You’ve found the right display adapters for your Mac and have a second monitor connected — now what? Here’s everything you need to know to set up and use multiple monitors with your Mac.
Having more than one monitor is a multitasker’s dream, but it’s also been a historic weakness of Mac computers. It used to be that the menubar and dock would only show up on your primary monitor, and that full-screen apps on one monitor would leave any second monitor useless.
Thankfully, Apple changed all of these things in the last few versions of OS X, making life much better for multiple monitor users. If you’re still having problems, there are a few system settings and tools than can make the experience even better. Let’s start with the absolute basics, shall we?
Arrange Your Monitors In The Settings
When you first connect a second monitor to your Mac, there’s a chance both monitors will show the exact same thing – this is called mirroring. To change things, head to System Preferences, then Displays. If Mirror Displays is checked, uncheck it.
Do that and both monitors should now be independent — you can move your mouse from one to the other.
With that done, there’s a chance your displays aren’t arranged properly: for example, moving your mouse to the left on your left-most monitor might cause your cursor to show up on the right of your rightmost display. You can fix this by dragging the blue boxes, which represent your displays, until the boxes somewhat resemble your setup – do some guessing and testing until everything is in the right order.
You can also pick a default monitor by moving the white bar at the top of the blue boxes. The default monitor is where notifications are shown.
Make Sure Monitors Have Their Own Spaces
Mission Control was introduced in Lion, and brought a number of previously separate Mac features – including Exposé (which shows you all currently open windows) and Spaces (which lets you arrange your open windows onto several virtual desktops). Mission Control puts this all into one place, along with the new Full-Screen feature.
This is all well and good, but it gets a bit more complicated for users of multiple monitors. For example: if you set up multiple monitors, then set an app to work in Full-Screen mode, you might notice one of your monitors going blank.
If this happens to you, head to Mission Control in System Preferences and make sure Displays have separate spaces is checked. This will allow you to use a full-screen app on one monitor while another works as a regular desktop. It also lets you switch virtual desktops on one monitor without switching on the other.
This lets you get more out of your multiple monitor setup, so make sure it’s enabled.
BetterTouchTool: Move Windows Between Monitors With Keyboard Shortcuts
Mission control is great, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of keyboard shortcuts. Sure, you can enter mission control and switch desktops, but that’s it. If you want to move an application from one display to another, you need to use the mouse.
BetterTouchTool, a free tool originally designed to let you set up custom gestures for your touch pad, today does so much more than that. With this app installed you can set up your own keyboard shortcuts for moving windows from one monitor to another:
If you’re the kind of user who likes to avoid the mouse, this is a big deal, and it’s just the surface of what this app can do. You’ll find features that replicated the “Snap” function in Windows 7, so you can quickly make an app take up half or one-quarter of the screen – useful if you want to get even more out of your displays.
If you want a lot more control over you Mac, learn to use this app.
Use Your iPad or iPhone As a Monitor
There are other tools for using your iOS device as a display, but this seems to be the best reviewed one out there.
Display a Wallpaper Across Several Monitors
You can set a unique wallpaper for every one of your monitors, but if you’d rather have one image spread across all of them Multi Monitor Wallpaper ($3) is worth looking into. This app lets you split any image into appropriately-sized chunks for your displays.
You can accomplish the same effect without this app, of course, but unless your displays are both the same size it’s going to take some work. Either way, the final result can look pretty cool, and it’s only $3.
Synergy: Control Another Computer Entirely
This is arguably unrelated, but if you’ve got multiple computers on your desktop you don’t need a KVM Switch. With Synergy installed on two different systems – regardless of operating system – you can move your mouse from one computer to the other just like you were using multiple monitors. It’s great if you mostly love working on your Mac, but sometimes need to use an old Windows machine for some reason.
Setting this up can be time-consuming, but it’s totally worth it.
What Did We Miss?
We’ve already covered some of the best ways to use your multi monitor setup, but I want to know how you do it. What tools and tips do you use?
Or, if you’re a Windows fanboy, inexplicably spend some of your time insulting my choice in overpriced computers (even though I didn’t actually pay that much).