by Chris Taylor
Once I open an application, I don't like
to close it, so the more screen real estate I can get, the happier I am.
I used to have a 17 inch monitor that I ran at 1024x768. Wanting
more space, I upgraded to a 19 inch monitor and ran it at 1280x1024.
And life was good...for a while. But I craved more.
Windows has support for multiple monitors.
Requirements are Windows 98/ME/2K/XP and all video cards must be AGP or
PCI. You can use multiple regular video cards or video cards that
have multiple heads or output ports. So, rather than spending a bunch
more money on moving up to a 21-inch monitor, I decided to put an old 17-inch
monitor to work.
My computer has an ATI Radeon 7000 series
AGP video card with a Philips 109B4 19-inch monitor. I added a Matrox
Mystique PCI video card, plugged in an old 17-inch Hewlett Packard Ergo1280
monitor and booted the machine. Windows 2000 automatically detected
the new video card. I went into Control Panel's Display properties
and the Settings tab now showed the two video cards and monitors.
When I selected the second monitor, there was a new box labelled Extend
my Windows desktop onto this monitor. I checked the box and that
was it. It just worked!
And I was in heaven!
I had increased
my screen real estate
160 square inches
to about 400 square inches
I run my main monitor at 1280x1024x16 bit
colour. The HP monitor switched down to 256 colour mode if I tried
running at that resolution, so I reduced it to 1153x864x16 bit colour.
The results were fantastic. I happily
dragged windows from one monitor to another. I kept reference material
up on the HP monitor while I worked on the main screen. In many cases it
was as good as having two computers. In some ways it was actually
better than having two computers because I didn't
have to copy or share information between
two systems; this was still one computer.
I decided that, if two monitors were better
than one, it stood to reason that three would be even better. I found
another old 17 inch HP Ergo 1280 monitor and added it along with a Matrox
Millennium PCI video card. Again, it came up flawlessly with no fuss
And I was in heaven! I had increased
my screen real estate from about 160 square inches to about 400 square
inches. In terms of pixels, I had gone from 1.3 million pixels to
But things were not perfect. Some
aspects of working with multiple monitors are...well...awkward.
Applications open on the monitor they were
on when last closed. I usually found this to be a good thing, but not always.
I sometimes opened programs and found myself looking around on the monitors
to find where they were.
When using a remote control package such
as VNC or Remote Administrator to access my computer, if an application
opened on one of the secondary monitors, I couldn't see it, since the remote
control package only sees what's on the main video card.
If you tend to use the mouse a lot, multiple
monitors can greatly increase the mileage on your rodent. With three
monitors to drag the mouse across, I found it much more tedious.
There were other things I found to be a
bit of a pain or cosmetically messy. For example,
Windows does not replicate the task bar
to additional monitors. While you can use the Alt-Tab method of switching
between applications, if you prefer to use the buttons on the taskbar,
you always have to move the mouse back to the main monitor. Another
example was dragging an almost-full-screen window from my high-resolution
monitor to a lower resolution monitor. I ended up having to resize
the window manually so I could see everything.
Still, the benefits of a multi-monitor
configuration far outweighed the inconveniences.
Realtime Soft has a program called UltraMon
which is designed specifically to deal with multiple monitors. I
decided to give it a try. The version I am using is 2.1. I quickly
decided that UltraMon is a must have utility when working with multiple
UltraMon optionally provides a taskbar
on each monitor. By default, only those applications appearing on
a monitor will show up on its taskbar. No matter what taskbar you
access, you always know that when you click a button on the taskbar, the
application will be on that monitor when it comes to the foreground. It
also means you can tell at a glance what applications are running where,
even if they are minimized or obscured by other windows. If you prefer,
you can have all taskbar buttons appear on all taskbars.
With UltraMon, application title bars sport
additional buttons. These buttons are placed near the top-right corner
and allow you to take advantage of multiple-monitor features.
One button expands an application window
to the entire desktop, spread across all monitors. This may be a
great feature if you are using monitors with virtually no bezel and the
monitors are right beside each other, but on a regular monitor, I found
the space between the actual display images to be problematic.
While you can still drag windows around
with the mouse, a second button allows you to move the application window
to another monitor. With two monitors, this is a one-click operation.
If you have more than two monitors, it is a two-click operation, the first
bringing up a menu that allows you to select the destination monitor.
UltraMon can get around the problem of
applications opening on the monitor they were on when last closed.
It adds a tab to the Properties dialog box for shortcuts.
You can set a shortcut to open the application on a specific monitor, and
even specify the position on that monitor. You can even have the
specified monitor change resolution and colour depth while the application
is loaded and restore the original settings automatically when the app
Display Profiles in UltraMon are really
slick. An UltraMon profile stores information about the position,
resolution and colour depth of each monitor. You can easily switch
between profiles. If multiple people use the computer, you can configure
UltraMon so that each person has a separate, default profile that gets
loaded when they log on. You can also easily switch profiles at any
If you are running Windows 2000 or XP,
UltraMon provides a feature called mirroring which copies the contents
of the main monitor to one or more additional monitors. It can even
allow for different resolutions on the different monitors. This feature
can be very handy when giving presentations, where the presenter's back
is to the screen the audience sees. You can even mirror a monitor
into a small window on another monitor; sort of like a TV picture in
picture feature. Very cool.
When moving a window to a monitor with
a lower resolution, UltraMon can resize it proportionally, such that it
is taking up the same percentage of the monitor as it took on the original,
or just size it down until it fits. This eliminates the need to manually
resize windows after moving them.
Display Profiles in
UltraMon are really slick
For keyboard jockeys, hotkeys are available
for such actions as moving windows from one monitor to another, centering
the mouse on the primary monitor or moving it to another monitor, enabling
or disabling monitors, changing display profiles, and more. The hotkeys
are completely configurable so you can avoid conflicts with the hotkeys
used by your apps.
Realtime Soft did not forget the eye candy.
Wallpaper can be set to stretch across all monitors or you can have different
wallpaper on each monitor. Screen savers normally only run on the
main monitor. While most people only find this aesthetically problematic,
some consider it to be a privacy issue. UltraMon allows you to either blank
secondary monitors or run a separate screen saver on each monitor.
Three monitors are enough for me, but others
may want more. The practical limit is ten, as that is the most the
display applet for Windows 2000 and XP can handle. The author tells
me that v2.2 of UltraMon will include a custom display applet to allow
configuration of more than 10 monitors. There is a gallery on the
Realtime Soft web site where people can post their configurations with
pictures. Ross Farr holds the top spot right now with ten monitors
hooked up to three video cards; two quad head and one dual head.
Russ uses his system for financial analysis
and trading. He graciously sent me a high-res photo of his
desk. As you can see, he puts multiple monitors to excellent use.
The Realtime Soft web site has a wealth
of information for those wanting to use multiple monitors. There
is an extensive FAQ section and a user forum with over 8,000 posts on it.
There are even links to spectacular panoramic images that are great for
wallpaper stretching across multiple monitors. My current wallpaper
is a 360-degree view of Ottawa taken from the Peace Tower.
As with all software, I did not find UltraMon
to be perfect.
The taskbars on secondary monitors do not
include the Start button or system tray. It would be nice if these
were replicated to each taskbar. Then you could avoid going back
to the main monitor for many operations. What would be really slick
would be if an application launched from any monitor would appear on that
monitor unless there was an over-riding setting in the shortcut.
The UltraMon Options dialog box does not
have an Apply button. When testing configuration options,
you have to hit the OK button, which closes the dialog box and then
you have to open it again to try a different option. Having an Apply
button would allow you to test settings and leave the dialog box open.
At first, I couldn't get the taskbar to
show on my third monitor. I finally figured out I had to right click
UltraMon taskbar on the second monitor
and choose the command Add Taskbar for ... Monitor 3.
The author of UltraMon says he will consider
my suggestions for a future release.
All in all, I highly recommend that people
try multiple monitors for a low cost way of increasing your screen real
estate. And if you go with multiple monitors, be sure to try out
UltraMon. You won't be sorry.
Cost is US$40 for a single license.
You can use a single license either for all users on a single computer
or a single user on multiple computers, which is refreshingly flexible.
A 30-day eval version is available at the web site at www.realtimesoft.com
US$40 for a single license
Originally published: June, 2003
top of page