Skip to main content

Tips For The Multi-Display Life

Apps for Managing Multiple Displays

In Mac OS, the ability to use multiple images for desktop wallpaper is a feature that’s built-in to the OS. If you want advanced features in Windows, like the ability to extend your taskbar across both displays, and the ability to have different wallpaper images on each monitor, you’ll need extra software.

Sites like Mandolux, InterfaceLift, Dual  Screen Wallpaper and even DeviantArt are all great places to find images that will attractively span across two monitors of any size. InterfaceLift and Mandolux even allow you to search specifically for images by screen resolution, and help you match up the image that goes on the left to the image that goes on the right.

-Alternatively, you could take two different images you want as wallpapers, fire up your favorite image editor, and do the math to make one image half of the overall resolution of your combined displays and then the second image the other half of the resolution. This sounds easy enough, and it is, but only as long as the images are the same size and the screen resolution of both displays are the same. If there are any major differences, you’ll have to account for them. It’s much easier to find an app to handle your wallpapers, icon placement, and window arrangements for you.

We think the most powerful Windows utility for managing multiple displays is UltraMon . A single-user license costs $40, but we think it is worth it considering the app will remember your monitor arrangement, remember where your icons are on your desktop, and allow you to use different images for your desktop wallpaper on each monitor. The app even allows you to enable and disable your secondary monitor with two clicks.

The ability to remember icon placement is particularly useful for gamers. Don’t you hate it whena new game that you haven’t configured for your desktop screen resolution automatically changes the resolution to its own default (usually 1024x768), and then moves all of your desktop icons and shortcuts over to the left side? UltraMon will remember where you had your icons on your desktop, and allows you to save the icon position anytime you make changes that you want the app to remember. Then, if some app changes the screen resolution without your permission, when you change it back you can get your icons back where they belong.

The ability to easily activate or deactivate the secondary monitor is particularly useful for laptop or netbook owners who find that they frequently disconnect from one monitor and plug in to a different external display regularly. For example, if you use a laptop at work but frequently take it with you to meetings and connect to projectors, or if you use a different external display at the office and another one at home, UltraMon makes the disconnect/reconnect process automatic.

If you don’t want to spend $40 on monitor software, there are free alternatives to UltraMon. DisplayFusion, for example, duplicates UltraMon’s ability to make different images the wallpaper for different displays. It’s a little harder to use than UltraMon, but it’s free. DisplayFusion also supports the ability to use one image and spann it neatly across multiple displays a little better than UltraMon does.

If you’re looking for a way to extend the taskbar across both of your displays so apps open in one window are shown in the taskbar on that display instead of cluttered together on the taskbar on your default window, DisplayFusion allows you to do this as well. The app even adds buttons to your open windows (the same way UltraMon does) that allow you to push an open window from one display to another with a quick click instead of clicking and dragging it around. The app also supports hotkeys to move, maximize, or minimize windows, and then resize them to a specific percent of total display size.

If you’re looking for a utility that just supports taskbar extension but doesn’t bother with wallpapers or display properties or images, try MultiMon . MultiMon is also free, and is a much smaller app than UltraMon or DisplayFusion. The entire purpose of the app is to add a taskbar to your second display. The benefit here is that you don’t have to look at different monitor just to maximize a window or move it to the front.

All of these apps work in Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, so there’s no reason you should have to deal with a second display that doesn’t have a taskbar, or wallpapers that are not to your liking. Though Mac users have the benefit of an OS that more natively supports multiple displays, Windows users have the benefit of a development community that has built a number of really powerful tools to fill in the gaps.