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There is a lot of conventional wisdom, especially among programmers, about the benefits of having more monitor space in order to be more productive. Rather than throw out a pile of links, I'll put just one here, a link to an article that has lots of links in it.

Sometimes, however, we just don't have the luxury. I have multiple monitors at home, but only one at work (a 19" wide), and neither the spare cash to buy myself a second one nor permission from On High (tm) to acquire one with company money. So that's the way it is.

What I'm wondering, from folks who only use one monitor (whether by choice or by necessity), is what techniques, tools, and practices you use to keep limited screen real estate from being a thorn in your side. I've been using VirtuaWin for a little while now, and it helps, up to a point. I use Alt-Tab so liberally that I'm a little worried about breaking the keys. But there have to be other techniques and software out there for alleviating the downsides of not having much space to work with.

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I think with Virtual Desktops, alt-tab, something like Quicksilver (launcher) and a few sensible keyboard short cuts, that's about all you can really do. – Doc Aug 9 '11 at 17:43
It's quite possible that you're right, but I wanted to solicit specific tricks from other folks, in the hopes that I was missing something (which I know I often do, when it comes to the resources available to me). – asfallows Aug 9 '11 at 17:45
Only one monitor? I'm so sorry – Phoshi Aug 9 '11 at 20:12
VirtualWin seems to be a Windows thing, so consider to add some OS tags to your question. I feel happy while having only one monitor and a tiling window manager on Linux. I don't know if there are such things for Windows. – vtest Aug 9 '11 at 23:52
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Aside from what was already recommended, the only other thing that I can think of is multiple computers. This is easy if you have a work-provided laptop and desktop, and you can share the mouse and keyboard between the two with Synergy. My typical use-case for multiple monitors is similar to spreading your work out across your desk. I'll have one window up for reference material on one monitor and my work area on the other. Though this is not good for cases when you want to stretch your workspace window across multiple monitors.

Other than that, I think you're doing most all that you can.

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+1 for Synergy, which I use at home. Unfortunately, I really only have the one monitor in my current environment (I'm an intern at the company, second-class citizen), so Synergy has little practical benefit here. But thanks for the response! – asfallows Aug 9 '11 at 18:04
+1 good point.. – Doc Aug 9 '11 at 19:47

Change your expectations.

There was a time, long ago, when people felt they were living large on a single 640x480 screen. (That's pixels, not characters, btw.) And then the screens got bigger, and the pixels got smaller, but still many were limited to a single monitor, and they were happy. Even today, thousands of our brothers and sisters work happily on machines like the 15" MacBook Pro.

How did anyone ever get by in those barbaric olde tymes? How do people suffer through it still? It's all about expectations. Some have never experienced the boundless freedom that comes with measuring screen real estate in pixel-acres. Others have, out of choice or necessity, opted to live a simpler, more modest life. They open only those windows which help them work, eschewing the constant harassment of endless e-mail, Twitter, and instant message feeds. They switch between code and debug views rather than keeping both visible at all times. They spend time tiling the windows that they do need so as not to waste a pixel. They avail themselves of virtual desktops and other modern conveniences only when they lead to actual improvement. And they take joy in their ability to take their entire setup with them to Starbucks or a nearby meadow.

A day will soon come when eye-tracking laser devices deliver pixels directly onto our retinae to provide work space in every direction for as far as you can see, even as there will be no actual screen. And we will become accustomed to that, and shortly thereafter we will wonder how anyone ever worked before.

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For some reason, the curmudgeon in me felt the need to add The Story of Mel. I do agree with OP though, I have multiple monitors at work, and work at home with a single monitor is an adjustment – Rich Homolka Aug 9 '11 at 22:13
+1 I really appreciate your viewpoint and the way you expressed it. I definitely agree with the idea that people can accomplish plenty without extra screens and space to work with. I am not complaining about having a 19" wide screen monitor, which as you suggest would be a luxury compared to some other setups. – asfallows Aug 10 '11 at 13:25

Sometimes the oldest techniques are the best; limit your code to 80 columns in width, and insist that others do the same.

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I wouldn't worry about breaking your keys.

Depending on your workflow, there are some solutions. If you are like me and you always have the internet browser pointed to MSDN/Technet or something like that, then arrange the text editor with word wrap. Personally, I rarely use the solution explorer. Usually, I fire up the find command and it will pick out the file I need to work on.

I'd also try an always on-top/transparency program instead of a virtual desktop program. I find more use out of keeping something temporarily on top/transparent than constantly rearranging windows. I find it even more useful than a virtual desktop, since I find myself switching between arrangements of running programs rather than between sets of running programs.

But I have yet to find a decent Window Layout saver. . .

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