Large display paradox resolved

In The Large Display Paradox, Jeff Atwood describes a paradox where large displays cause an increase in productivity up to a certain size, after which productivity drops because users spend more time managing the space:

That’s the large display paradox. Having all that space can make you less productive due to all the window manipulation excise you have to deal with to make effective use of it.

Dual monitors have been a staple of my development environment for as long as I can remember. When one of my monitors recently broke (I dropped it), I was forced back into the dreaded world of single monitor development, and remembered how painful it is to constantly switch windows.

Even before the monitor broke, it wasn’t perfect. I was never satisfied with one-window-per-screen, but placing windows side-by-side was, as the paradox describes, tedious and time-consuming. That’s when I found i3, a tiling window manager.

i3 is WinSplit and GridMove, the tools Jeff introduces in his article, on steroids:

  • Windows can be stacked as well as placed above or below one another;
  • Layouts can be saved, causing applications to automatically move to a predefined position;
  • Everything can be done using the keyboard;
  • Virtual desktops and d-menu compliment the setup.

Since discovering i3 I’d always wondered how it would fair on a large display, so instead of replacing my broken half of the dual monitor setup, I replaced both monitors with a Dell UltraSharp 34 Curved Monitor (U3415W), an ultrawide 21:9 QHD display.

At 3440x1440 I have enough room to view a terminal (for compilation and debugging), two source files side-by-side, and a browser window for reading documentation (see below). Sometimes I stack the browser window with the terminal and flip between the two.

Horizontally there is actually less space than in my old dual monitor setup, which was 3840x1080. I don’t notice, and actually appreciate not having the black bezel from the two monitors in my view; the additional vertical resolution makes up for it.

I’m declaring the large display paradox resolved1. Sorry Jeff. In the not-too-distant future, every user2 will have adopted a mouseless tiling window manager to make managing windows on a large display a breeze.

  1. Excluding front-row-cinema-style setups ↩︎

  2. That knows what a window manager is and uses an operating system that supports the concept ↩︎