Thursday May 25, 2006


Last weekend I was installing a Xinerama system using a Matrox G450 dual-head card. Hey, $15 at TigerDirect, what do you want more. But it's not the price that this topic is about, it's probably even not Xinerama that it's about. When you install a dual-screen system – doesn't matter if it's Windows, Linux or Solaris based – you simply get a display twice as wide, with the result that among all other problems the pop-up window appears in the center. Oops, that center is where you have those two chunks of beige plastic, which is called the case of your monitor :-).

In some situations this concept of an extra-wide screen is maybe useful, but IMHO in most it is not very apropriate. I've noticed that more recent Xinerama versions have become more intelligent when it comes to pop-up's, but still I think that taking two screens as just a single extra-wide one is not the right choice.

Let's take a step back. Having a second display is not so much having a bigger screen, but much more similar to the multi-window feature X-Windows display managers have since a couple of years. It's also more like what in the old days you could do on a 80x24 display with Alt-F1, F2, F3 or F4, just switching from one screen to other. I think it is even very similar to what a tabbed browser like Mozilla / FireFox provides you. So yes, it is a second screen, but that doesn't automagically make it into a wider screen.

Now I know that I can solve the "popup in the middle" problem by having a third screen, or maybe five <g>. The popup then again appears centered, but that's beyond the point. Many desktop users like multiple screens, but most don't use them as one large canvas. It's most often something like "let's keep my email open on the right, while I keep working on the main screen". Notice the phrase "main screen"!! It's time to have an alternative to Xinerama, very similar to the multi display feature in X-Windows, controlled by the bar/panel at the bottom. I think the display needs to be more distinct, the mouse will not move "out of bounds", but still you can drag a window to another display.

For me, that would be a much more natural user interface. And maybe it does exist already (most things do :-) and I just haven't found out how to configure it in X-Windows. If not, it's probably time for me to start a little X-Windows hacking project ... ehhh, probably not so 'little'.