The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

2 vertical displays - sweet!

I've been using 2 displays, my laptop's built-in LCD and an external display, for a few years.

A month or so ago, my laptop was changed to one supporting a widescreen format. Within the last few weeks I rotated my external monitor to portrait mode, allowing me to see full page PDFs. However, this gave me an irregular arrangement of display surfaces: my landscape mode laptop, next to my portrait mode external display. It was quite easy to lose the cursor here. Fortunately, tools such as Nvidia's control panel, which allow the mouse to skip over non-visible display surface, and AutoHotKey, helped.

On Tuesday EW showed me his setup: 2 external displays driven by the same laptop. I had not realized that the HP laptops can drive two external displays, one using VGA, the other using DVI. Unfortunately, the laptop LCD display must be disabled.

Yesterday I started using this: driving 2 external displays, both rotated into portrait mode (actually, inverse b\portrait, a 90 degree clockwise (right) rotation. This is very nice. It is a huge win to be able to have 2 "full page", 8.5" x 11", windows side by side, on the different monitors. More relevant: 60 lines x 75 columns, in my usual program editing font in emacs (lucidasanstypewriter-bold-18). 96x114 in a slightl;y smaller funt (lucidasanstypewriter-12). 133x165 in a small font (7x13). This is very nice, but... I find that I want wider displays, without giving up the vertical span. 60 lines is nice, but 75 columns is narrower than some of my programs.

Over the years: I started coding on PDP-11, then CDC and IBM punched cards and line printers with wide paper, 132, 112, 80 and/or 72 columns, depending. Some coding on machinees with 40 column displays; fortunately, that did not last long. Many years where the BKM was to limit code to 80 columns, or 72. In the last few years I admit that I have relaxed my standards, and started writing wider code.
It can be surprisingly more readable not to have to split a line of code up over multiple lines. I think because some ^%%^&%&%$^%$ APIs require lots of parameters. Splitting an important, complicated, IF statement over multiple lines is good, because it may be important code. But splitting a function call of minor importance up over multiple lines, not because it is important, but because it has a lot of parameters because of an ill designed API, is bad. The size, the visibility, the vertical span of a section of code should correspond to its importance, not to its verbosity.
(I have long advocated colorization and formatting, both in program editors and in the programming languages themselves. I advocate next generation programming languages that are XML, not just ascii formatted into XHTML. I.e. where the XML indicates semantic constructs. I like folding editors. I can imagine changing font sizxe according to the importance of code. Although how to deduce the importance of code?)

An unanticipated downside, evident as I watch a video webcast: I have had to place my laptop PC, with the speaker, off to the side. It is disconcerting to have the sound come from a different place than the video - and with large monitors, the distance increases. In the past, I have dissed monitors with speakers built in - now I understand. My current monitors do not have speakers built-in, but clip-ons can be purchased.

2 vertical displays next to each other is much more regular than my old configuration. Nevertheless, I needed a bit more hacking with AutoHotKey, to reduce the amount of wrist pain inducing mousing. I tried tweaking mouse ballistics, but eventually found an old trackball. Being able to roll the ball from edge to edge is wonderfull. I've learned, over the years, precisely how hard to roll the ball so that it runs halfway across, etc. However, it is worth noting: large displays => pointer devices need tuming and improvements.

GUI, desktop and window management is a bit lacking.
I wasn't able to persuade Windows to treat the pair of monitors as a single large display. I have seen this option in the past, but can't find it again.
Nvidia's NVIEW desktop manager has been helpful. Allowing the task bar to be spread across the two different displays is a help. Ensuring that dialog boxes come up on the current display, as opposite to a default area far, far, away. Buttons to move a window to a different display.
Actually, not having Windiows treat it as a single display has been helpful. If Windows treated it as a single display, maximize would expand to cover both displays. As it is, I find that maximizing to cover one of the displays, half the total area, much more useful. Nvidia NVIEW provides the "Maximize to entire desktop (both displays)". I need to write a few AutoHotKey scripts to maximize to 1/4 of the desktop (the upper half of one display), etc.
I am noticing this with only two displays side-by-side in portrait mode. Some of my friends have 3 or 4 such displays (they work at companies/gropups that invest in programmer productivity). Googling, one finds that many multi-monitor and very large monitor folk are reviving what amounts to the old tiled window manager systems.
It is a little bit odd that I only noticed this yesterday and today, when I switched to 2 side by side portrait mode displays. I have been using multiple displays for years, but mainly in landscape mode, one above the other, or side by side. I wonder why I have only noticed these issues now? Perhaps it is that my new display configuration lends itself to large vertical windows. I have read that the human visual system is much more senstive to horizontal information rather than verical.
Overall: large displays need reworking of the user interface.
I suppose I knew this already, given my long term interest in blackboard scale displays. It's just different, when it is staring me in the face.

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