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Gain a productivity advantage with Windows 8 and multiple monitors

Windows 8 and multiple monitors were practically made for each other, according to Greg Shultz.

Up until recently, I have been using Microsoft Windows 8 Release Preview on a system with a single monitor. In that type of configuration I was constantly confronting the Metro Start Screen and feeling like my familiar desktop was playing second fiddle. However, when I installed Windows 8 on a system with a multiple-monitor configuration, I definitely began seeing the operating system in a totally different way.

In fact, I found that I can essentially forget about the Metro Start screen as it will be visible only on one monitor and then only when you click the Start Screen button or press the [Windows] key on your keyboard. Otherwise all you see is miles and miles of the beloved desktop real estate.

Not only does a multiple-monitor configuration give Windows 8 a better feel on a desktop system, but all the new multiple-monitor features that Microsoft has empowered the operating system with are really great! For example, you no longer need to have a third-party utility to put a Taskbar on each monitor or have a different wallpaper image on each desktop. Plus, there are a number of other features built into Windows 8 that are designed to boost productivity when using multiple monitors.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll introduce you to the benefits of Windows 8 in a multiple-monitor configuration.

The goals

When Microsoft set out to improve support for multiple monitors in Windows 8, they drew up the following goals: (From the MSDN Building Windows 8 blog)

  • Make the desktop a more personal experience. Perhaps the most personalized feature on the desktop is the ability to customize the desktop background. We set out to make this a great experience on multiple monitors too.
  • Improve the efficiency of accessing apps across monitors. In Windows 7, the top request from people using multiple monitors was to improve the taskbar efficiency.
  • Improve the efficiency of accessing system UI. In Windows 7, you could access the Start menu on only one monitor. With the introduction in Windows 8 of a new UI that puts controls at the edges of the screen, we wanted to make sure that it's still easy to access Start, the charms, the clock, and your recently used apps from every monitor.
  • Allow side-by-side Metro style and desktop apps. You can launch or move a Metro style app to any monitor, side-by-side with desktop apps on another screen.

My multiple-monitor configuration

Since I'll be using my multiple-monitor configuration as my point of reference as I describe Windows 8's multiple-monitor features, let me take a moment to show you what I have so that you will have a picture in mind as I delve into my explanations. My main monitor is a 23-inch LG E2350 wide-screen monitor flanked by two 21-inch ViewSonic VP211b monitors, as illustrated in Figure A.

Figure A

The numbers on the monitor images indicate how they are set up in Windows 8.

My observations

As I mentioned in the introduction, once I installed Windows 8 on my multiple-monitor test system, I began to use the operating system in a totally different way. Rather than struggling with Metro as I had on a single-monitor system, I confined Metro to the left monitor and then exclusively accessed it with the [Windows] key on my keyboard. Doing so allowed me to essentially treat Metro like it was running in a window on my desktop.

For example, I press the [Windows] key and up pops the Metro Start Screen. I press the [Windows] key again and Metro drops from view, leaving me with three screens of desktop.

Another way I found myself thinking of this configuration is that the left monitor is like a very big Start menu -- I press the [Windows] key and select an application. When I do, my application launches on the center or right monitor and the Metro Start Screen instantly drops from view.

With my desktop firmly in place and Metro on one screen, I found myself more open to experimenting with the Metro apps. Another thing that I found was that I was no longer concerned about the touch-based interface and trying to mimic any of the touch-based gestures with my mouse and keyboard. I just used Windows the way that I always have and dabbled with Metro apps when I felt so inclined.

While running a combination of Metro apps and Windows applications at the same time, I found myself becoming very adept at using two task-switching keystroke combinations to quickly access what I needed.

  • Using [Alt]+[Tab] I can switch between all running apps and applications and even to access the desktop running beneath Metro.
  • Using [Windows]+[Tab] works to switch between apps running only in Metro and can also be used to access the desktop running beneath Metro.

Even though I keep the Metro Start Screen on the left monitor, that doesn't necessarily mean that all the new UI is relegated to that monitor. For example, the Toast notifications always appear in the upper-right corner of the main monitor. And then there are the hot corners, which we'll look at next.

Hot corners

One of the multiple-monitor features in Windows 8 is that all the monitors have hot corners, as illustrated in Figure B. Having hot corners on all monitors is designed to make it easy to access the hot corner items: Start Screen button (Red) the Charms bar (Green), and the Metro app switching (Blue) from any monitor. (I've colored-coded the hot corners for simplicity within this article.)

Figure B

Having hot corners on all monitors is designed to make it easy to access the hot corner items.

While you may think that having hot corners on all screens would make a mess of your screen as you move your mouse pointer from screen to screen or that precisely landing your mouse pointer on a shared edge corner would be difficult, that's not the case. Microsoft has made mouse targeting on the shared edge a very easy task. Each corner has a 6 by 6 pixel target that catches the pointer as it moves slowly toward the corner, but it ignores a fast moving pointer.

While I have been keeping Metro on my left monitor, I can use the red and blue hot corners to move Metro to either of the other monitors. (Once Metro is on screen, I can use two new shortcut keystrokes: [Windows]+[Page Up] or [Windows]+[Page Down] to move Metro to another monitor.)

Being able to access the Charms bar using the green hot corners makes it easy to access the Charms items from any monitor. For example, you can quickly access Settings | Power to shut down or restart the system.

Taskbar

Being able to reconfigure the Taskbar in a multiple-monitor configuration is probably one of the biggest reasons people turned to third-party, multiple-monitor utilities such as UltraMon or DisplayFusion. (Also see "Enhance Your Windows 7 Multiple-Monitor System with DisplayFusion.") Now you can do so right from within Windows 8. When you run Windows 8 on a system with multiple monitors, you'll find that the Taskbar Properties dialog box has an extra panel titled Multiple Displays, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

When you run Windows 8 on a system with multiple monitors, you'll find an extra panel titled Multiple Displays in the Taskbar Properties dialog box.

As you can see, by default Windows 8 is configured to show a taskbar on all monitors. However, if you prefer to have only one Taskbar, you can clear the Show Taskbar on All Displays check box.

By default the Show Taskbar Buttons On setting is configured to All Taskbars. In this configuration, icons for all running applications appear on all taskbars. This means that when I launch Word and use it on the main monitor, icons for Word show up on the taskbars on the other two monitors. While I can use any of the icons to access the application, Word's window remains on the main monitor.

The second setting on the Show Taskbar Buttons On drop-down menu is Main Taskbar and Taskbar Where Window Is Open, as shown in Figure D. In this configuration, the taskbar on the main monitor shows icons for all running applications, but the other monitors show icons only for the applications displayed on those monitors.

Figure D

The second setting on the Show Taskbar Buttons On drop-down menu is Main Taskbar and Taskbar Where Window Is Open.

For example, suppose that I have Word open on the left monitor, Excel open on the right monitor, and Internet Explorer open on the main monitor. In this case the taskbar on the main monitor would show icons for Word, Excel, and Internet Explorer, the taskbar on the left monitor would show an icon only for Word, and the taskbar on the right monitor would show an icon only for Excel.

The third setting on the Show Taskbar Buttons On drop-down menu is Taskbar Where Window Is Open, as shown in Figure E. In this configuration, each monitor's taskbar contains icons only for the application that is displayed on that monitor.

Figure E

The third setting on the Show Taskbar Buttons On drop-down menu is Taskbar Where Window Is Open.

For example, suppose that I have Word open on the left monitor, Excel open on the right monitor, and Internet Explorer open on the main monitor. In this case the taskbar on the main monitor would show an icon for Internet Explorer, the taskbar on the left monitor would show an icon for Word, and the taskbar on the right monitor would show an icon for Excel.

Keep in mind that in all three of these taskbar settings, the clock/calendar along with the standard notifications appear only on the right side of the taskbar that appears on the main monitor.

Desktop background

When setting up a desktop background you now have a number of interesting options. For example, in Figure F, you can see that you can set up a background image for each individual monitor by right-clicking on an image and choosing Set for Monitor #, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You can specify a different image for each monitor.
You'll also find a Span setting, as shown in Figure G, which will span an image across all your monitors. Windows 8 Release Preview includes several panoramic images (3840x1200) that are perfect for experimenting with the Span setting.

Figure G

The Span setting will span an image across all your monitors.

What's your take?

Do you have a multiple-monitor configuration? What's your take on treating Metro like it is running in a window on your desktop? 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.

Also read:

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.

13 comments
chuckb007
chuckb007

I love this! I do autocad and 3 monitors would be great! I currently use 2. how do I set up my computer to run 3 monitors? Do I add another graphics card? Do I need the matching graphics cards? Do all outputs need to be the same? ie DVI or HDMI Any info or articles would be great! Thanks

Justin James
Justin James

... just to compensate for the aggravation on the Start Screen? :) J.Ja

ComputerFieldsInc
ComputerFieldsInc

Great information. I'm looking forward to trying out a multi-mon setup with Win8.

geoffrey.seymour
geoffrey.seymour

I have read other articles that Win8 will allow for even more monitors BUT only horizontally or vertically, not in say a 3x2 or 2x2 combination. Limits a wall presentation some what.

Skruis
Skruis

To have these things baked right into the OS without having to download 3rd party software is pretty nice but there some features of that software that are still attractive but because they haven't been updated for use with Win8, some things are a bit buggy when you use that software. For example, using the ATI software for Eyefinity doesn't set/reset properties correctly when you switch between Eyefinity and traditional displays. Of course it's all beta still so you can't really complain. Having multiple monitors with Metro is definitely better. I, like you, stick metro on the left monitor and use the desktop on middle and the right. I had traditionally used the left monitor for Outlook and Instant Messaging but now I'm filling it with Metro Mail and snapping Metro Music/Messaging to the left side. One thing I'd like to see Microsoft do is allow Metro to go multi-monitor even if they keep the snap, fill options. For example, snap Music to the left edge of the left monitor, fill the left monitor with Mail and then let me snap Messaging to the right edge of the right monitor. That way, it preserves the snap/fill style of metro but makes it more multiple monitor friendly.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I use multiple monitors at my TechRepublic workstation ??? do you? What tool do you use to manage your multiple monitor systems?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...just compensating for the Metro Start Screen. I understand that your comment is meant as friendly poke and a ;-) but seriously, if "you" haven't been working on a multiple monitor system, you really should be--even if you are using Windows XP/Vista/7. (When I say "you" I mean anyone reading this.) The productivity gains of having more work space are tremendous in their own right. And to top it off, a decent 20-monitor can be easily found for around $150 = Dell, ASUS, HP. But, more to the point is that by running Windows 8 in a multiple monitor configuration with Metro on one screen and the Desktop of the others, I have felt more open to embracing Metro when it is a part and not all of my computing environment. Now, on ther otherhand, I can wait to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface Tablet!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...read that, but it is wrong. In Windows 8's Screen Resolution dialog box, you can arrange you monitor layout in any configuration that you want, same as in Windows 7.

rob
rob

I use a great little piece of software called Ultramon.. Among other things it puts taskbars on each monitor..

Justin James
Justin James

... since Vista launched, and I know what you mean about two monitors! I just hate the idea of losing one of them to be devoted solely to Start/Metro Apps. If I went to Metro on my desktop, I'd be buying a third monitor just for Metro, and my desk really doesn't have room for it, and I'd need a second video card too. That's a big investment ($750 roughly, since I like nice monitors for my beat up eyes, and I'd need to get a monitor arm since my desk is already out of space) just to have a place to stash the Start Screen. :( But I also recognize that I am NOT everybody, and that my need are already a bit more complex than typical. J.Ja

simonh
simonh

nothing here as unlikely to be read.