Spanning Dual Monitors with Windows 8Whether clunky CRT or sleek 23 inch LCD, I have long preferred to operate with multiple monitors. In the Windows 98 days I saw a stockbroker with three monitors on his desk and was instantly hooked. Without knowing exactly what a normal person would do with twice the viewing space, I soon had the extra board installed on my home computer and had worked my way through some obscure instructions to get dual monitors operating — more or less. But it was only with the introduction of Windows 8 that the powers that be have finally concluded that multiple monitors are more than niche applications and they should be taken seriously. Windows 8 makes the whole system much easier. You can even make a wallpaper span across from one monitor to another with a single selection from a drop down window!

This latest adventure started when I sacrificed my only Vista-based computer to a Windows 8 Pro upgrade. After the initial disappointment of learning I had to re-install a bunch of things that should have been no problem for the upgrade to include, the installation proceeded without problem. Since the computer was already connected to dual monitors, I expected some hassles in setting them up the way I want. Surprise! The system recognized the native resolution of both with no problem. Even more surprising, the taskbar extended to the second monitor. Some quick experimenting showed that icons pinned to the taskbar on one monitor would be properly displayed on the other, also.

Further experimenting (yeah, I know, one can read the instructions, but experimenting is better for learning) showed that the corners of the second monitor were “hot” in the same way that the prime monitor was. In fact, putting the second monitor to the right of the first one did not change the operation of the rightmost corners. But here is some additional good news. If you are on the desktop on one monitor and click start on the other, then you can have both types of displays up. For a newbie to Windows 8 like me, that has been comforting. For instance, I can be writing this article on one monitor with my mail client open on the second and press the Window key to go to the start screen temporarily to find this link to some nifty “how to” videos by Ryan Matthew Pierson discussing Windows 8 and return without lifting my hands from the keyboard. All the time, I have undisturbed access to the second monitor.

So how do you coax a wallpaper to span across multiple monitors seamlessly? There might be several ways, but the one I found is simple enough. Just navigate to the normal display of available wallpaper and click the drop window under the title Picture Position. About midway through the options is one for spanning. Click it and click Save Changes. That is all there is to it with one exception: your spanned wallpaper will look terrible. To get the effect you want, first find some images that are at least 1650 x 1050 or so, depending on the resolution of your displays. After accidentally creating highly pixilated and awkwardly cropped wallpaper spanning my displays, I looked for some free downloads and found an appropriately sized image of a spiral galaxy that looked stunning spanning across the displays — it’s like looking out of the windows of a star cruiser. Nature panoramas look particularly good, as well.

All this begs the question: Why have two monitors if you are not into heavy-duty gaming? For normal use, I leave my mail client open on the second monitor and do my composing and other work on the main (larger) monitor. When I do serious image processing, the taskbar is set to auto-hide, and all the toolboxes are opened on the second monitor. This leaves the largest possible screen available to view my work. Sometimes when writing, I keep a browser open on one display so I can do research on one and write on the other.

By the way, using multiple monitors seems to be going mainstream even with Ubuntu. The earlier distros made it awkward at best to enable more than one display. However, the latest versions have made it almost as simple as Windows. That is good for me since my Windows 8 machine is set to dual-boot to either Windows or Linux. Either way, it works.

What works for you? Do you use multiple monitors, or do you stick to one? If you consider yourself in the former group, do you find that operating systems are more on board than they used to be for setting up more than one display? Please leave a comment and let’s discuss!

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Filip Skakun