Why Don’t Macs Support Multiple Monitors?

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I have two 23″ monitors on my desktop at work, and have worked that way for about three years now (aside from a brief flirtation with a single 30″ monitor in California). On Windows and Linux this is an incredibly productive setup. I can have a full screen IDE open on one and a full-screen web browser open in the other. The web browser gives me a huge reference library and easy access to a lot of apps including e-mail, calendar, and more, and the IDE lets me do my work. I can easily switch back and forth between them to surf or edit. It’s a smooth and fluid workflow. Even a single monitor twice the size doesn’t work as well since you can’t easily organize the two applications on the screen.

I’m a programmer but the same is true for anyone who works primarily in one large application. For instance, for designers it might be Photoshop or QuarkXPress. For writers it may be Microsoft Word. For business folks it could be Excel. We all need a web browser open and we all need our main productivity app. On Windows and Linux these days, this just works. You plug-in two monitors. You open two apps. You move between them as you feel like it, and do your work. This is what it looks like:

Eclipse on left monitor with menubar; Firefox on right monitor with menubar

On the Mac, however, it doesn’t work. The Mac, which was perhaps the first platform to support multiple monitors, certainly the first consumer platform, a two monitor setup looks like this:

Eclipse on left monitor without menubar; Firefox on right monitor with menubar

Do you see the difference?
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How To Shutdown a Computer

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Sometimes I still feel like we’re in 1982 when it comes to really basic things like turning off a computer. Why do we have to select shutdown from a menu? Why do we have to carefully save each open file? Why don’t programs stop when we tell them to? (Time Machine has now been spinning for hours, and won’t stop even though I’ve told it to.) Why is this so much more complex than it needs to be?

In the future, here’s how shutdown should work:

  1. You flip the power switch.

That’s it. No shutdown menu item. No wait for the system to hibernate. No opportunity for applications to save data. Nothing.
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Monopoly Incompetence

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Need more proof that monopolies are bad business? Just try to pay a utility bill online sometime. I have just gotten through attempting to pay my cable, gas, and electric bills online. Exactly none of them offered what I would consider a minimally competent site. The exact problems varied, but there was one that was common across the three. Every single one required registration before they’d take my money:

  Welcome to My Account Online services! Please enter your user ID and password to sign in. New User? Register now.

By contrast, non-monopoly sites like Office Depot have long since learned that registration is an optional step they shouldn’t let get in the way of completing a sale. But the utility companies? Either they hire developers who are distinctly behind the state of the art, or they just don’t care because you have to pay them, or both.
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Linux 2008: Still Not Ready for Prime Time

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

I’ve just spent a couple of hours installing and exploring Ubuntu 8.04. Bottom line: better but still not yet an adequate end user system. Here are the things that absolutely must be fixed before one can plausibly recommend Ubuntu to a non-developer end user (and since Ubuntu is the best desktop Linux out there, these are things that need to be fixed before one can recommend desktop Linux). In roughly increasing order of severity:
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Window Maximizing and Multimonitor Setups Across Platforms

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

For the last couple of months I’ve been working on Windows as my main desktop during the workday (not my personal choice, but I can live with it.), and that’s caused me to notice a few things I haven’t noticed before, especially in contrast to the Mac style of managing windows. I’ve task switched between Mac and Windows before–for several years in the late 90s I did all my development and book writing on Windows and all my e-mail and Internet on the Mac–but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to compare the two environments with multiple monitors, and that’s made some difference in my take on matters. Practices that work well on a single monitor system don’t work as well on multimonitor system and vice versa. After playing with this for a while, I’m starting to think that the Windows approach works better for multiple, small monitors and the Mac approach works better for a single, widescreen monitor.

To summarize, here are the critical differences between the two platforms. These are worth keeping in mind when you’re designing a cross-platform application such as Firefox or Limewire, or any web site.
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