Dual monitor tools let you rule

These helpful Windows utilities give you ultimate control over dual displays

by Kevin Purdy - How did humanity live and work with just one screen for so long? Sounds naive, sure, but having two (or more) monitors is a productive habit that's hard to give up. Add in helpful Windows utilities like these, and they'll have to pry your double displays from your cold, dead mouse hand.

[ See also: Make the most of Windows 7's high-powered taskbar ]

We're focusing on Windows applications here because Mac systems do a fairly good job of letting users extend and control the desktop across systems. Linux systems and video output -- well, that's a novella of its own.

The reigning champs: DisplayFusion or UltraMon

If you're good at something, never do it for free--that's the route the developers of DisplasyFusion and UltraMon have taken. Even if you're a longtime freeware fan, you'll see why after giving them a go. Both applications let you extend a Windows-like taskbar, with some nice bonus features, across more than one monitor, and make stretching very big wallpaper across multiple screens, or setting two or more unique images, very easy. Those would be nice nit picks on their own, but both apps also make app window moving across monitors very easy, whether through UltraMon's two extra buttons, right next to the minimize and maximize items, or through DisplayFusion's taskbar drag-and-drop and customizable hotkeys. There are many, many more features--some duplicated between them, some unique--that are begging for you to try and live without. DisplayFusion is free software that costs $25 to unlock for all features (including the uber-taskbar and hotkeys), while UltraMon offers a 30-day full trial, costing $40 for a single license after that.

[ See also: Five portable apps that run anywhere and everywhere ]

The "good enough" freebie: MultiMonitor Taskbar Free

What it mainly does is extend a Windows taskbar--not a real one, but a very convincing fake--across two or three monitors, and shows only the relevant applications from that monitor on each taskbar. MultiMonitor Taskbar also adds a button to move applications between monitors to each monitor. There are a few more features, but, for the price (free for basic, $28 for a single "Pro" license), it might be just what you need to make two or three screens feel like one.

The obsessive Window controllers: WinSplit Revolution and Sizer

Humans tend to arrange their work windows in particular ways every time they sit down at their system, but Windows acts like every morning is the first day on the job. WinSplit Revolution gives you Tom-Cruise-in-Minority-Report-style control over your windows. Resizing, sending between monitors, tiling and mosaic shuffling, and much more can be accessed with WinSplit running, which attaches them somewhat intuitively to your numerical keypad with Control and Alt held down--4 moves windows left, 8 is up, 5 expands windows to full screen, etc.

Sizer is, unfortunately, only for Windows XP until an update comes along, but it's great for web designers and folks who notice when things are out of place. When it's running in the background, you can right-click on any window and resize it to any pixel width and heights you've plugged into Sizer's options--1024x768, 400x200, etc. When you have to temporarily pull a window out of its proper place and want to snap it right back to its size and position, the dual WinSplit/Sizer combination is like having The Force on a very small, very nerdy planet, far, far away.


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