Recently, I got a new flat-panel monitor. My old monitor didn't die; it's just old. My eyes are getting older too, so I decided to do them a favor and get a new monitor that's sharper than my 11-year-old Viewsonic. Yes, monitor technology has improved over the years, and I have more desktop real estate on a 19-inch flat panel than I do on my old 21-inch CRT.
In any case, given the amount of windows I have open most of the time, I actually require a tremendous amount of desktop real estate. Rather than give up my old CRT, I decided to run it side by side with the new monitor. In some ways, you'd think having two monitors might be confusing, but the increase in productivity is sort of startling. For example, when developing Web pages, I can edit the HTML code on one monitor and use the other monitor to preview the Web page.
This dual monitor arrangement was easy to set up in Windows XP, but you do need to have the right hardware to make it all work. In my case, I wanted to run the new monitor with a digital (DVI) connection, so I got a video card that has two connectors -- both an analog and a DVI. If you don't opt for that type of card, you can actually set up a dual monitor system with two video cards.
In any case, telling Windows about my second monitor was easy. Generally one monitor is the "primary" display where you log on. It also has your Start menu and Task bar. As you open windows, you can then move them onto the second display. Windows remembers where you want the window the next time you run the software. Alternatively, you can set up your display to act like one very wide monitor.
After you connect the new monitor, Windows detects it and installs the drivers. After that, you use Control Panel to configure the settings by choosing Start|Settings|Control Panel|Display. In the Settings tab, the first thing you want to do is determine which monitor is which. Click Identify and Windows puts a huge number on each monitor. Then click the monitor icons to change the settings. The two monitors don't need to run using the same settings. In fact, my old monitor is running at 1024x768 and the new one runs at 1280 x 1024.
Although I'm still learning more ways that having two monitors can be useful, I'm already sure that for the type of work I do, it's incredibly helpful. Today I did the layout for a monthly newsletter. I had several Word documents open on one monitor and Photoshop and InDesign windows open on the other. It was cool.
Sure two monitors may have seemed like a luxury at first, but I definitely don't want to go back to using just one monitor ever again.