Hardware

Improve multiple-monitor support with DisplayFusion

DisplayFusion allows you to really take advantage of multiple monitors by providing you with a host of features. Greg Shultz introduces you to DisplayFusion and shows you some of his favorite features.

One of the nice features in Microsoft Windows Vista is its built-in support for multiple monitors. I've been taking advantage of a multiple-monitor configuration ever since the feature first became available in Windows 98, and now I feel cramped if I have to work on a system with only one monitor.

One of the biggest advantages I find to a multiple-monitor configuration is the amount of time and effort I save when doing any type of multitasking, i.e. running multiple applications. Rather than maximizing and minimizing windows to switch between applications, I simply turn my head from one monitor to the other.

For example, my multiple-monitor configuration consists of three monitors -- a 19-inch monitor flanked by two 17-inch monitors. When I'm researching and writing a technical article, I have Internet Explorer running on the left monitor and Word running on the center monitor. As I track down relevant information, I can easily jot down notes in my Word document. If I need to double-check anything on the Web page, I just glance over. The right monitor is running Outlook, so as I'm doing my research I can glance over at my Inbox when new e-mail arrives and quickly determine if it's important enough to interrupt my research/writing to deal with.

Of course, this is just one example, and I normally have more than one application running on each monitor. But the point is that a multiple-monitor configuration can really help you increase your efficiency when multitasking. While it's great that Windows provides you with built-in support for multiple monitors, it's too bad that they didn't take the next step and provide you with some additional functionality. Fortunately, Jon Tackabury at Binary Fortress Software stepped up to the plate and created DisplayFusion. This handy utility allows you to really take advantage of multiple monitors by providing you with a host of features that will help you get the most out of a multiple-monitor configuration.

In this edition of the Windows 7 and Windows Vista Report, I'll introduce you to DisplayFusion and show you some of my favorite features.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

Getting DisplayFusion

There are two versions of DisplayFusion: a free, but limited, version, which is available in the TechRepublic Software Library, and the Pro version, which sells for $20. However, you can download a license key and get a 30-day trial of the Pro version. You can check out the Comparison page and download a copy.

Once you download and install DisplayFusion, you'll find its icon in the system tray and will be able to access and configure all its features from there.

Multi-monitor taskbar

Of course, one of the primary reasons for adding additional monitors to your Windows system is to expand your screen real estate. So why not carry this idea one step further with the Multi-Monitor Taskbar feature, which allows you to expand the Windows Taskbar by placing a taskbar on the bottom of the screen on each secondary monitor. To activate and configure this feature, you'll right-click on the DisplayFusion icon and select the Multi-Monitor Taskbar command, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

To enable the Multi-Monitor Taskbar, just select the command.

As soon as you enable 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.

Desktop wallpaper

While not as mission critical to the efficiency of a multiple-monitor setup, DisplayFusion's 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 (Figure B). 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.

Figure B

Stretch wallpaper across multiple monitors.

Settings

On the Settings window, you'll find a host of additional configuration options that will allow you to tweak settings, assign hotkeys, adjust the Multi-Monitor Taskbar feature, as shown in Figure C, and much more.

Figure C

On the Settings window, you can make all sorts of additional adjustments.

What's your take?

Are you using a multiple monitor setup? If so, do you think you'll want to try 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.

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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.

43 comments
jwalker
jwalker

This software doesn't seem to do more than Ultramon has been doing for years. Cool to know it's out there however.

neil
neil

Crashes MS Silverlight when used in Windows 7

clare-john
clare-john

Silly question... what setups do y'all have to run more than two monitors? Are there cards to drive more than two? Dual cards? Use more than one PCIe slot?

TrueDinosaur
TrueDinosaur

I run 4 monitors. 2 28" on my desk and 2 24" on a vertical Ergotron pole. The left 28" contains the system tray, desktop icons and what I am working on. The right 28" is for my VMWare screens. The lower 24" on the pole to the left of the left 28" has Outlook open. The upper 24" has Sidebar and My Computer open and is a parking lot for other screens I might have open.

holloway2
holloway2

Does this application support monitor rotation? I use two monitors and regularly rotate one or both of them to accommodate particular applications.

urs.frei
urs.frei

I am running W7 on an notebook with a screen attached to it when working in the office. I kind of like the behaviour of the application windows reducing to about half of the screen size when movig it to the right or left. However I would like this behaviour to apply to ONE of my screens. Any ideas on how to get this effect working?

AgentSamosa
AgentSamosa

Been using UltraMon for 3+ years with 4 monitors. Really comes in useful for us IT folks, email on right center, TS/RDC on left center, and various system monitoring applications on the other 2. DisplayFusion seems like a nice product, but I really only use UltraMon for the taskbar spanning.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

Middle is wide-screen 19", other two are normal 17"

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

I'm not sure how they compare in terms of features but I and a few others at work use the UltraMon product which has been around for several years and are very happy with it. I do believe it costs a little more then DisplayFusion but not a lot, at least not a the small user count.

LarryD4
LarryD4

I have been using two monitors for a long time, but about three months ago I was able to replace them with a 42 inch LCD TV. So umm I don't need multiple monitors any more. But I would love to try two 42s together, but that might just be overkill.

jdclyde
jdclyde

For the average person, I am having a hard time seeing this as just one more way for you to waste company money. How many 1/2 seconds do you have to save to pay for the extra screens, the extra video cards, and now extra software? I could see if someone was working on one screen while monitoring something in realtime on another, but beyond that? Would like to see the purchase request that was turned into the boss to get the setup. The ROI would be a real treat to see.

vbigdogv
vbigdogv

Wish you had excited me with new features, but I have been getting the same functionallity for years with the Ultramon Multi-Monitor utility. I started with two monitors and now use four because of the ease of use. It has been stable and packed full of desktop features including mirroring, screensavers, display profiles settings, and several more settings. The free version worked so well that I purchased a lifetime registration.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Course trhat still won't help me when my so called multi-monitor 'support' does n't realise one's unplugged, or even plugged in. Windows, drivers, my hardware don't know who does what to whom. I wouldn't describe it as support though, not unless you can use a straw for a crutch, to get off the stage after winning the guiness book of records fat bastid award.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

How many monitors do you use normally? How long have you been using multiple monitors? Do you use special software to manage your displays or just the built-in Windows support?

StoneDr
StoneDr

I would say most current video cards will support 2 monitors, though if you currently only have 1 output or perhaps want to look at a 3 monitor setup there are other options.I am interested to see what kind of options people are using also. I assume there will be multiple GPU's, but this isnt always going to be available whether from financial constraints or only room for a single GPU on the mother board. I've been looking into USB to VGA or DVI-I similar to below http://h18000.www1.hp.com/products/quickspecs/13226_na/13226_na.HTML Though I have not used this setup yet. Let me know your thoughts if you have experience or perhaps other solutions.

actualtools
actualtools

Let me suggest another usability solution for multi-monitor users - Actual Multiple Monitors by Actual Tools (http://www.actualtools.com/multiplemonitors/). It provides many similar features to DisplayFusion and UltraMon (multi-monitor taskbar/wallpaper/screen savers/profiles) but also offers some unique options, such as Start Menu on all monitors, Windows 7 AeroSnap emulation for XP/Vista and Window Thumbnails for taskbar buttons. Hope it deserves a try, at least.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

My son has his PS3 hooked up to a 42" HD LCD. Playing games like Burnout Paradise or Pain are incredibly visually stimulating. Just to see what it was like, I connected his PC to it and played Descent thru DosBox. Awesome!

jdclyde
jdclyde

"eye strain"? Remember what mamma said about not sitting to close to the tv screen. Considering I am working on a laptop with a 14" viewable screen, that is just boggling. Took a tape measure just to get some size perspective.... wow. Ya know, that is the size of my big tv at home? :0

scoxbike
scoxbike

I started using dual monitors in 1981 in CAD. The extra desktop area was invaluable. When our systems migrated to PCs in the later '80s we specified dual monitors too. Think about it. It's called a desktop. Your literal desk has reference material opened up for your use. A few things you've set aside to return to once you've finished the bosses' latest rush. A phone, writing tools, a calculator, ying and yang. A microscopic windows/x desktop is an anacronism from the days of expensive hardware and limited 'puter power. Give me 1280^2 X 1024^2!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Would you like to a Product Spotlight Review of the Ultramon Multi-Monitor utility? Send me a private message if you do.

MC68000
MC68000

Ultramon gets excellent reviews, but all I can find is shareware versions with a 30 day trial period.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Here are some links I have collected (but have not tried these products) to multiple ways of doing multi monitor and related products. http://www.pcworld.com/article/157478/multimonitor_madness.html - a podcast about "Display Link" which allows connecting monitor(s) via USB http://www.digitaltigers.com/zenview.asp - these guys have a lot of different multi-monitor stands. Neat, but expensive. http://www.digitaltigers.com/displays-arena.shtml - this page shows half a dozen 6 and 7 screen arrangements that make my mouth water and my piggy bank cringe in anticipation (I want! I want!) http://www.mediachance.com/free/multimon.htm - this page has several software apps that support multiple monitors. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/148622-2/stepbystep_a_threescreen_workstation_for_230_or_less.html - Step-by-Step A Three-Screen Workstation for $230 or Less. July 18, 2008 http://www.pcworld.com/article/150537/dual_monitorsthe_only_way_to_go.html?tk=nl_sbxcol - Dual Monitors, the Only Way to Go Sep 2, 2008 http://www.pcworld.com/article/150311/article.html?tk=nl_texhow - Quadruple Your Fun (and Productivity) With a Four-Monitor System Sep 3, 2008 http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/learnmore/northrup_multimon.mspx - Using Multiple Monitors with Windows XP Published: July 26, 2004 http://techrepublic.com.com/5206-12843-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=270172&start=0 - Take advantage of multiple monitors with Vista's Remote Desktop July 30th, 2008 Have fun.

Ron_007
Ron_007

I've been using 2 monitors for just under a year. My new laptop has a VGA plug so I have the built in 17" widescreen LCD running at 1440 x 900 x 60Hz and the 17" Viewsonic CRT from my retired desktop running at 1600 x 1200 x 75hz. Multi monitor support provided by my ATI Catalyst Control Center that came with the video card. This app is good enough for my needs, it supports rotating images (I've tested it by rotating an propping up my 17" CRT. It was "exciting" a time or two when things got a little tippy. My only complaints about the Catalyst software are that it takes a while flickering through several resolutions during boot up, scrambling my desktop icons and occasionally it reverts to default left/right screen orientation which happens to be backward to how I have them setup on the desk. Its a little freaky scrolling the mouse off the "outside" edge of the monitor to get to the other monitor. Why do it? Simple. A single monitor is like restricting the usable area on your desktop to the size of a single book or binder. If you want to have more than one book open at a time you have to pile them up on top of each other, maybe sliding them a little so that you can see more than one at a time. It is not a very comfortable way to work. Same with a computer monitor. With multiple monitors you don't have to keep "digging through the pile" because you can have a couple of pages open side by side. On my wish list is to get a third monitor, a widescreen monitor that I plan to rotate 90 degrees. That way I will be able to easily display a full 8.5" x 11" page at an easily readable zoom level. Cost justification in a work situation requires a live performance test as one of the other commentators described. Before doing the "after" testing & timing, give the workers training and some time to get used to the new expanded work space. Almost any job that requires using more than one app simultaneously to do the job, ie online data entry app that requires/benefits from looking up detailed data in another window will benefit from using 2 monitors. Copying data from one app window to another goes easier with 2 screens.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

What a waste of time. The ONE thing I wanted it for, it didn't do. Sigh.

scion111
scion111

I've been using multiple monitors since they were first supported. As an IT Consultant, I can't imagine not being able to view multiple remote connections (on different screens) and also having access to email, etc., wihtout the hassle of min/maxing windows constantly. I currently use (3) 21.5" Syncmaster 213T screens and will likely move to 3 (or 4) even larger screens on my next upgrade. It's not a vanity thing -it's just really productive!

Media-Ted@Juno.com
Media-Ted@Juno.com

... my problem with a Toshiba laptop with Vista Home Premium which insists on placing my #2 on the left nearly every time I boot? I have several laptops - 4 Toshibas - and only this 64-bit AMD system (P305D) refuses to keep my settings. I have given up trying to keep it in the 1280x1024 mode as well. I'd like the program if it would just keep my settings like I want them, not as some phantom wants them. I wonder if it is the 64-bit, or the AMD part which makes it revert, ... not always, but often enough. Can't imagine it could be related to the Model, or could I be wrong?

Corazu
Corazu

I use 3 myself, I have a 25.5" flanked by two 22"s, all widescreen - the one on the left side is tilted vertical, which is really nice for my browser. I've used the multimon program in the past, which gives me the taskbars in each monitor as well as buttons and hotkeys to quickly move programs from one window to the next, but I'll have to take a look at displayfusion and see if it offers more.

mrasmussen
mrasmussen

I have been using 2 montiors at work and at home for about 3-4 years now. Since I work in I.T. it helps the most when I have to use remote desktop on one screen and have any kind of documentation or notes on the other screen. I always have outlook open on one monitor so that I can continue work on another. At Home it works great since I am a gamer also. I can keep games at full screen on one monitor and keep Ventrilo, IE and Trillian open on the other. I have only been using the built in Windows software to adjust my displays, but I would consider using 3rd party software if I can get better use out of it. Things that I would like to be able to do is allow each monitor to be able to display a different picture, and second be able to actually adjust the size of the background independantly on each monitor. Some people at work use different size monitors and their backgrounds can become distorted or chopped. One other option would be presets. This would come in handy at work for people that have laptops. At least once a week I have to go to a user and adjust their screen back so that their main screen is their external monitor and their laptop is their secondary.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Your product sounds interesting. I'd like to review it in the Product Spotlight Blog. Is anyone familiar with this product and would like to write a review for TechRepublic?

sin-ick
sin-ick

have 67" setup.....i'm in heaven

jdclyde
jdclyde

but I find it unlikely for the majority to be validated by an actual productivity advantage. CAD, with people moving away from the digitizer pads and half the screen being just tools now, I could see that being a VERY real advantage. I am right now looking to justify the expense for three of our dispatchers to move to duel monitors or not, so it isn't as if I am saying there aren't real benefits. But to get this approved, I have to make a business case to justify the expense.

Corazu
Corazu

I believe that is the one he is talking about - I had the shareware version too and I liked it so I bought the full version, which is very reasonably priced and I didn't mind at all.

pete838
pete838

I have been using UltraMon for about a year and have been very pleased with it. It offers many configuration options, as well as tweaks for desktop and screen savers.

olsenbanden2
olsenbanden2

Will this software remember your choices of what programs is on what screen after a reboot?

c.banks
c.banks

In keeping with the multiple monitor theme, there is a website you may want to take a look at for possible product review. It is called www.CustomMonitorStands.com. These are a fairly unique type of multiple display stand, extremely rugged and sturdy, with capacity to support up to 10 30" monitors.

wescrook
wescrook

..by doing timings of their (the users) processing work before dual monitors and after. We figured a savings of between 10-50% in time on each transaction (depending on the user and their familiarity with using two monitors). That time savings alone would pay for the monitor's value within a week or two for each employee on that line. We ordered 100 monitors within a week of those numbers going to management. And our Dell Optiplex 750's didn't need another video card; they came with a DVI adapter card and the built in VGA, so it was a snap to hook up. So, if you run some tests, and it will save you money, compare it to your ROI and then make your decision. P.S. At work I have 4 Dell 17" LCD's (two rows, two columns) and LOVE it. At home I have a 42" plasma on top, a 26" below, and two 24"'s on the sides. Wouldn't live without 'em.

Luke G.
Luke G.

I use it at work and home. It has been worth the cost for me, and as was mentioned it is reasonably priced.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I think I'll write my own program to do that, now that I've become aware of the idea.