Dual-monitor users passionate about benefits of having more than one

Multiple screens bring productivity gains, but IT support for setups may be lacking

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 Spring, Texas, 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 Inc.'s HD Supply wholesale distribution business unit in Atlanta, 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.

Experienced users recommend using similarly sized monitors and resolution settings. One company with experience is Elgin, Ill.-based Quantum Data Inc., which makes equipment for testing audio and video products. Quantum Data operates in a paperless environment, and 84% of its workers have more than one display, said Mark Stockfisch, the company's chief technology officer. Fourteen percent have three monitors.

Almost all of the monitors used at the company are 19-in. LCD devices. If an employee has monitors with different resolutions, Stockfisch recommends using the one with the highest resolution for writing, browsing and e-mail. That kind of work is usually done on the right screen, unless a user is left-handed, he said. For resolutions higher than 1280x1024 pixels, Stockfisch suggests using a Digital Video Interface connection instead of an analog connection for the best display quality.

Although adoption of multiple monitors may be ad hoc in most workplaces, that hasn't been the case at The Durkin Agency Inc. in Englewood, N.J. When the insurance agency moved to electronic documents, it also installed multiple monitors on desktops to make it easier for employees at its offices to open documents and work on applications in tandem. The LCD screens are connected to monitor arms made by WorkRite Ergonomics Inc. that hold them above the desks of workers.

Eileen Durkin, who heads the insurance agency, estimates that dual monitors have helped increased employee productivity by 10%. "People who weren't organized are organized now," she said.

Instead of installing multiple screens, some people are scaling up to jumbo-sized monitors. Craig Lalley, an independent Cobol programmer in Naperville, Ill., uses a 30-in. monitor for work and home computing. Lalley said the monitor was "overwhelming at first, in that your eyes have to move to take it all in." He added that for an application like Microsoft Corp.'s Flight Simulator X, the monitor "looks like being in a life-sized cockpit."

Big monitors have big prices, though. Lalley said he paid about $1,100 for his Dell monitor and also spent another $700 to upgrade his video card to support the monitor's 2560x1600 display.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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