Multi-monitor survey results !

(The data and analysis presented in this post are fully released under the Creative Commons CC0 license. Basically, you can do whatever you want with it, just don’t blame me for your personal conclusions and don’t sue me if something wrong happens due to this data :))

Okay, it’s been about one week and there are not much answers anymore, so it’s time to thank everyone who participated, close this survey, and publish the results, along with some interpretation.

Update : Also, here’s a “paper” copy of this first survey’s question. It misses the branching of the original online version, which is that people who didn’t own a multi-monitor setup skipped the question about “that setup they own”…

Here’s the raw data, and a basic visualization of per question results. Oh, and just for fun, here’s the geographical distribution of respondents.

Now, time to have a closer look at what this data tells us…

Let’s talk about the problems first : from question 1, it appears that only 8% of the respondents have never used a multi-monitor setup. Since I was also interested in the people who have an idea of what a multi-monitor setup should be but just don’t have one, I consider this a wording failure on my side. Another wording failure, which has been reported by many people in the “anything else ?” question, is that while for me “multi-monitor” solely designated the seamless experience of putting several LCDs and CRTs side by side for the sake of having an extended screen area, for many people it also meant anything which involves connecting several displays to a computer, including plugging a video projector in a laptop or attaching a big “home” LCD to a netbook in clone/mirror mode, and not using the netbook’s screen anymore. Finally, another, more minor issue was that I did not take into account people who have differing multi-monitor setups both at home and at work.

All in all, there may be a need for an updated survey which doesn’t have these issues. Now that this word of warning has been expressed, let’s have a look at what we can do with the data which we have here.

  • For a vast majority (93%) of respondents which do have a multi-monitor setup at hand, displays are arranged in an horizontal fashion. However, near one fourth of the respondents wish they could have vertical stacks of monitors as well.
  • The majority of respondents having a multi-monitor setup (66%) didn’t explicitly buy displays so that they go well together. They just happened to have a few displays lying around and decided to put them together. This means that for a seamless experience where windows move from one monitor to another, a multi-monitor OS must be ready to accept anything from DPI changes to 11″ screens stuck next to 19″ screens. Strangely enough, however, only half of these persons (51%) reach this conclusion in question 7. I believe that the explanation for this is that a large part of respondents are talking about non-seamless multi-monitor use cases, due to bad wording on my side (like the laptop-videoprojector combination).
  • Having the budget to buy multiple monitors with the explicit intent of putting them together doesn’t prevent people from replacing them in an isolated fashion, as about one fourth (24%) of the persons in that situation have done so. This means that even for this use case, the OS must be prepared to face the worst mismatching multi-monitor schemes, because even if someone tries to buy a monitor that’s similar to the rest of the setup, DPI and display aspects ration are wildly varying in time (we’ve seen 4/3->16/9->16/10 in a few years), the only thing remaining constant being the screen diagonal, which means absolutely nothing in itself. A blatant illustration of this is that for people who have bought new monitors for an existing setup, the rate of DPI and physical size mismatch is very high (56% and 44% respectively).

Parsing through the comments section, I notice the following trends :

  • People are talking a lot about Linux window managers, and the apparently poor performance of Mac OS X and Windows when facing multiple monitors. It seems that there is some frustration with the way current OSs manage this setup (including how they “remember” how screens are positioned relative to each other, or when they let windows get lost in non-displayed space at the frontier of two monitors). However, people with multiple monitors also feel cramped when going back to a single monitor. Conclusion : multimonitor has potential, but current system software doesn’t let it emerge properly.
  • Many people feel like on linux, multiple workspaces with one workspace assigned to each monitor is the good fit, and that moving windows across monitors is not so much of a big deal for them. My conclusion is that those people do unrelated things on their unrelated monitors, in a “one task per monitor” fashion.

Oh, and also… Many thanks to the one who linked to thisin the comments. Made my day ;) Also, I love you too, respondent 14,558,759… whoever you are =p

If I do a second survey, it will be probably more focused on physical configurations, the three primitive behaviours of multimonitor setups (extended desktop, clone, and independent screens), and the reasons which push people to want multiple monitors at all. Thanks again to anyone who answered this survey, and see you next post !


5 thoughts on “Multi-monitor survey results !

  1. David Sveningsson September 4, 2011 / 4:03 pm

    Hi, a quick note regarding multiple workspaces; I run many setups where workspaces is assigned to monitors. It is not so much about unrelated tasks per monitor but rather being able to quickly switch content easily without having to switch on every monitor. For instance, I often use one monitor for firefox+manpages+irc, while doing development on another one. I want to be able to switch from viewing a manpage to firefox so I can google something without loosing the code I’m looking at on the other monitor. I would really like to be able to move windows between the monitors but that’s a limitation I chose rather than using something like xinerama.

  2. Ron (@jokeyrhyme) September 5, 2011 / 12:08 am

    I have a 13″ MacBook (2008 non-Pro Uni-Body) connected to a 23″ LCD. This is my work machine. Like Mr Sveningsson, I prefer to have reference documentation on one screen (typically the 13″) and my code window(s) open on the 23″.

    Using Mission Control (in Mac OS X Lion), I have 3 virtual Spaces. Effectively, I have 3 x (13″ + 23″), where my centre Space is for development (NetBeans IDE and Google Chrome for reference), and my right Space is for testing (VirtualBox, Safari, and Console). I keep a Terminal pinned to all Spaces, and usually perform computer maintenance and other non-development tasks on my left Space.

    Mission Control is frustrating sometimes, but usually gets the job done. It refuses to let me move a window from one screen to a Space on the other screen. I must perform the screen-to-screen move first, then the Space-to-Space move. I also have no control over which monitor is used for full-screen applications, and cannot open 2 full-screen applications at the same time across both monitors. This aside, Apple have done a reasonable attempt at window management.

  3. LOLOwnt September 5, 2011 / 3:13 pm

    I lol’d

  4. Splinter September 6, 2011 / 7:46 pm

    I like the comments. I Learned of some new window managers:


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