Spanning Dual Monitors with Windows 8

Spanning Dual Monitors with Windows 8Whether clunky CRT or sleek 23 inch LCD, I have long preferred to operate with multiple monitors. In the Windows 98 days I saw a stockbroker with three monitors on his desk and was instantly hooked. Without knowing exactly what a normal person would do with twice the viewing space, I soon had the extra board installed on my home computer and had worked my way through some obscure instructions to get dual monitors operating — more or less. But it was only with the introduction of Windows 8 that the powers that be have finally concluded that multiple monitors are more than niche applications and they should be taken seriously. Windows 8 makes the whole system much easier. You can even make a wallpaper span across from one monitor to another with a single selection from a drop down window!

This latest adventure started when I sacrificed my only Vista-based computer to a Windows 8 Pro upgrade. After the initial disappointment of learning I had to re-install a bunch of things that should have been no problem for the upgrade to include, the installation proceeded without problem. Since the computer was already connected to dual monitors, I expected some hassles in setting them up the way I want. Surprise! The system recognized the native resolution of both with no problem. Even more surprising, the taskbar extended to the second monitor. Some quick experimenting showed that icons pinned to the taskbar on one monitor would be properly displayed on the other, also.

Further experimenting (yeah, I know, one can read the instructions, but experimenting is better for learning) showed that the corners of the second monitor were “hot” in the same way that the prime monitor was. In fact, putting the second monitor to the right of the first one did not change the operation of the rightmost corners. But here is some additional good news. If you are on the desktop on one monitor and click start on the other, then you can have both types of displays up. For a newbie to Windows 8 like me, that has been comforting. For instance, I can be writing this article on one monitor with my mail client open on the second and press the Window key to go to the start screen temporarily to find this link to some nifty “how to” videos by Ryan Matthew Pierson discussing Windows 8 and return without lifting my hands from the keyboard. All the time, I have undisturbed access to the second monitor.

So how do you coax a wallpaper to span across multiple monitors seamlessly? There might be several ways, but the one I found is simple enough. Just navigate to the normal display of available wallpaper and click the drop window under the title Picture Position. About midway through the options is one for spanning. Click it and click Save Changes. That is all there is to it with one exception: your spanned wallpaper will look terrible. To get the effect you want, first find some images that are at least 1650 x 1050 or so, depending on the resolution of your displays. After accidentally creating highly pixilated and awkwardly cropped wallpaper spanning my displays, I looked for some free downloads and found an appropriately sized image of a spiral galaxy that looked stunning spanning across the displays — it’s like looking out of the windows of a star cruiser. Nature panoramas look particularly good, as well.

All this begs the question: Why have two monitors if you are not into heavy-duty gaming? For normal use, I leave my mail client open on the second monitor and do my composing and other work on the main (larger) monitor. When I do serious image processing, the taskbar is set to auto-hide, and all the toolboxes are opened on the second monitor. This leaves the largest possible screen available to view my work. Sometimes when writing, I keep a browser open on one display so I can do research on one and write on the other.

By the way, using multiple monitors seems to be going mainstream even with Ubuntu. The earlier distros made it awkward at best to enable more than one display. However, the latest versions have made it almost as simple as Windows. That is good for me since my Windows 8 machine is set to dual-boot to either Windows or Linux. Either way, it works.

What works for you? Do you use multiple monitors, or do you stick to one? If you consider yourself in the former group, do you find that operating systems are more on board than they used to be for setting up more than one display? Please leave a comment and let’s discuss!

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Filip Skakun

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  • Curtis Coburn

    I can see myself using 2 monitors, but with Windows 8, wouldn’t you want 2 touch screen monitors? One monitor cost about $600, so 2 would cost about the same as a computer.
    My Grandpa wants a Windows 8 desktop, not a all in one, but with a touch screen monitor. He wants a Tower, and a touch screen monitor.

  • Kevin Pei

    I am currently using Windows 8 Pro on 2 monitors. One of them is my laptop screen, the other a 21 inch touchscreen from dell :)

    • bkoken

      Kevin, any problems with that setup? I have a ASUS all-in-one with touch screen (main) and a second monitor hooked up. When I touch and drag my finger on the touch screen, the selection rectangle is drawn on the second monitor !!!.

      • Kevin Pei

        I have had this problem in windows 7, and it is the same in windows 8 I guess. Go into control panel, and search up “Calibrate the screen for pen or touch input”, and press “setup”. Then, use return/enter to toggle screens for the touch input to register on. :)

        • bkoken

          Many thanks. I set my main display as touch. The OS still thinks my second monitor is touch, too, but I think I can live with that for now.

          • Kevin Pei

            No problem, glad to help :)

  • Mike

    I have been searching for touch screen monitors before I migrate to windows 8, I always use two screens, but I am wondering how you drag windows from one screen to the other with the monitor bezel making a gap between screens. I would want both to be touch screens. right now I use two Sony 24″ screens non touch. any ideas or recommendations?

  • Josh Pyman

    I have found that you can’t have one program/app open on one monitor and then have another program that is also from the windows store open as well.

    for example, I might have internet explorer open with Facebook, and I might want to open up the tile menu to open Skype (for example) as the downloaded from the windows store, and if I was to go to the main menu to find it, it closes down internet explorer to be replaced with the menu.
    Also when internet explorer is minimised and you have a YouTube video playing, in my case music, it stops the music from playing, which can be annoying when combined with the other point.
    does anyone know a way around these problems or have anything to say about it?

    • BrandonLive

      FYI, those limitations were addressed in Windows 8.1.