SolutionBase: Add multiple monitors without additional video cards using MaxiVista

Learn how to set up MaxiVista software to use a second PC, such as a laptop or a TabletPC, as a second monitor for your primary PC.

Have you ever wished that you had a multiple monitor configuration? As you know, in order to create a standard multiple monitor configuration, you need to have at least two video outputs on your system (usually with two video cards) and two monitors. However, now there's an alternative way to set up and use a multiple monitor configuration with a unique shareware package called MaxiVista. And the best part is that there's no need to for additional hardware—it’s all software-based.

MaxiVista works by establishing a software-based virtual-graphics adapter that then controls a monitor on another system across a network connection. This will allow you to turn any connected system into a second monitor of your primary system. For example, you could set your laptop next to your desktop's monitor, connect the laptop to the network, run MaxiVista, and instantly be working with a multiple monitor configuration. Furthermore, if you already have a multiple monitor configuration, MaxiVista will allow you to add an additional virtual-graphics adapter to your existing setup. For example, on my main system, I already have a three-monitor setup, and with MaxiVista, I can add my laptop as a fourth monitor.

Let’s take a detailed look at how to set up and configure MaxiVista. As we do that, I'll also provide you with some tips and tricks that will allow you to get the most out of this handy piece of software.

Getting MaxiVista

As I’ll explain in more detail in a moment, MaxiVista is actually made up of two programs: the Server and the Viewer. The Server program of MaxiVista is compatible with Windows 2000/XP/2003, while the Viewer program is compatible with Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/2003.

You can download a free evaluation copy of MaxiVista. The evaluation is fully functional except that it displays a permanent splash screen on the secondary monitor and will run for 30 days after the initial installation or 100 program launches, whichever comes first. Once the installed trial period ends, MaxiVista will cease to run.

If you decide to purchase MaxiVista, it costs $49.95 for a single license. A discounted pricing structure is available when you purchase multiple copies. The online order system is handled by ShareIt, which is protected by VeriSign. Once your order is processed, you will receive an e-mail message containing a license key and a link for an electronic download of the registered version.

Network requirements

If you already have a network running the TCP/IP protocol and both systems—your main system and then one with the monitor you want to use—are connected, then you’re all set. If the two systems aren’t connected to a network, but both systems have network cards, you can set up a two-computer network using the TCP/IP protocol and a standard crossover cable (or a network hub or switch). In addition, you can set up a two-computer network using USB or Firewire cables. MaxiVista will even work over a wireless LAN.

If you’re wondering about performance problems related to network bandwidth, you needn’t worry because MaxiVista transfers only the changing regions between single frames of the secondary display content. Furthermore, the data stream is compressed. As such, you really won’t notice any significant network performance problems during normal use. Even so, keep in mind that if you have a hub or switch and watch the lights, you will notice a lot of activity when you access the secondary monitor.

If you’re using a firewall, router, or switch on your network, you may need to make sure that the appropriate UDP and TCP ports are open. You can find detailed instructions in the MaxiVista manual, if you need to make these types of port adjustments.

If you’re wondering whether multiple users on the same network can simultaneously run different copies of MaxiVista at the same time, the answer is yes. Each set of Server and Viewer programs are linked together via an ID number such that the Server program will recognize and work only with its associated Viewer program.

Installing the Server and Viewer programs

Once you obtain a copy of MaxiVista, installing it is a simple procedure. If you download the demo version, you’ll receive a ZIP file that contains two executable installation files—one for the primary, or Server, program, and one for the secondary, or Viewer, program. Each program file will install on the appropriate system. If you purchase the registered version, you’ll receive a single executable installation file, which installs the Server program and creates the Viewer program installation file when it is run.

In either case, the installation procedure of the Server program operates via a standard Setup Wizard interface and consists of several steps. Keep in mind that during the installation procedure, your monitor will flash repeatedly and will even blank out for a moment. This is normal as the software is integrating its virtual graphics adapter into the operating system’s native support for multiple monitors and then reorients the display system. This all happens on the fly—no reboot is required.

Once the installation procedure is complete, you have the opportunity to immediately launch the Server program. If you choose to do so, you’ll see the MaxiVista icon, which shows two monitors, appear in the system tray. You’ll see that one of the monitors in the icon will periodically flash yellow. This indicates that the Server program is actively searching the network for a system that is running the Viewer program.

You then copy the Viewer program to another system and simply run it—there’s no installation procedure. As soon as you do, you’ll see the MaxiVista Viewer icon in the system tray. The Server program will then find the Viewer program and establish a connection. Keep in mind that this procedure will also cause the monitor on the Viewer system to flash and blank out for a moment as the software integrates its virtual graphics adapter into the operating system and reorients the display system as a secondary monitor.

Once the connection occurs, you’ll see one of the icon monitors in the system tray of the Server system stop flashing and remain a solid green to indicate that the connection has been established. You’ll then see that the secondary monitor is now showing the desktop on the primary monitor.

Working with MaxiVista

Once you have it up and running, you’ll discover that MaxiVista comes with a whole slew of features that allow you to configure and control the virtual graphics adapter. Let’s take a closer look.

If you right-click on the MaxiVista Server icon in the system tray, you’ll see a pop-up menu, as shown in Figure A, which allows you to access all of MaxiVista’s features. Selecting the About MaxiVista option brings up a dialog box that displays the ID number of the Server program. If you were to do the same on the Viewer program icon, you’d see the same ID number. As I mentioned, these numbers allow the correct Server and Viewer programs to find each other on the network, thus allowing multiple users to run MaxiVista on the same network.

Figure A

You can access and control MaxiVista’s features from this pop-up menu.

The Create MaxiVista Viewer command will allow you to easily create additional Viewer programs at the click of a button. If you accidentally delete the Viewer program, you can recreate it. This also allows you to have additional systems ready to run as a secondary monitor to your main system.

For example, in addition to having my laptop set up to run as an additional monitor on my main system, I also have another system in my lab set up to run as the secondary monitor. However, at this point, I can run only one copy of the Viewer program at a time. The folks at Bartels Media have told me that they are working on an extension pack that will allow the MaxiVista Server program to simultaneously connect and run two Viewer programs on two different systems.

Selecting Configuration brings up a submenu, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, the most apparent function of this menu allows you to quickly choose the resolution and color depth for the secondary monitor. You can then configure MaxiVista to remember those settings and use them as the default. If you want to automatically enable the secondary monitor at startup, you can enable that option.

Figure B

You’ll find most of the options on the Configuration submenu.

The Disable Screen Saver on Secondary PC option, enabled by default, prevents the screen saver on the system running the Viewer program from kicking in independently and disrupting the virtual multiple monitor display. As you might imagine, the secondary monitor will display the screen saver that runs on the primary monitor. However, keep in mind that MaxiVista doesn’t support hardware acceleration, such as DirectX or OpenGL, since it is software and there is no hardware graphics acceleration chip to address. This means that any OpenGL screen saver running on the primary monitor will not display correctly, if at all, on the secondary monitor. I did find that most of the default Windows screen savers, such as Starfield and Mystify, will run fine on the secondary monitor.

As you’ll discover, the default setting is to completely take over the secondary monitor in full screen mode. However, if you disable the Use Secondary Display In Full-Screen option, you’ll discover that the system running the Viewer program will run MaxiVista in a window. Thus, you can still use the second system as a stand-alone PC—you just minimize the MaxiVista window and run other programs.

If the system on which you want to run the Viewer program happens to have multiple network adapters, you can use the Network Options command to designate which IP address you want MaxiVista to use.

At any time you can enable or disable the secondary display by double-clicking the MaxiVista icon. However, one of these commands will also appear on the pop-up menu. Of course, the command that appears on the menu will depend on the current connection status. When you disable the secondary display, you’ll see that both the Server and Viewer program icons will display yellow monitors, indicating that the link between the two programs still exists but is just not active.

You can shut down MaxiVista by selecting the Exit command. However, keep in mind that shutting down the Server and Viewer programs are separate operations.

For example, if you shut down the Server program and not the Viewer program, the Viewer will remain ready and waiting. The next time you run the Server program, it will automatically make a connection with the Viewer program and enable the secondary monitor. On the other hand, if you shut down the Viewer program and not the Server program, the Server program will go into ping mode where it searches the network at regular intervals for the Viewer program, and you’ll see the flashing yellow monitor in its icon. As soon as you launch the Viewer program, both icons display yellow monitors, indicating that the link between the two programs has been re-established but is not yet active.

Native multiple monitor features

You’ll also discover that you can use any of Windows’ native multiple monitor features on the system running the Server program to work with your MaxiVista virtual graphics adapter. For example, after you install it, you’ll discover that MaxiVista assumes by default that your secondary monitor is located on the right side of your primary monitor. To reposition the monitor layout, you can open the Display Properties dialog box, select the Settings tab and rearrange the monitor icons to your liking. As you do, you can click the Identify button, which displays a number on each monitor that corresponds to the icons on the Settings tab. These numbers represent what I call the monitors’ virtual positions. In other words, the positions of the monitor icons and the corresponding numbers control how you drag icons and windows from one monitor to the other.

Third-party multiple monitor utilities

In addition, you’ll find that some features of third-party multiple monitor utilities will also work with MaxiVista’s virtual graphics adapter. For instance, one of my favorite third-party multiple monitor utilities is UltraMon. This software package provides a number of must-have features for anyone working with a multiple monitor configuration, and while some of them work with MaxiVista’s virtual graphics adapter, not all do.

For example, I discovered that MaxiVista’s virtual graphics adapter recognizes and works with the Move Window, the independent monitor screen saver, and the stretch wallpaper features. However, I couldn’t get the Smart Taskbar feature to work on the secondary monitor.

End sum

MaxiVista is a terrific program. It’s easy to set up and it can save you from having to buy and configure multiple video cards when you want to use a multiple monitor desktop. It would be even better if it supported more than a two-monitor setup and if all of the great UltraMon features worked with 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.