SolutionBase: Add invaluable functionality to a multiple monitor setup with UltraMon

Learn how to use UltraMon software to enhance the productivity of working with a multiple monitor configuration.

I've recently written a couple articles on using multiple monitors under Windows XP:

In both of those articles, I briefly mentioned UltraMon, a handy utility from RealTimeSoft that I, as a long time multiple monitor enthusiast, consider to be the essential multiple monitor companion.

Since those two articles have been published, I've received many comments about them, as well as numerous questions about setting up and using UltraMon. So, in this article, I'll examine some of UltraMon's most useful features, and show you how to take full advantage of these features in a multiple monitor configuration. As I do, I'll also pass along some cool techniques that I've discovered.

Additional features

As you read this article, keep in mind that UltraMon is packed with lots of cool features designed for multiple monitor configurations, such as the ability to run different screen savers on different monitors or to stretch panoramic wallpaper across multiple monitors. However, I'll be focusing on those features that will allow you to more efficiently use a multiple monitor configuration to streamline your work.

Getting and installing UltraMon

UltraMon is compatible with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, and at the time this article is being written, the current version of UltraMon is 2.5. You can download a free 30-day evaluation copy here. After the 30-day time period expires, you can register UltraMon for $39.95.

As you begin downloading the UltraMon, you'll discover that it is packaged as a Microsoft Installer (MSI) file. While the MSI capability is built into Windows XP, you may need to download and install the Windows Installer 2.0 Redistributable for other versions of Windows.

Once you've downloaded UltraMon, you just double-click the MSI file and the installation procedure will begin. The nice thing about the MSI format is that it allows the developer to provide customizable installation options, which makes it easy for you to install only those features in which you're interested.

Once the installation is complete, you'll be prompted to restart your system. As soon as your system restarts, you'll see the UltraMon icon appear in the system tray area. You can immediately double-click the icon to access the UltraMon Options dialog box, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

You can access most of the configuration settings in the UltraMon Options dialog box.

Smart Taskbar

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 Smart Taskbar feature, which allows you to expand Windows' Taskbar by placing an UltraMon taskbar on the bottom of the screen on each secondary monitor? To activate and configure this feature, you'll select the Use Smart Taskbar check box on the Smart Taskbar tab of the UltraMon Options dialog box, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Smart Taskbar has two basic operating modes.

In Standard mode, the taskbar that appears on each monitor 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 because 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, the Smart Taskbar keeps track of the window, displaying the task on the appropriate taskbar.

Now, for everyday use, the Standard mode is the ultimate configuration—especially when you're concurrently running countless applications. However, there are several other Smart Taskbar configuration settings that can come in handy in different situations. The Mirror mode, which is the other mode option on the Smart Taskbar tab, configures each taskbar to show all running tasks. While this may come handy if you're only using a few applications and want to be able to switch tasks from any monitor, I've never really found it that useful.

However, when you're using Standard mode you can right-click on a Smart Taskbar and you'll see a pop-up menu that contains additional configuration options, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

This pop-up menu provides you with additional options for working with an UltraMon taskbar.

As you can see, the middle section of the menu contains a set of pretty standard commands. The Close button in the bottom section will allow you to close a single taskbar or all Smart Taskbars.

At the top of the menu, you'll see that the Show Tasks From submenu allows you to move tasks from one taskbar to another. This comes in handy when you want to use a full screen view on one monitor, yet still have access to the other tasks running on that monitor. The other option available here is the Add Taskbar For submenu, which allows you to add a taskbar to any monitor on which you've previously closed the taskbar.

However, the really awesome feature here is that you can add a separate taskbar to your primary monitor. When you do, all open tasks, as well as any new tasks, move from the default Windows Taskbar to the new UltraMon taskbar, which allows you to expand your Quick Launch toolbar and reconfigure the Notification Area to display all the icons.

In addition to UltraMon's Smart Taskbar feature, I use Windows' Toolbars feature to place a toolbar at the bottom of the screen on my secondary monitors. These additional toolbars function like extensions of the standard Quick Launch toolbar. I then populate each toolbar with regular shortcuts, or special UltraMon Shortcuts, which I'll describe in more detail in a moment.

Creating the toolbars is easy. To begin, create a new folder on your hard disk and name it something like MyToolbars. You'll use this folder to store shortcuts (and other subfolders if you have more than one secondary monitor and want to create toolbars on each monitor). After you've created the MyToolbars folder, just right-click on the Taskbar and select Toolbars | New Toolbar from the pop-up menu. When you see the New Toolbar browse window, locate and select the MyToolbars folder.

As soon as your new toolbar appears on the Taskbar, just drag and anchor it at the bottom of your secondary monitor. Next, right-click on your new toolbar and sequentially disable the Show Title and Show Text options. To continue, right-click on your new toolbar again and enable the Always On Top option.

To complete the configuration, enable UltraMon's Smart Taskbar feature. When you do, you'll have a Taskbar and a Quick Launch toolbar on your secondary monitor(s), as shown in Figure D. (The dividers and blank spaces that you see separating the shortcuts on my custom Quick Launch toolbar are generated by simple icons placed in the MyToolbars folder.)

Figure D

This technique will allow you to create a Taskbar and a Quick Launch toolbar on your secondary monitor(s).

Windows Title Bar

When it comes to working with numerous windows in a multiple monitor configuration, you'll definitely want to take advantage of the Windows Title Bar feature. As you can see in Figure E, there are two options associated with the feature. The Add Move Window Button option adds a button to the title bar of each window that, when clicked, opens a small subwindow titled Choose Monitor, as shown in Figure F.

Figure E

The Windows Title Bar feature allows you to add either of two buttons to the title bar of each window.

Figure F

When you click the Move Window button, the Choose Monitor window appears and you can simply click the icon that represents the destination monitor.

To move a window from one monitor to another, you simply click on the numbered icon that represents the monitor to which you want to move the window (that means no more complex operations that involve restoring, dragging, and maximizing just to move a window). On the other hand, if you still prefer dragging windows, you'll be glad to know that UltraMon allows you to drag maximized windows from monitor to monitor. Again, no more restoring, dragging, and maximizing just to move a window.

The Add Maximize To Desktop Button option adds another button to the title bar of each window (near the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons), as shown in Figure G, that when clicked expands the window across all monitors. I've found this feature to be extremely useful when working with very large spreadsheets that contain more columns that can fit on a single monitor.

Figure G

UltraMon can add two extra buttons to the Windows Title Bar.

In addition to, or in lieu of, adding buttons to the title bar for these two features, you can add commands to the drop-down window menu that you access by clicking the icon that appears in the upper-left corner of a window.

UltraMon Shortcut Extensions

By default, all your applications will open their main windows on the primary monitor. If that's not where you want to use the window, you can then use the Move Window button. However, if you have particular applications that you always want to launch on a secondary monitor, you can use the UltraMon Shortcut Extensions feature to specify the monitor on which you want an application to open its window. To use this feature, just select the Enable Shortcut Extensions check box on the Profiles And Shortcuts tab of the UltraMon Options, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

You configure Enable Shortcut Extensions on the Profiles And Shortcuts tab of the UltraMon Options.

Once you click OK, you'll find two UltraMon tabs on every shortcut's properties dialog box, as shown in Figure I. As you can see, on the UltraMon—Window tab, once you select the Use Custom Settings check box, you have a number of options for specifying the size and monitor on which you want the shortcut to launch the application's window.

Figure I

You can use the setting on the UltraMon—Window tab to specify the monitor on which you want an application to open its window.

If you then select the UltraMon—Display tab, as shown in Figure J, you'll discover that you can even specify the screen resolution you want your monitors to use when launching a particular application. This feature comes in particularly handy when you're working with a graphics-based application and want to use higher than normal screen resolution while editing or viewing pictures. As you can see, the default configuration will return the screen resolution to its original settings once you close the application.

Figure J

The settings on the UltraMon—Display tab allow you to instantly reconfigure your monitors when you launch a shortcut.

Display Profiles

If you want to be able to change the screen resolution settings of your monitors independently of a specific shortcut, you can do so by using the Display Profiles feature. In addition to changing the screen resolution, the Display Profiles feature allows you to change the position and state (enabled/disabled) of each monitor, as well as to choose which monitor will act as the primary, thus allowing you to easily create various multiple monitor configurations for different types of work.

Once you create additional Display Profiles, you can easily change between them by simply right-clicking on the UltraMon icon and selecting the profile from the pop-up menu, as shown in Figure K.

Figure K

Using Display Profiles, you can create various multiple monitor configurations for different types of work.

Scripting options

And if the multitude of options offered by the UltraMon Shortcut Extensions and Display Profiles don't offer you enough ways to customize your multiple monitor configuration, UltraMon also provides you with a scriptable object model. With this model, you can use VBScript, JScript, and Windows Script Host to customize your multiple monitor configuration. If you're interested in controlling UltraMon's features via scripting, you can find details about its object model, as well as sample scripts, in the UltraMon Help system.

Final word

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are other features in UltraMon that I didn't cover that you'll want to investigate. For example, you can save icon positions, change monitor settings in the enhanced Display Properties replacement, mirror the same image on multiple monitors, or activate various UltraMon features via a set of customizable hotkeys. Be sure to take some time to investigate some of the UltraMon features that I haven't covered here.

The bottom line is that if you are using multiple monitors, UltraMon provides a lot of additional functionality that you will quickly view as invaluable once you start to use it.

By Greg Shultz

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.