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Articles: That Dreamy 30-inch Apple Cinema Display

I recently switched to a 30-inch Apple Cinema display, and one of the first things I encountered was how many people were curious as to "what it's like." I suppose that has to do with the fact that it's about the biggest, baddest, coolest display out there, and since display real estate is such a prized commodity, people are very curious as to how it would affect their own personal computing experience.

So, I thought it might make interesting reading for some of our customers to know in advance what might be in store for you should you upgrade to a 30-inch Cinema display.

First off, I should describe my prior system and computing habits. I had a 20 inch Cinema and a 17-inch 3rd party display on my desk, which the 30-inch completely replaced. Typically, I have about ten different programs running at any given time, from a Now Up To Date calendar to email to Safari to Excel, Word, FileMaker, often a page layout program and other sundry programs, with of course multiple documents open in each. In other words, like a lot of people, I've got a lot going on.

But what I discovered was that there are some real benefits to using two displays, and I miss having a second one. I generally used the second display to hold data or images that I needed to reference now and again, but didn't want to sort through the programs to find them, such as certain web pages or my calendar and so on. With one display, these things get buried behind everything else I'm doing, and I'm hitting cmd-tab to get the dock list up or clicking on the program icon on the dock a lot more than I used to. It's just a few seconds here and there, but those seconds add up and they can be a bit annoying when you constantly have to use them.

The experience actually gave me a couple of ideas for power users who relish eeking out every last bit of productivity from their systems. First, it's apparent that a second display, no matter how big your main one is, has its benefits. The downside is the amount of space on your desk. So I've thought of mounting a display on the wall by my desk, or figuring out some way to hang a small one off the 30-inch display. A little 10 or 14-inch display on the side of the Cinema would give me the space to hold some of that data I want to look at without messing around with the programs on my main display, while keeping my desk a little clearer. But another thought I had is that Apple really needs to focus on productivity issues with the OS brought on by the amount of screen space a lot of us enjoy. With Leopard, they're introducing something called Spaces, which allows you to organize your windows into different groups. That's a help. But I'd also like to see something whereby you could actually separate a place on your display where programs can't automatically intrude, much like what happens with a second display.

For instance, if you had a space set aside like that, programs that tend to open new windows that cover the entire display would be fooled into thinking the display was only X size, instead of the whole thing (which is somewhat annoying on a 30-inch display- I find myself constantly resizing windows and it's a lot more distance to cover). Secondly, you could put the kind of reference windows you want to have viewable all the time, so other programs wouldn't constantly be covering them up. Another similar issue might be fixed with a simple preference in the dock. It would be nice to be able to set aside an area around the dock where desktop items could not intrude. I had to change my dock settings with the 30-inch, because you have to drag things a lot farther with a big display. So instead of at the bottom where the dock pops up when my mouse runs over it (which is sometimes annoying when I don't want it to), I set it off to the right in permanent view. That allows me to download a file and drag it over to the right only a half an inch or a few inches onto the program of my choice, instead of all the way down to the bottom of the display. However, keeping the dock in view covers up part of the Finder. I'd rather have an area at the edge of the display for the dock that was not considered to be part of the display by all the other programs, including the Finder.

Anyway, those are extra observations that aren't immediately solved by the current OS. The real bottom line is if you're used to two displays, and like it, there's a reason for that. I believe it is actually the most productive set-up for anyone who's doing a lot on their Mac, whether it's a ton of programs at once, or something like Final Cut where the extra screen serves as a great place to view things in folders you need to drag into Final Cut, or viewing the web while you're working on a project, and so on. Constantly resizing windows or program layouts is a drag, excusing the pun, and using two displays definitely eliminates some of that.

I also ended up exchanging my mouse for a trackball. A quick flick of the fingers to push the arrow across the screen is preferable to five or six mouse up-and-downs-on-the-desk. Which made me wonder, why did trackballs seem to fall out of such favor? I've been in this business a long time, and way back when we sold a ton of trackballs, even for the little 9 inch Macs, like the SE, Plus and Classic. Back then, a 13 or 15-inch display was very standard, and yet today, with the bigger displays, we sell fewer track balls than we did when displays were much smaller. I'm not sure why, but if you hadn't thought about a trackball and you have a large display, it's worth considering (be sure to allow a few days to get used to the way it works).

But really, you simply cannot have enough real estate on your desk in this day and age of a gajillion and/or very powerful programs. But what I found to be true is that size doesn't replace the convenience and productivity you get with two displays. I'd almost rather have two 17-inchers, or a 23-inch and a 17-inch on my desk, than one 30-inch Cinema. So when you think the ultimate is having a 30-inch display... think again. The ultimate is having two of them, or maybe two of them with a 17-inch off to the side. To be sure, a 30-inch is very cool, and I'm not so bothered by the above issues that I'm going to give it up, but if you have the desk space, and you buy a larger display, consider keeping your previous display and using both. It's the best way to go.

If I really wanted to max out my system I'd have two 30-inchers and another smaller one next to those, and be that much more productive as a result. But first I think I'll have to get a bigger desk.
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