On Screen Size

Jul 23, 2012 | 3 minutes read

Tags: blog

I’ve been having a think about my monitor setup lately – having a Macbook has one major drawback. It’s very difficult to connect more than one external monitor unless you buy Apple displays, which aren’t the most feasible option.

At home, I just went for it – a 27″ Thunderbolt Display, the best €1k I’ve spent in a long time. It’s a simply stunning display. I was briefly tempted by the alternatives – Hazro produce a 27″ with exactly the same panel for little over half the price, but without the Thunderbolt connectivity on the back. Having coveted a Thunderbolt display with so long, the choice was obvious.

However, I often find myself working at a smaller display. If I’m traveling, it’s my laptop’s 15″ display. My desk in work has a 22″ monitor.

Plenty of papers exist illustrating that there is a direct correlation between productivity of a developer and their availability of an additional monitor. Chances are I’ll never read these papers – but the fact is, the bigger the screen, the more shit I get done.
What follows is an attempt to categorise everyday activities and their optimum screen size.

It comes with the laptop –  so I best make the most of it!
Good for: I find a 15″ display more than ample for simple Web browsing, simple terminal usage, single SSH sessions and writing code for short periods of time. Email, calendaring, short documents and simple git operations are all OK too.
Avoid: Git merges, of any sort, are very difficult on a laptop screen. Writing code for a prolonged period of time can be painful.

The next step up – I’ve found a 22″ monitor sufficient for the majority of day to day tasks. The only limitation I’ve found is incredibly complicated merges covering a large portion of the codebase. I often combine plaintext merge with a visual difftool to get the greatest picture of what’s changed. It’s times like these I find myself pining for more real estate.
Good for: Writing code for prolonged periods, composing technical documents.
Reviewing code, and moderate git merges.
Multiple SSH sessions, grepping tailed logs.
Avoid: Very complicated merges – need more real estate if possible!

The ultimate. There’s not much which can’t be achieved on a 27″ monitor.
Good for:  Writing code is bliss – I can fit a full IDE to the left, manpages to the right.
Code reviewing is even better. No matter how wide a line goes, side by side diff still works beautifully. Video looks amazing, although anything less then 720p and you’ll be seeing pixels.
Avoid: Smudges.

I’ve been trying for some time to formulate some justification for a second 27″ monitor, but truth be told, I’ve been struggling. Perhaps every once in a blue moon when I’m authoring a large project in iMovie, I’ve longed for a little more real estate.  Sure, it’d be insanely cool.  But would I really need another? *No. *

Will I end up with another at some point in the future? Probably.