Borkware Miniblog

January 31, 2009

An unusual arrangement

Filed under: off-topic, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:09 pm

Picture 2.png

It’s been awhile since I last used a two-monitor setup. Usually I do all of my work on a 15″ MacBookPro or one of the plastic MacBooks. But I wanted a better monitor for the desktop when I’m doing photostuff, so now I have two monitors again. Last time was in 2002 when I was doing contracting, and the client’s product I was working on wouldn’t fit on a laptop screen. I used a secondary monitor for running the software.

Even back in the Mac II days I always got really annoyed with the “traditional” way of setting up multiple monitors: having it so the desktop areas had large coincidental areas of vertical or horizontal border, so you could have one window span both screens and have it look non-horrible. My problem was I would always overshoot one monitor and end up on the other. I had really come to depend on Fitts’s Law. So why not use that for the monitors too?


I use my monitors as distinct playgrounds: Code and whatnot on one and the client’s big-assed program on the other. Lightroom’s Develop pane on one, and the Library grid on the other. Photoshop’s editing area on one, palettes on the other. I never have one big window that straddles both screens. Hence, my arrangement, seen above, connects the monitors at one corner.

This gives me my sides as big Fitts’s Law targets, as shown in the cute kitty picture. I can slam the mouse to the side to get to the tools. The menu bar at the top remains a nice big target. If I want to go to the other monitor, I throw the mouse to the bottom-left corner.

This makes the mouse enter the second screen at the top-right, and I keep my Photoshop palettes and Nik plugins panel up near that corner for easy access. I twiddle what I want, then throw the mouse into the upper-right corner to get to the main screen. If I lose my mouse, I can just keep mousing up and to the right until I see it on the main screen.


Why not put the other screen to the right? I keep my Dock hidden on the right. With today’s wide-screen displays, horizontal real estate is cheap, vertical real estate is still precious (six more lines of code! woo!). Having the Dock Fitts-style on the right makes it very easy to access.

Why not off the bottom? I use the hard border of the screen when resizing windows large – grab the corner, resize larger quickly until hitting the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately the green jellybean rarely does what I want it to do.

I’m not saying this is the best way for everybody, but it works very well for me. If you get frustrated with your multiple-monitor setup by accidentally mousing into the other screen, give the corner-connection a try.


  1. Wait, you keep a screen for … oh, it says Portal. Misread that first time.

    Comment by Paul — February 1, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  2. Very interesting Idea. I have always felt a little odd using two monitors… to the point where I have given up and rely on Spaces (3×3 grid) that also happens to work on my laptop on the go.

    There are some setups at work where the extra monitor really is useful and I will probably try this there. Now… how do I get Spaces in Exposé mode to show up in each monitor instead of all in one… Snow Leopard? yeah right…

    I’s also tempted to try the side dock again. As usual, thanks for the good ideas!

    Comment by Jose Vazquez — February 1, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  3. I’m decidedly a throwback :-) – I don’t use expose or spaces (except for hiding all to get at the desktop). Once again, I let Fitts’s law take over.

    For my day to day work, I run an IRC client, AIM (adium), terminal with my editor and shells, and Safari. I arrange my windows so there’s a little bit of each app always peeking out. IRC in the bottom-left, AIM in the bottom right, terminal along the right. Makes it very easy to hit a window and make the app active.

    Comment by Mark Dalrymple — February 1, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  4. When I used to use a desktop and a laptop, I’d have the 24″ iMac in front of my face with the Macbook Pro below it. I’d have a 19″ Samsung above and to the right of the Macbook Pro and directly to the right of the iMac. It would be a 2nd display for the laptop. I used the corner arrangement there, because it also mirrored the physical arrangement. I always try to mirror the physical arrangement. Otherwise my little brain hurts.

    But now that I’ve got the 2.8 GHz Macbook Pro, its my main machine ‘cuz it has all the power I need. So I got me one of them nifty new 24″ Cinema Displays that provides power and USB to the MBP and I have it situated directly above the laptop both physically and virtually because of the… um.. brain-hurting thing. I’m lovin’ just using one machine for everything and don’t mind the horizontal interface between the two screens.

    I never use expose or spaces either. I use virtual desktops on linux all the time, but spaces just seems broken to me. It just doesn’t behave right.

    BTW, just finished going through your new “Learn Objective-C” book… a worthy upgrade to the original!

    Comment by Sean McCune — February 3, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  5. Does the physical arrangement of the monitors resemble the virtual layout you describe? Or do you just put them side-by-side?

    Comment by Tom Harrington — February 5, 2009 @ 12:55 am

    • Just side-by-side. They’re 24″ monitors, and I don’t think I’d want to be staring up that high on a regular bass :-)

      Comment by Mark Dalrymple — February 6, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  6. Just tried it and love it.
    I use the external screen vertically (much bigger than wide).
    Great to have more lines of code fit on the same screen.

    Comment by Guillaume — August 13, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  7. I know this is a few years late. But for resizing a window to be as big as your screen without that stupid green jellybean have a look at SizeUp. Using the shortcut command-option-contol-M it’ll make it as big as possible.

    It also has lots of other useful shortcuts. Moving and resizing a window to fill any half or quarter of your screen. Great for web dev. I use it to fill the left half of my screen with safari and the right half with textmate.

    Oh and the shortcuts are all customizable.

    Comment by Ben — July 16, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

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