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Having two monitors is one of those things that the first time you try it, you’ll never go back. There are lots of benefits to having two monitors to work with, but those benefits multiply even further when you use software like Actual Multiple Monitors.
A while back, I went through the process of extending your laptop with two external monitors, which is fantastic. However, while two monitors give you double the workspace and boost productivity, utilizing two monitors has never been perfect. Sometimes the background or screensaver just doesn’t quite work right – for example, it’ll work on the primary monitor but not the secondary. Erez tried to use some multiple monitor tools to fix those issues, but even then, the tools aren’t perfect.
I must have tried almost every free multiple desktop application out there, but while some make a valiant attempt to give you the feeling as though you’re using two individual computer systems independent of each other, they always fall short. In the end, either the screensaver or backgrounds don’t work right, virtual desktop setups simply consume too much memory and resources, or the software tool is very buggy and ends up freezing up the system. I actually gave up using any tool and just stuck with the standard extended desktop setup, and called it good.
That is until I came across Actual Multiple Monitors. We briefly covered the free trial version of Actual Multiple Monitors previously here at MakeUseOf, but that only scratched the surface of what the pro version ($24.95) of this amazing software can do. In this article, I’m going to show you how this impressive software can transform your single PC into a dual display system that acts as though you’re running two independent computer desktops where you can toss windows and applications from one desktop to the other with a click of the mouse (or keyboard).
The only reason I even bothered trying the paid version of this software is because of the promise that it offered two fully functional desktops with independent start menus and taskbars. I’d been on the search for this kind of software for so long that I didn’t really believe such a thing was possible. Sure enough it is.
Getting Started With Actual Multiple Monitors
When you first install Actual Multiple Monitors, you’ll find a new icon in your system tray. When you right click on it, you’ll see all of the features that are built into the dual setup. I’ll show you each of those in this review.
The key here is that while the two desktops are portrayed as two individual computer desktops, they still give you the convenience of being the same computer. This means the same file system when you open up file explorer, the same applications when you click the start menu, and most importantly, the ability to bounce the open application windows back and forth between the two desktop displays using the two new icons at the top of every window.
Both desktops bring you full Windows 7 functionality including not only the start button and the toolbar with system tray, but also pin, peek and jump lists, independent notifications (depending which desktop you launched an app from) as well as the “show desktop” button to the right of the taskbar. However, I did find that the show desktop button was functional across both desktops, not just one. It’s possible this can be customized, but I couldn’t find that setting anywhere.
Here’s what I really love. Depending which desktop you launch an application from, you’ll see taskbar icons for those applications only on that desktop’s taskbar, not both.
This is really cool because it lets you use each desktop for very different purposes, almost as though you’re using two individual computer systems running their own software independently. Above was what my start menu and taskbar looked like on screen #1. Below is what it looked like on screen #2.
As you can see, only the apps running on that desktop are displayed.
Another really sweet feature of Actual Multiple Monitos that fixes a long-time gripe that I’ve had with a dual-display setup is that it allows you to create individual settings for the desktop and screensaver of each desktop. Here, I’ve set the background for screen 1 to be a field of flowers, and that of screen 2 to be a canyon.
You can also tweak the resolution of each screen (nothing new there), but additionally you can alter the layout if you’re working in unusual conditions where you might have the need to use a monitor vertically.
Best of all, you can set up two independent screen savers. There was nothing worse than when I tested out a security screensaver that was supposed to lock up the computer with a password when it became enabled, but it only worked on one screen – leaving anyone who walked up to the computer with the ability to use it by right clicking on the unlocked monitor and browsing the computer all they want. So much for a secure screensaver! Well, with Actual Multiple Monitors, such a screensaver would actually work because it could be set up to run across both desktops.
One of the best features I came across when testing Actual Multiple Monitors, was the ability to section off the desktop into independent work areas. This is somewhat similar to Fences, in that you’re predefining areas of the desktop and what you want to use those areas for. In the case of Actual Multiple Monitors, you can just keep splitting each section in half horizontally or vertically by tapping one of the split line buttons.
Within these “tiles”, you can place your applications. You can also create multiple layouts. For example, let’s say I know that when I write an MakeUseOf article, I always have the WP editor in a large lower window, I put the browser in a upper left window, and my notepad application in an upper right window. Well using these layouts, I can define that setup once and always have it ready for when I want to write an MakeUseOf article.
You can also assign a hotkey to it, so when you’re on that desktop, you can tap something like Cntrl-Alt-3 and get a 3-tile layout that you previously set up. You can quickly change between active layouts using the hotkeys that you set up for them. It’s really easy to assign a window to tile – you just launch the app and then drag the window nearby. The tile will go to a solid red color when it’s ready to accept the window. Just drop it in, and the window will resize according to your tile size.
Desktop Configuration Profiles
Going even further than this, you can create entire desktop configuration profiles. So, let’s say one person using the computer likes a certain screen resolution, specific backgrounds and certain screensavers. You can set all that up and then save it as a profile, and assign it a hotkey.
With just a few keystrokes, you can change around to your preferred multiple desktop setup, without worrying about messing up all of the settings for the next person that uses the computer. If you’ve ever had to switch back and forth between using an external projector for meetings, and then back to a multiple monitor setup, then you know that sometimes this can be a real pain. Those projectors sometimes require very unique resolution settings to look right. Now you can just create a specific profile for when you use the projector, and you’re done.
As you can see, Actual Multiple Monitors lives up to its name. It gives you actual multiple monitors, not some poor excuse for an extended monitor setup. Now you can enjoy the convenience of having two computer desktops without actually having to run two computers.
Actual Multiple Monitors offers a free 30-day trial period which is activated when you download and install the software. This is a fully-functioning copy, and if you like it you can buy a license to keep it activated permanently.
Are you tempted to invest in software to optimize your dual monitor setup? What do you use now to manage multiple displays?
Image Credits: Home office Via Shutterstock