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Does It Help

By Steve Jones,

This editorial was originally published on Oct 12, 2006, published today as Steve is out today at the PASS Summit. 

Years ago I used to work for an import company and we dealt with all types of distributors and wholesalers for the products we brought in from overseas. One of our divisions dealt with metal products, mostly door hinges, from China and we had workers whose job it was to arrange for inventory from various warehouses to be shipped to fulfill orders.

At the time, circa 1996, we were pretty high tech. We mostly dealt with faxes and phone orders at the time, phone orders being the easiest because the workers would just enter an order and match it up with inventory from the closest warehouse. Faxes were more challenging, but we had a high tech fax server that caught every fax coming into our company and saved it to an imaging system.

When I got there, Windows had just been deployed, so workers would pull up an image on the screen, look at it, and then alt-tab to the order entry system and enter some information, alt-tab back to read, alt-tab back, etc. They could also make notations on the image, and would do so with an order number, ship date, etc. and save the image back to our high tech, SQL Server 4.2-based, image server.

We were looking to rewrite the order entry system when I got there and as we did so, we spent a lot of time with the workers trying to figure out how to speed the process up for them and make their job easier, and get them to process more orders per day.

Recently a study said that one 30inch monitor would increase productivity, though some people disagreed. The alternative presented was two 19" inch monitors instead. The type of work you do probably has some impact on which is more productive, but I know that either of these is better than a single 17" monitor.

This brings me back to my little tale because I actually tested this a decade ago. At the time most people had 14" or 15" monitors on their desks, each of which could cost $300 or so. I proposed moving to two monitors for the workers that needed to see two applications at the same time and got permission to buy an extra 15" monitor and a fancy $500 video card with two VGA outputs. I also got permission to spend $800 on a single 20" monitor and we spent a few months swapping the setups among all the workers and even a few others to see what they thought. The result?

Two monitors hands down.

As much as I'd like to have a monitor the size of my desk, like on The Island or Minority Report, I know it's not as productive as multiple monitors. You just spend too much time moving things around, resizing, etc. to make them fit your current task. You might work with Outlook and Query Analyzer now, but then need Excel and Outlook, or Word and Query Analyzer, or Outlook and Word, and all the sizes and locations you set don't always work.

You'll still resize and move applications with multiple monitors, but there's another key. You can full screen an app on multiple monitors and it will stick to just that screen. So even if you have to drag something from one to the other quickly, you can maximize it and cover everything else up. I use that a lot and it's helpful.

If you've never tried it, get a $30 video card and borrow another monitor. You won't go back. I have a 19" LCD and a 20" CRT on my desk and love it. Unless I was some type of artist, I'm not sure I'd go to one monitor, even a 42" wide one.

So what do you think for the Friday poll? Do information workers, or more importantly, DBAs do better with a large monitor?

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