time.
Over the next few weeks I used a dozen or more virtual desktop softwares, as all of them had a drawback or didn’t work quite as intended. I started with Dexpot and after going full circle I ended with it too, as for my needs it was the better software in the end.
Eventually I managed to get the connecting leads sorted out, and it then took all of 5 minutes to set up a dual monitor system. Having two monitors running is such a vast improvement in organisation, and so much easier once set up, that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go back to having one.
It seems many people think it will be more complicated having two monitors, but in my experience anyway, the exact opposite is the case. To give an easy example: you can be reading (and copying, etc.) in one window while writing in another – no more switching back and forth which is necessary if there’s only one desktop.
Also though, as explained above I normally had two virtual desktops, one for a workspace, another for correspondence and blog. Now I can have them on two different screens. If you have a continual run of correspondence as I do, then it is much easier to drag the cursor from one screen to another, than it is to change desktops.
Also at times I have an almost unbelievably slow internet connection, and it sometimes takes 5 minutes to send an email, to keep jumping back and forth between virtual desktops, to try and resend when it failed is annoying to say the least. When both are open on different screens I can see immediately it has failed and try sending again.
Gmail open on one screen; Word on the other
I still find that when doing my translation work that keeping the basic programmes open on one screen is easier, but having the other screen free does allow me to check things, make searches, and many other little subsidiary jobs I may have to do in connection with the work.
In the previous post I showed how I would work with audio recordings, having the text on the top part of the screen, and the audio editor on the bottom. With the new set up I find it much easier to work with the audio editor on one screen and the text open on the other, this gives even more of an overview of the material I am working with.
Audacity open on one screen; Word on the other
As anyone reading this blog will know I regularly review documentaries I would like to recommend to my readers. Writing the review was previously a matter of taking notes in a Sticky Note programme which sits on top of the video (and obscures part of it), and collecting the notes, that were then written up into something more substantial.
Now it is easy to have a full blown text writer open on the left screen and the video on the right, easy to pause while I write and restart too – and I can see the whole video.
Notetab open on one screen; Video on the other
All in all I would say this is the biggest productivity gain I have made in years, and a really substantial improvement in my workspace. Having worked with it now for a few weeks I wonder how – or even why – I ever struggled along without it.
A great accessory to have along is the freeware EasyMon, a very simple programme that enables you to set up keyboard shortcuts to move open programmes across screens. Once set it sits in the tray, and you can forget it.
By default it uses win key + left arrow to move the programme on to the left monitor – and you can guess the combination for the right. The screens on my set-up, as you can see, are different sizes: one an 18″ widescreen; the other a 20″ 4×3. You may think it would be difficult to move programmes around, but they simply adjust to the new screen.
Another freeware software that is very useful is zbar, which puts a taskbar on to the secondary monitor. I sometimes found that I was clicking on the wrong button, having them separated onto different monitors makes it easy to identify what is where. One good thing is that it has various styles to choose from, one drawback is the choice is top or bottom, whereas I would prefer to have it on the side.