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Is there a way to convince Windows that there's always an external monitor connected?


I run Windows Vista Home Premium on a Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop which, in it's usual home, has a 22" external monitor connected. Since I frequently switch from one task to another, each of which often involves multiple windows, it's not uncommon to have at least 40-50 windows open, carefully arranged to make the best use of screen real estate.

In order to take advantage of the laptop's portability, I have to unplug the monitor, prompting Windows to shove all my carefully-placed windows back onto the main screen and, in most cases, resize them as well. This makes for a good bit of tedious work putting everything back when I return to my normal work space.

If I can make Windows think the monitor is always there, everything will stay where I put it. If I really need access to a window on the other monitor, I can always Alt-tab to the hidden window and move it onto the laptop's panel.

Possible Solutions

Some sort of pass-through hardware device that stays plugged into the external monitor port (VGA) all the time and fiddles with the signals to trick the video hardware when the monitor isn't connected to it could work, but would be less desirable for various reasons (potential for getting caught on things, getting unplugged accidentally from the no-thumb-screw-having VGA port on the laptop, causing damage to the hardware if not done just right, etc.).

Better would be a way to trick the monitor or video card driver into always telling Windows that the monitor is there. Alternatively, perhaps some sort of filter could be setup in front of the real driver. The monitor driver for both the internal panel and the external monitor appears to be the standard "Generic PnP Monitor" driver (monitor.sys). The display adapter is a Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD running driver version

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ZoneScreen is a tool for extending your desktop workspace using displays of network connected computers or portable devices like Pocket PC.

ZoneScreen consists of two parts: kernel-mode ZoneScreen Virtual Display Driver which is visible to Windows just as normal video card with monitor attached to it, and user-mode ZoneScreen Wizard which is responsible for capturing image (running at server side), transmitting it over the network, and drawing it at another computer (running at client side).

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So, I'd use the Virtual Display Driver to create a virtual display of the same resolution as my external monitor, put all my windows there and run the Wizard in both server and client mode on the same machine to display the contents of the virtual display on my real display, when it's available? It's an interesting possibility, though I worry how much overhead this would incur for everyday use, if my monitor is connected far more often than not. Thanks for the pointer, I'll take a look. – bibach Mar 24 '11 at 23:33
According to the description, installing the driver may be enough : "Virtual Display Driver which is visible to Windows just as normal video card with monitor attached to it". – harrymc Mar 25 '11 at 6:58
Sorry, I might not have been clear. I want Windows to think the monitor is always attached so it won't move or resize the windows I've placed on that screen when I unplug the monitor. The problem with the virtual display driver, as I understand it, is that I still need to be able to actually see the contents of this always-present screen when I actually have my real monitor plugged in. – bibach Mar 25 '11 at 21:30
There is only one way to find out, isn't it? – harrymc Mar 26 '11 at 6:58
I installed the Virtual Display Driver. As expected, Windows now thinks there is a third monitor attached to the system. I can size it to match my external monitor and I can place windows on it, but I can not see the contents of it without running the extra components that would "send" the contents to a window that I could place on my external monitor, which would be extra work for my already busy computer. Instead, I'll just move windows from my external monitor to the "extra" monitor before disconnecting and back after reconnecting, perhaps with a script to automate the process. – bibach Apr 11 '11 at 22:52

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