Windows

Enhance your Windows 7 multiple-monitor system with DisplayFusion

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz introduces you to DisplayFusion and shows you some of the great features for managing multiple monitors tucked away in this program.

We recently got multiple-monitor setups for each workstation at the company where I work, and I was telling a fellow I met at a dinner party about it a couple of weeks ago. During the conversation, he told me that he was getting ready to buy a new Windows 7 PC and liked the idea of a multiple-monitor setup. As the evening ended I told him that he could give me a call if he had any questions about Windows 7 and a multiple-monitor setup.

Well, he called me the other day and asked if I would come over to his house and give him some pointers on using his new multi-monitor system. When I arrived, I was amazed by the monster system this guy had put together for himself. The system was running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit on an Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 3.33GHz processor with 12GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics card. On the desk he had two beautiful ViewSonic VG2227WM 22-inch widescreen LCD monitors.

To say I was envious is an understatement!

In any case, I learned that he really wished that he could have a taskbar on both monitors as well as better window management features -- he really wanted more out of Windows Snap. That's when I told him about DisplayFusion from the folks at Binary Fortress Software. I've used this program for a few years now on my home system with three monitors and have been extremely happy with it.

Over the next couple of days, we installed DisplayFusion Pro on his system and implemented many of its features. As we did so, I realized that this program had many more powerful features than I had realized and that I wasn't taking full advantage of all the program had to offer.

Since there are a lot of Windows 7 users out there with multiple monitors, I decided that in this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I would introduce you to DisplayFusion and show you some of the great features tucked away in this program.

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Getting DisplayFusion

To begin with, there are two versions of DisplayFusion: a free, but limited, version and the Pro version, which sells for $25. However, you can download a license key and get a 30-day trial of the Pro version, if you want to try it out first.

Once you download and install DisplayFusion, you'll find its icon in the Notification Area. Just right-click and select Settings, and you'll see the Settings screen, like the one shown in Figure A, where you can configure all its features.

Figure A

From the Settings screen, you can configure all DisplayFusion's features.

Multi-monitor Taskbar

Of course, one of the primary reasons for adding monitors to your Windows system is to expand your screen real estate. As such, expanding the Windows Taskbar across your other monitor is just a natural extension. To activate and configure this feature, you'll select Taskbar tab, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

There are a host of options that will allow you to configure the Multi-Monitor Taskbar.

As soon as you enable the Multi-Monitor Taskbar feature, a taskbar appears on each monitor and immediately shows those applications that are open on that particular monitor. This alleviates the overcrowding of the main Taskbar that is a normal occurrence in a multiple-monitor configuration. In addition, this feature can save you time and frustration as it makes it easy to keep track of which applications are open on which monitor. And best of all, when you move a window from one monitor to another, you don't have to Restore Down the window first -- you can just click and drag a Maximized window from one monitor to the next. And when you do so, Multi-Monitor Taskbar keeps track of the window, such that it displays the task on the appropriate taskbar.

There are several other features that are of interest here.

  • Taskbar Button Style: Show icons only. Who needs text wasting space on the new taskbar when you have the Live Thumbnails feature? (You just hover your mouse pointer over any button on the Taskbar and you'll see a thumbnail of that window's contents.)
  • Focus window when mouse is dragged over Taskbar button. If you like drag-and-drop operations, this one is a must. Whenever the mouse is moved over a DisplayFusion Taskbar button while the left mouse button is held down, the focus will shift over to that window so that you can easily drop the dragged item into that window. This is perfect for use with Windows Explorer.
  • Taskbar Opacity. This setting controls the DisplayFusion Taskbar opacity, with 100% being fully opaque and 1% being fully translucent. If you use a translucent setting, as soon as you hover over the taskbar it becomes fully opaque.

Window snapping

If you use Windows 7's default Snap feature, you'll love DisplayFusion's Windows Snapping features, which you'll find on the Windows Snapping settings window, shown in Figure C. This feature picks up the slack when Windows 7's Snap fails to satisfy.

Figure C

On the Windows Snapping tab, you can enhance Windows 7 native Snap feature.

As you know, when you have multiple monitors, Windows 7's Snap uses only the outside edges of your monitors, you can't snap on the edges where your monitors meet. However, you can set the Enable Window Edge Snapping to edges of other Application Windows. This allows you to snap a window to the monitor's edge and then snap another window adjacent to that one. This will allow you to essentially snap on the edges where your monitors meet. You still have to do a little manual resizing, but as you do, the windows will remain snug against the first window.

HotKeys

If you like the Windows Snapping feature but would like to be able to snap the windows more consistently and accurately than you can do with the mouse, then you may want to memorize or make note of the Move and Size keystrokes found on the HotKeys tab, shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Certain HotKeys will allow you to more accurately snap the windows.

TitleBar Buttons

If you like the Windows Snapping feature but don't want to use your keyboard or take your hand from your mouse to press the HotKeys keystroke combinations, then you might want to use the TitleBar Buttons feature, shown in Figure E. Just click the Add button and select the HotKeys command you want. When you do, you'll see the TitleBar buttons added to the top of the window. Now, to move or size a window, just click the appropriate TitleBar button. You can even specify custom images for your TitleBar Buttons using the Edit TitleBar Button feature.

Figure E

You can see the TitleBar buttons at the top of the window.

Window Location

If you want to configure specific applications to always open on the same monitor, you can use the configuration settings on the Windows Location tab. For example, I always like Outlook to appear on the right monitor of my three-monitor setup. Therefore, I use the Window Location setting to configure Outlook to open by default on the right monitor, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Setting up the Windows Location feature is easy.

Other features

While not as mission critical to the efficiency of a multiple-monitor setup, there are other DisplayFusion features that you may want to take advantage of.

  • Desktop Wallpaper configuration option is still a really nice feature. For example, you can stretch a single image across all monitors or you can have a separate image on each monitor. You can even configure randomly changing images from your computer or Flickr.com. You can change the color selection to grayscale or sepia tone, reposition the images on each monitor, and much more.
  • The Screen Saver option has some neat features as well. For example, you can configure a different screen saver for each monitor.
  • With the Windows Logon feature, you can change the image that is used on the Windows Logon screen.

What's your take?

Are you using a multiple-monitor setup? If so, do you think that you'll want to try DisplayFusion? Are you already using DisplayFusion? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

38 comments
ian
ian

Whether one uses display functions integral to a system or an application such as DisplayFusion depends entirely on how it will be used - what your needs are and how you control your workflow. Some people find it physically uncomfortable to look for long periods at something not directly in front of them. For me, Display Fusion allows me to pull a window from one monitor to another with a click of a button much more efficiently than dragging. I use my larger monitor directly in front of me for reading and editing and my other monitor as a parking lot for open apps to which I can quickly refer. As I need an application or window, I move it to the front. Some people like the idea of a taskbar on each monitor relevant to the applications on that monitor, something integral display functions do not offer. I like to be made aware of applications that I can then decide to try or not, such as the multiple desktops mentioned in this thread. I tried three before settling with Dexpot. Virtual desktops have improved my workflow immensely and when used with two or more monitors are a real boon. Having spent a few hundred bucks on monitors, another twenty or so seems very little for the ease of use it gives me personally. In the end, it's horses for courses. Whatever suits each of us the best is what we should use.

tomkinsr
tomkinsr

Why would I not want to use the proper driver and HydraVision from AMD for my computer to do this for free? Seems to me, paying for something that is already built into the display system, is throwing money away.

ian
ian

you can do this with DisplayFusion. I just tested it. Two monitors, (HP w1907 & HP w1707) different resolutions. (1440 x 900 & 1280 x 800) I also spanned the image across both monitors and used different images on each monitor. Download the free option and give it a go..

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

Any of the above mentioned apps provide display spanning for 2 (or more) monitors of different resolutions?

ian
ian

I downloaded Desk Space to optimize my dual screen real estate but didn't like it at all. Perhaps I had it configured wrong but it only seemed to switch between applications on one screen. I ditched that and downloaded VituaWin v4.3 which is exactly what I wanted. I can now have up to twenty different worktops, each running different applications or different instances of the same application. I am also running DisplayFusion v3.3.1 that I have used for several years. I am now seeing a problem on VituaWin where it jumps to another desktop. It seems to be a refresh that is occurring. Not sure if it is VituaWin, DisplayFusion, the OS (W7 Pro x64 sp1) or an application therein. I've noticed it before on Word, which rules out VituaWin and DisplayFusion and may be related to auto saves or something along those lines. If I can sort that out, VituaWin and DisplayFusion will be a great combination. I have already noticed an improvement in workflow after changing to these two.

scotts
scotts

I've been using Display Fusion on Windows 7 64bit since the beta version... I have a dual video card QUAD monitor setup and it works great. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with mulitple monitors.

dhamilt01
dhamilt01

Have you seen those 6, 8, 10, 12 monitor setups used on trading desks in brokerage companies? What software do they use to manage that many monitors? Can they use/manage all those monitors using ONE keyboard and mouse? I sometimes have and use 6 applications running at the same time. I'd love to have 6 monitors so I don't have to switch application windows all the time. I'd also like a way to start all 6 applications ONLY after Windows has fully booted.

brupub
brupub

I have had dual monitors for years and the capabilities that AMD gives with their HD Radeon cards is pretty awesome nad comes with the Card. They update quite regularly and gives me what I need now, for no add'l cost. May try DisplayFusion but it looks like it won't give me much for the cost.

montanasman
montanasman

Funny about the timing of the article, I was just doing some research last week on DisplayFusion. I found a lot of blogs that say this software screws with the OS causing some very serious issues that uninstalling does not correct. I am very wary! The DisplayFusion website is very lacking in "install" documentation. I have been trying to find out if it supports dual monitors with multiple computers without any success. For me, having a 3rd party handle multiple monitors is a waste of my time. a dual video card can handle the dual monitors just fine. There are better (more expensive) software for using 3+ monitors from one computer. I like having the extra screen real estate on the 2nd monitor. Multitasking can only go so far.

amj2010
amj2010

we use doubledisplay/multiscreen instead, with the taskbar on the left monitor, left side and the gadgets on the right monitor on the right side.. in this way you have a lot space to your disposal, no annoying taskbars at the bottoms of the sort.

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

I have been using a dual monitor setup for quite a long time allowing it to be controlled by Nvidia. I can get dual screen to work as a single horizontal desktop with the task bar spanning both monitors on my XP system. The only catch is that both monitors must be the same (Dell). If I try the dual desk top with two different monitors, it will not work. I can get dual view, but each monitor is configured independenly and the task bar does not span both monitors. Also, with a docking station attached to a laptop (using the the same monitor types), there is difficulty with the task bar spanning both monitors, using the Nvidia setup. I have come across a hardware maker that allows you to attach up to six monitors to your PC. And, the device is powered from the USB cable. (I would really like to have 3 monitors myself.) Here is the web address: http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/products/gxm/th2go/ The price for a module to expand up to 3 monitors is about $300. This if fine if you only have one VGA port. But, check this item out.

blarman
blarman

I use Ultramon to run my laptop + docking station. I have one Dell 19" widescreen monitor (1680 x 1250, one Planar 22" PX2210MW also at 1680/1250, and my 15.4" laptop screen running 1600x1200). I have profiles set up so that when the docking station (with the two monitors) are attached, they fire right up and it sets my primary monitor. When I detach from the docking station, the laptop becomes my only screen. Great for a laptop. The other program I use is VirtuaWin, which (like Linux' native functionality) gives me up to 4 more desktops. So I have one desktop as my communications desktop (email, IM, web, etc.), one more as my dev desktop (IDE, browser with links to help/sample code, etc.), and one more as my info desktop where I keep data checking tools. The fourth is a spare for whatever else comes along. Between the multiple monitors and multiple desktops, I've got plenty of screen real estate. My question is for Microsoft: why aren't these basic desktop features built into the OS?

dennis822
dennis822

I currently run three monitors and use Ultramon, which seems to do all that is needed for manipulating my monitors the way I need/want them. Has anyone done a serious comparison between Ultramon and DisplayFusion to give bullet points on likes and differences between the two? Why venture into another software if the gain is not worth the effort...

excelkmc
excelkmc

I have worked with all kinds of systems for so many years and I agree 2 screens are better than one in most cases... Being a minimalist I have to say that I found my ways to get things done using the OS natively (no 3rd party software). While the application seems ok, you have to pay to get the real goodies which by the way, they all can be found natively. Techrepublic has released several articles related to desktop management and enhancement hitting the intended target. Only issue I have with 3rd party software is that then you have to keep up with bugs, software updates and else. When you use Windows natively no need of support, worry about bugs and your software updates will come as usual but will not disrupt your config... For now I will still manage multiple monitors, taskbars, wallpapers and screensavers along with my own customized startup image using Windows and it's built in tools... Happy IT everyone...

alon.ronen
alon.ronen

I'm using that one for years now, even though since starting with Win7 many time I'm forgetting to turn it on. (Win7 shortcut to move windows between screens: Win+Arrow)

madhatstand
madhatstand

I run 'Actual Multiple Monitors' on my 3 screen home set-up. Gives me a start bar on every screen and saves wear and tear on my wrists a bit! I find it more stable than Ultramon, which I use in the office.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

I've been running dual monitors for a few years now. It is a HUGE improvement of a single. I don't need many fancy features, so I am happy with the way Win XP workts without additional software.

ian
ian

I have used DisplayFusion for a long time on dual monitors. I really like the option to move a window to the other monitor (ctrl+Win+x). As i am working an application, I can quickly pull it in front of me rather than getting a crick in the neck. I like the sound of Desk Space. Does Desk Space give the option of different instances of the same program. For instance, can I run a browser and its corresponding firebug), set to certain websites, in one side of the cube and run the same browser in another cube side preset to other websites? At the moment I am running FF and grouping tabs. Whenever I need to go to different preset websites, I have to switch tab groups, sometimes open another explorer window, switch to a different worksheet etc. Being able to leave each open, I can switch between application sets easily. Also, does switching between cube sides affect the task bar, or can I still see incoming messages?

geocrasher
geocrasher

I just started a job telecommuting and have two monitors, soon to be 3 monitors. This is *exactly* what I needed. Thanks so much for profiling it today. I start my first day in literally 17 minutes. Perfect timing!

pblatchford
pblatchford

I have 4 screens running off of 2 video cards in windows 7 32bit - very useful when working on multiple servers/desktops. I find more smaller screens is better than fewer wider screens as I can have different tasks/ remote servers running on each screen. Since my last rebuild though I am having a problem with the right screen image appearing on the second screen - I swap the cables around to reset and all is OK until I logoff.

Cynyster
Cynyster

I have been running dual monitors for years. since I switched to XP 64bit. Now Windows7 64. I have always been amazed at the lack of destop features in windows compared with other operating systems. Where is the multiple desktops? Stretching wall paper across monitors is not a big thing but it also doesn't seem to be such a big deal not to include it. I have tried Ultramon but the price for what it does... lets just say I had second thoughts. The trial also interfered with my WACOM tablet software. (this machine is my graphics computer) I think I will give the Display Fusion a try. Anyone have suggestions on multipe desktop software?

rahn
rahn

I've had dual monitors for quite a while and love it but if you really want to enjoy maximum screen real-estate try adding the "Deskspace" program from Otaku Software to the mix. It allows me to work on multiple IT projects that can be isolated to different sides of a virtual cube. I'm even using it with VirtualBox to manage VMware and different servers. Works great!

Ron_007
Ron_007

I've been running dual monitors for several years now, first on XP now on Vista. I've been satisfied doing it without any extra tools, but I'm a minimalist. That computer sounds great, dual 22" inchers! However, one thing I learned the hard way is that for LCD bigger is not always better. That is because LCD screen resolution is limited, typically to not much more than "HD", 1920x1080p, often less. So no matter how much bigger your screen is, you don't see more info. My OLD, and now dead, 17" CRT supported MUCH higher screen resolutions than the new "larger" 19 LCD replacing it. Even though the old screen was smaller, I could still read much more on screen at a single time. It is a tradeoff. Another tradeoff I use is setting one screen in landscape orientation (I don't have a choice with the laptop [grin] ) and the other in portrait orientation. That way I can chose to see more widthwise (say spreadsheet) or lengthwise (documents and internet).

bret
bret

How does DisplayFusion handle remote access and remote desktop connection? Sometimes my desktop is all disarranged when I have accessed it remotely. Thanks Bret

bwills80
bwills80

I downloaded a the 30 day trial and so far I like it a lot. If I'm satisfied at the end of the trial I will purchase. Thanks for enlightening me. Cheers !!

97george
97george

Great article on DisplayFusion, but I have uses UltraMon for several years and really like it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Anyone running this type of app in combination with a virtual desktop utility? Seen any problems? It looks like some of these features would be useful in single-monitor setups, too.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

I have used Ultramon, and am currently using DisplayFusion. I like DisplayFusion a lot better.

husker01
husker01

using Ultramon here, I like the way it handles multiple wallpaper and how it puts its own taskbar in the secondary monitors.It has other great features also.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you have multiple monitors? Do you use a third-party app to manage them?

kentg
kentg

I'm using one of these with my laptop to give me 2 extra screens. Takes the VGA from my Laptop and splits it to 2 DVI outputs. Screens 2 and 3 are jealy just one very wide monitor. Can't treat them independently. Some apps maximise to one screen only while others maximise over both. WMP inconveniently sets the picture in the middle of the two when maximized so to watch a video full screen I have to change the resolution back to one screen width which is a bit anoying. I guess you wouldn't have the problem with the 3 screen version. Would DisplayFusion give me more control when using the Matrox? How does anyone else get 2 extra monitors for a laptop? Do you use a docking station with 2 video outs? Or is there any other hardware that can do the job. What I'd really love is to split my HDMI output to 2 or 3 monitors. Matrox don't do this. Anyone know of something that does?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've used both VirtuaWin and Dexpot successfully on W7-64. Both are good basic multiple / virtual desktop apps. Don't bother with the Vista 'Virtual Desktop Manager' Powertoy; it lacks even the most basic features.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Correct. The manufacturers seem to think every one watches movies on their computers, hence the HD resolutions (1920x1080, 1366x768, etc). That depresses the headroom. When someone asks for my opinion,I tell them to look for 1920x1200 which, sadly, seem to be getting scarce. And I've noticed that monitors between 24" and 28" all have the same resolutions so bigger is not necessarily better unless you need larger font size. Me, I have dual Viewsonic 24" 1920x1200 monitors I bought a few years ago. I think they stopped making that resolution now and have gone to the "dumbed-down" 1920x1080 exclusively. I guess that's what happens when the marketing types dictate such things. They push "wide-screen this" and "HD that" which the masses lap up, not realizing they are being short-changed on screen real estate.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

I too learned the hard way that with an LCD resolution is what you look for, not just the size. Most folks will just see the larger size and assume they are getting more, when they are not.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

Please succinctly describe why you like DisplayFusion better. I ask because I'll eventually be getting a secondary monitor & I don't want to get the "inferior" application. Thanks!

blarman
blarman

All the monitors you use are the same size and resolution. For laptop users with a docking station, multimon falls short. We use Multimon where we can, and Ultramon where we need a bit more control.

ZodiacDM
ZodiacDM

Love ultramon, though the most of these features should already be supported in windows 7. I wish they would add support for the right click menu introduced in windows 7's taskbar, though you can't complain for the cheap price and functionality.