Sunday, 11 August 2013

Review of ActualMultipleMonitors from Actual Tools in Windows 8

I was recently contacted by Actual Tools and they asked me to try out their newest version of Actual Multiple Monitors. It is a tool that provides you with taskbars on all of your monitors, ability to move windows around between monitors quickly and ability to customize the wallpapers and settings for each monitor individually. Being a fan of multiple monitors, and actually having used AMM in the past, I couldn't resist the urge to try it out on Windows 8.

Let me start off by saying that multiple monitors are pretty essential if you tend to spend a lot of time on your computer creating content and reading a lot of content. For instance, if you're coding something you can have your text editor on one monitor and the running application on another. Or, you may prefer to have one screen dedicated to just emails and another one for writing. Either way, you'll be able to look at more content without having to minimize, maximize or move windows around as much, saving precious time and effort. 

One little problem with previous versions of windows (every version before Windows 8) was that it did not come with any built in tools to manage more than one monitor. If you wanted to have a taskbar on your secondary monitor, you would have to resort to a third party application. This was probably the main reason tools like Actual Multiple Monitor were created, because having a taskbar on every monitor and ability to assign a shortcut to move windows to another monitor makes things so much easier. With the Windows 8 desktop mode, however, you get a taskbar on each monitor by default.

Here's what my desktop looked like before Actual Multiple Monitors (you may notice that I have 3 monitors currently connected, all of different resolution):

Also, in the above screenshot you may notice a start button on the taskbar for the middle monitor. This is provided by the application Pokki, which I highly recommend if you miss the start button like I do.

Here's what my desktop looks like after installing Actual Multiple Monitors:

I'd like to point out that I usually have way more windows open :)

A few things you will probably notice right away are:
  • There are windows start buttons, the windows clock on each taskbar for each monitor
  • Each taskbar only shows the applications that are open on that monitor
  • There are buttons on the title bar of each window to move the window around

There are some tweaks you could do to your setup with AMM such as:
  • Changing the wallpaper (or desktop background colour) of each monitor individually. I don't know of a way to do this by in Windows 8 without using an app like AMM, although Windodws 8 seems to be able to choose a different wallpaper for each monitor randomly from a bunch of wallpapers
  • Replace the main taskbar (on the main monitor) to only show the apps open on the main monitor
So it looks like this:

I would like to see a more "metro" oriented look for AMM's start button though, and the ability to have a third party launcher like Pokki for the center screen. But I don't mind using AMM's classic start menu (putting the windows 8 start screen for the start button doesn't workout for me), although its search feature does not have the ability to search through files on the computer or the web.

After using AMM for quite a bit, I really liked its ability to keep the applications that are not on that particular monitor hidden. If you're like me and have more than 20 windows open at any given moment in 10 different applications you'll find this feature quite indispensable. It's not so much the fact that you can find a minimized application on a particular monitor faster, but the fact that you can find it without having to stop thinking about something and search for an application icon. This feature alone would make you much more productive. Also, I like the shortcut for moving windows around. I've disabled the title bar buttons because they sometimes interfere with applications like chrome, where having more than 6 tabs open when the application is maximized is sure to cause some problems. See below: 

I just prefer to use Windows Key + / shortcut instead to move windows around to different monitors and using Windows + Up/Right/Down/Left Arrows to maximize, minimize and snap windows to one side.

Finally, having a start button on each monitor is also great. You don't have to keep going to the center monitor all the time just to open a new app.

I'm not too fussy about changing the wallpaper, icons and other visual aspects for each of the monitors, but it would be a nice feature to have in case you like tweaking and personalizing your wallpapers.

There are also other features in AMM like desktop divider that allows you to set a grid for particular applications, and a wide array of other shortcuts that allow you to move things around any which way you like.

I highly recommend that you give the trial version on Actual Tool's website a go. If you feel like it has boosted your productivity then you can buy the full version for about $25. This may be a steep price if you're a student like me, but if your full time job involves staring at a computer for a long time, it may be worthwhile to consider grabbing a copy or getting your employer to buy you a license.

Got a question, tip or comment? Send them to and we'll try to answer it in a blog post!