September 7, 2007 The quest to try new technologies hands-on is a vexing problem for working journalists in a magazine which exclusively covers emerging technologies, as conception to market times have shrunk to months rather than years and the advance of innovation grows faster each week, like a game of Pacman – it’s an exciting time to be alive, much less working in this industry, BUT, when it comes to trialing things, newer technologies often pop up before you’ve got the last one out of the box and onto the desk. We’re forever looking to use the technology we cover to assist in processing this explosion of information and a few months back I decided that more screen real estate was needed after trailing Apple’s 24 inch iMac and getting a productivity boost– the answer, I hoped, was to spread the array of web pages, email screens, RSS feeds, spreadsheets, word and Acrobat documents Photoshop and Final Cut Pro screens, calendars, to do lists, FTP windows, Skype beckoning regularly and my iTunes life soundtrack controller across an array of screens in the hope it would help me deal with what had become an endless set of layers on my MacBook Pro. So I called up Matrox and asked for the company’s TripleHead2Go system, enabling me to hook three screens to my MacBook, and …
To be truthful, I’d misread the specs and really wanted two additional screens and I missed the cue provided by Matrox when they asked if I really wanted the TripleHead2Go. No, that was what I wanted and I’d already ordered what I needed (a second Philips 19 inch screen to match the one I had hooked to the Powerbook) and they relented and sent it. The second Philips turned out to be a later model than the first, and when the TripleHead2Go arrived I had to move house.
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Then a beta version of Adobe’s CS3 got in the way of installing the new one and the TripleHead2Go languished for a further few weeks in a box beside the desk and by the time I’d realised I needed three additional screens rather than two, Philips had refreshed its range and so when I got it all assembled, I had three generations of Philips monitors to connect to it. Talk about the march of progress.
Anyway, the set-up was painless and within a few minutes, I had a working destop of four screens. At first it was clumsy and quite unproductive . It took a few days of rearranging things on the desktops to get the most productive working environment but once we’d built a tad of familiarity between us, the decision to install the TripleHead2Go began to pay off.
It’s all about being able to glance at what you want rather than shuffle the screen layers– with the four screens in place, productivity began to increase and after a few more days, the incidence of going off to another application to get something and forgetting all about what I was doing in the first place began to decrease.
Things had their place again, just like my old strata-geographic filing system did on my paper-covered desk of a few decades ago. I had some idea of where things were again – I had a spatial awareness of the information that threatens to overwhelm me at any given time, and if the desktop analogy really is relevant (it is), I had a big desk again, and a place for everything.
A week down the track and my aircraft controller desk was not just making me more productive but allowing me to feel better too. I was feeling less frenzied, and more in control of the array of resources that are undoubtedly serving me, but often make my cheeks flap so intense is the flow of information they throw at me. I was feeling like I was turning the tide - amidst the chaos, and a sense of order was beginning to prevail, as I’d always hoped it would.
Alas, within a fortnight of finding this key enabling technology for my life, I was on plane and it’ll be another ten weeks before I get back in front of some ordered chaos again.
There are other benefits too – at 40 years of age, give or take a few years, your eye-sight begins to decline, and the way the TripleHead2Go works is to make the computer think it has a second screen of 3840x1024 resolution which it spreads across the three screens. This means the type is bigger and hence easier to read. You are less confined both visually and mentally.
If you’re in the same situation as me, with more information coming at you than you can absorb, and multitasking an imperative, this will probably help. I’ve lived with two screens for several years and four is unquestionably better – three might be better still, but I misread the Matrox info, and haven’t tried three. Indeed, two Apple 30 inchers might and probably would be better again but you’ll need a fixed desktop to do that. The MacBook drives three additional screens with the help of the TripleHead2Go and when it hasn’t got that help, it will happily display all the same info while I’m on the road (albeit on one screen), without synching and the frustrations which go with that.
It’s not the final answer, but it’s the best one I have tried. Docking the MacBook to a desktop Mac and getting two bigger screens (say, Sony’s 42 inch TVs) might be better still. It’s an area I’ll continue to explore because the benefits of this set-up have been tangible in so many aspects.
There is no doubt in my mind that a larger desktop, like a larger desk, helps to create order in one’s mind, and analogy is very relevant. The productivity increase is almost directly proportional to the amount of screen real estate, at least to a point. if you are feeling overwhelmed by the information you encounter every day via your computer, start here!