Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When Size Does Matter

Technology seems to constantly strive toward shrinking everything. Smaller computers, smaller phones, smaller chips and everything much more portable.

While I do like and benefit from the increased portability of smaller devices, sometimes smaller isn’t necessarily best.

But this column is about screen sizes.

Some of the first desktop computers I had used 13-inch monitors, which seemed positively enormous. The advent of graphical interfaces, multi-tasking and more sophisticated applications required more screen “real estate,” or pixels.

Where a typical e-mail or word processing application fits nicely on a small screen, applications such as video editing have far more information being displayed that just don’t fit on a small screen.

Due to the relatively high cost of larger screens, the inevitable result of a larger need for screen pixels resulted in higher resolution screens. But as the screen resolution increased and the screen size didn’t keep up, millions of us have started to use their glasses in order to see what we’re working on.

While it’s always been possible to add extra monitors to computers, the setup has always been tricky and required pretty good technical skills.

A little-known feature of Windows XP and Vista allows every computer to support two monitors. While this typically requires a second video card, some computers, -­ even laptop computers -- now have more than one connector to support multiple monitors. For laptop computers, a docking station or port replicator can usually add a second video port.

So when I saw some 22-inch monitors for under $200 recently, I thought now was a good time to expand my desktop real estate.

Hooking one up to my computer convinced me that I would never go back.

It’s as though the rain has stopped, the clouds have parted and the sun has come out.

It’s now possible to have multiple applications open and see all of them at the same time. Now it’s possible to have simultaneous windows for e-mail, Web, word processing and spreadsheet. No overlapping, no switching between windows, everything visible at the same time.

I never quite understood what the stock traders and other multi-display people did with all of that screen space. But now that I have it on my desk, I understand why people have put up with all of the difficulties of multiple monitor setups for so many years.

I continue to see very affordable prices -- under $200 -- on large (22” and up) flat screen monitors for computers. With the increasing need for visual space on computer screens, the simplicity of setting it up and the affordability of these larger monitors, this is a wonderful opportunity to break out of the small screens to which many of us gaze for so many hours.

This column originally appeared in the Westport News on Wednesday 25 February 2009.

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