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Tips and tricks: Double Monitor Display

For a long time, I have not provided any tips and tricks. I have been getting a lot of requests from readers to publish more such tips. So here we go.

Many of us already use Windows XP, Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 on our laptop or desktop PC. There is a very powerful feature available which most users simply are not aware about. This feature allows you to use two different displays on your PC. What do I mean by two different displays?

Usually the base display is the VGA monitor (for PC) or LCD Screen (for laptops). Now, what happens when you attach an external projector to the PC? Or what happens when you attach an external monitor to your laptop? You have two display devices attached.

Usually, although these two devices are made to display the same contents. We typically press some hotkey on the laptop to make the desktop screen duplicate itself on the other device. This is called cloning. Both displays now show the same contents. This is the typical scenario used for presentations.

Now, what I am going to show is how to have two different desktop screens in this configuration. Yes, you heard me right. The base display (say, laptop screen) shows different applications and the secondary display (say, projector) displays a separate desktop.

Incidentally, this feature has been available for a long time now.

Why do you need separate displays?

Before you understand the nitty-gritty of how to configure or setup any feature, it is important to understand the usage scenarios.

1. Presentations: The most common scenario would be presentations given out on a projector or external monitor or plasma screen. This way, only the slide show runs on the second screen. Your personal screen can be used for doing anything else (viewing slide notes, calculating pricing, communicating with the boss, referring to online help, asking someone else to help on chat, or whatever else that you find relevant).

2. Laptop users sitting in office: Most laptop users like to use an external monitor when they are in their own cabin or office. Using this feature, they now have double the space to work. You can now choose the screen on which you want to show your mail client, word processor, browser and so on. Any application can be run on either primary or secondary display as per your convenience. For example, I keep Outlook on my secondary display and the active application where I am currently working on the primary display. This way, to check and respond to mails (which we need to do periodically), I simply turn to the other screen, work on Outlook and then come back to the base applications.

3. Video playback Windows Media: Windows Media Player automatically detects the availability of a double display configuration. When you play the media clip (videos, DVC, VCD) Media Player automatically plays it in full screen mode on the secondary display. On the primary display, the full UI version of Windows Media plays. This way, you can adjust the video properties, audio graphic equalizer settings on the base display, while full screen video is projected on the secondary screen (typically the projector).


For this to work, your display card must support the dual monitor mode and the appropriate drivers should be loaded.

Here are the steps.

1. Attach the external device (monitor / projector) and turn it on. Make sure the cables are correctly plugged.

2. Right-click on the desktop and choose Properties.

3. Choose Settings.

4. You will see two displays, labelled as 1 and 2.

5. The numbers 1 and 2 indicate primary and secondary display. Display 2 is initially on the right side of Display 1. (This is an important observation. We will discuss this later)

6. Now click on the boxes 1 and 2 and observe that the resolution and colour slider below may change. This is because you can set the resolution of each display independently of each other.

7. It is important to understand that each type of monitor / projector has a limitation about the maximum resolution it can display. Most monitors nowadays are plug-and-play. This means, once the external display is attached to the PC, the operating system can automatically understand the maximum permissible resolution limit of the external display.

8. Now right-click on Display 2 and choose Attached.

9. This selection enables some additional check boxes on the dialog.

10. Now choose the “Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor” option.

11. Choose Apply.

12. Now the second display will be enabled and will display a blank desktop. This is an additional desktop for you. It is not a copy of the base desktop. The appearance of the second desktop will depend upon the primary desktop configuration.

13. That’s it. You just configured a dual monitor display!

14. To prove that it works, move the mouse to the right edge of the primary desktop screen. Usually, the cursor would stop at the edge. However, now it simply spills over to the new, additional desktop. This desktop is empty by default.

Handling applications on dual desktop configuration

When you start a new program, it will open on your primary display. To move it to the secondary display, drag it (drag the title bar), to move it to the secondary monitor. Later you can maximise the application with respect to the secondary display.

Although this concept may be new for you, within few minutes of practice you will be fully proficient.

Identifying the monitors

During the configuration, you may sometimes reverse the roles of primary and secondary monitors by mistake. To avoid the confusion, there is the Identify button. When you click on it, a large display of number 1 and 2 is shown on the currently configured primary and secondary monitor. It automatically disappears after few seconds.

Physical placement of monitors

Supposed you have a laptop on your table. You are also using an external monitor. As mentioned earlier, the mouse cursor will move into the secondary display, when you scroll beyond the right border of the primary display. This is fine. But this assumes that the external monitor is placed physically on the right side of your laptop. What if it was placed on the left side? It would be very difficult to remember to move the cursor beyond the right edge of the screen so that it appears on the monitor that is visually on your left side. Try this out. Then you will realise the amount of confusion this can create.

Anyway, as always, this problem has been thought of and managed. If you have to physically position the secondary screen on right, left, top or bottom – with respect to the primary display – do the same thing with the display icons in the settings tab. Just drag the box representing secondary display (2) and move it to the right position with respect to the number 1 box. Choose Apply. Now, Windows will understand when to spill over the cursor to the secondary display. Simple, effective, well thought, elegant – but unfortunately, not even noticed!

Handling presentations on dual desktop configuration

Here is why I like the way the Microsoft guys think (the guys who design the features). They not only made this dual display feature available, they also thought further than that. Because this feature would be used most commonly for presentations, PowerPoint must be able to utilise this feature to your advantage.

Of course, it was possible to physically drag the PowerPoint window to the secondary display and then run the presentation, but it would not provide you with any additional control.

PowerPoint allows you to control the presentation from your base PC and display it in regular, full screen mode on the secondary display. That is not all. It also shows you slide notes automatically on the base screen. The audience does not know you have dual monitor configuration. They think you are looking at the slide show on your computer. But actually you are reading the notes! Great thing to have when you are not well prepared or you have stage fright. Also very useful when you want to do other things related to the presentation, which you could simply never have been able to do on your PC without the audience noticing it.

What are these things? Here is a list of common scenarios where this feature will be of immense help.

1. You are in a sales presentation. During the presentation, customer is negotiating the price. You want to refer to your price list, use Excel and calculate some discounts and so on.

2. You are in a technical presentation. Someone asks a question about a topic you are not fully clear about. You can now refer to the technical help / documentation or website, without disturbing the base presentation.

3. Assuming you have an Internet connection, you can even chat with colleagues, take approval from your boss, download additional deliverables and clinch a deal without leaving the presentation.

Configuring this PowerPoint feature is simple.

1. Start PowerPoint on the primary monitor and open the required slide show.

2. Choose Slide Show – Set up Show menu. (I have used Office 2003 as a reference).

3. Notice that there is a section called Multiple Monitors.

4. This is enabled only when dual monitors are configured.

5. Open the popup – “Display slide show on” popup and choose ‘Secondary Display’.

6. Also enable the Presenter View.

7. That’s it. Now run the presentation as usual.

8. The secondary display will show the presentation in full screen mode.

9. You will also see a Presenter view on your base monitor. From this view, you can read notes, navigate slides, view slide thumbnails, view elapsed time and so on.

Example of great user focus

One nice feature in the Presenter view deserves separate mention. This is called the Preview Next button.

This is a great example of how “User Focus” can make great products. When you give your presentation, you may have a build effect – which means, bullets or diagram elements are shown one by one. Every time you click, another item is added. This is a good feature. But there is a problem. You often do not remember which is the last bullet. So what happens? You click thinking that there is one more bullet left, but there is none left. So the next slide is shown. This breaks your thought process. You now have to quickly come back to the previous slide. This is a major irritant while giving presentations.

The guys at MS noticed this minute problem which presenters face and provided a feature to solve it. The preview next button shows the effect of your click – whether next bullet is shown, new object is added or next slide appears. Obviously this is shown only in the Presenter view. The main presentation is unaffected. This way you can find out whether to click on the next button or not. Great stuff.

Of course this feature will be usable only when you have dual monitors configured. In absence of it, I have developed my own method to solve the problem: What I do is simple. I add a small, un-noticeable dot somewhere in the lower right corner of the screen. I make the dot as invisible as possible to the audience by selecting the appropriate colour (based upon the background colour of the template). Now this dot is actually a circle object. I animate the object in such a way that this is the last object in the animation sequence.

Now, I don’t have to worry whether my next click will lead to next bullet or next slide. I simply keep checking the lower right corner of the screen. If the dot is visible, there are no more bullet points left. If the dot is not visible, there is more animation left on the slide.

(P.S. By the way, I have recently started using this neat facility by Reliance Infocomm called the Gtran card – CDMA based internet connectivity using a pre-configured PCMCIA Card. It’s supposed to work without a flaw in as many as 50 cities in India – I have tried it in 6 as of now, and it works absolutely fine. 50K+ bandwidth at very low cost. This is what I would call true mobility – not like the slow GPRS!)

About the Author:Dr Nitin Paranjape is the Chairman and MD of Maestros (Mediline). He is a consultant with many organisations, covering appropriate technology utilisation, business application of relevant technology, application architecture and audit as well as knowledge transfer. He has authored more than 650 articles on various technology-related subjects. He can be contacted at nitin@mediline.co.in
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