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Tips For The Multi-Display Life

Tips For Managing multiple displays in Mac OS or Windows

Whether you’re using Mac OS or Windows to power your displays, you should make sure you have a graphics card that can support an external display. If you’re using a laptop or a netbook, it’s almost certain that it’s designed to support an external monitor.

The simplest way to find out is to check the back of your computer to see if you have more than one video connector. If you do, you’re all set. If you don’t, it’s still possible your card supports multiple displays through a splitter, but if that were the case, your computer would likely have shipped with a splitter to allow you to connect two displays to the same video port. Most new computers from major manufacturers support multiple displays out of the box.

If you have a Mac, you have an advantage: By default, Mac OS handles multiple displays in a very simple and intuitive manner, and gives you more control over where your menu bar, dock, and other windows live than Windows. In most cases, your Mac (especially a MacBook or MacBook Pro) will automatically detect that a new display has been added to the system, and it will immediately extend the desktop to include that second display.

To manage your new display, simply open the System Preferences and click on Displays. If your second monitor wasn’t recognized when you connected it, you can click “Detect Displays” to force Mac OS to look for a second display attached to the computer. Once it’s on and available, you’ll see a version of the preferences panel on each display, and you can adjust the screen resolution of each screen independently. Click on “Arrangement,” and you can click and drag either display to move it to the right or left, or even arrange them vertically if that’s best for how you work. You can also click and drag the menu bar from one display to the other to make it the monitor that hosts the menu bar and the dock. If you prefer, you can mirror the displays so you see the same thing on both monitors.

In Windows, a little more work is required. Windows XP, Vista, and 7 all make it easy to connect an additional monitor, and in the Display Properties (right-click on your desktop and choose “Properties”) you can click to mirror your display to the second monitor or extend your desktop to the second monitor. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you can put the Windows Sidebar on either side of any display, and if you use a different app with a sidebar like Google Desktop, moving it to where you want it is as simple as clicking and dragging. You can even choose which display is the default from the Display Properties.