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Do Big Screens Make Employees More Productive? 472

prostoalex writes "If your company uses 17" or 19" monitors, 30" monitors will make the employees more productive, Apple-sponsored research says. MacWorld reports: "Pfeiffer's testing showed time savings of 13.63 seconds when moving files between folders using the larger screen — 15.7 seconds compared to 29.3 seconds on the 17-in. monitor — for a productivity gain of 46.45 percent. The testing showed a 65.09 percent productivity gain when dragging and dropping between images — a task that took 6.4 seconds on the larger monitor compared to 18.3 seconds using the smaller screen. And cutting and pasting cells from Excel spreadsheets resulted in a 51.31 percent productivity gain — a task that took 20.7 seconds on the larger monitor versus 42.6 seconds on the smaller screen."" Calling such task-specific speed jolts "productivity gains" seems optimistic unless some measure of overall producivity backs up that claim, but don't mention that on the purchase order request.
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Do Big Screens Make Employees More Productive?

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  • by pshumate ( 1004477 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @08:58AM (#16406811) Homepage
    It seems to me the problem could be just as well solved with a higher resolution on the current monitor. I don't really trust the research, since Apple, you know, makes behemoths of display technology.
  • by DrDitto ( 962751 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @08:59AM (#16406829)
    Apple should refer to Amdahl's Law [] to see that a 50% speedup of something that only accounts for 1% of your overall time really ain't that big of a deal!
  • Quite a bit more... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RabidMonkey ( 30447 ) <> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:04AM (#16406883) Homepage
    I ran one monitor at work for a long time (17" - the head IT guy keeps rejecting my request for a 19"). They won't let me put a second video card in my computer, so I threw up a linux box and use X2VNC between them and now I have twice the usable space and I am much more productive, especially when coding or doing trouble tickets. I spend way less time alt-tabbing around looking for my terminal sessions - they're all on one monitor, as well as my browser, etc, leaving my 'work' tools on the other so I can move between easily.

    The downsides I see are a) cost and b) people getting a 30" monitor, complaining they can't see anything, and running 800x600. I think that would break my heart and mind a little, but it wouldn't suprise me. People around here still run 800x600 on their 17" monitors, and complain that 1280x1024 is too small.

    But, now that I think about it, having a 30" monitor wouldn't necessarily help - when you maximize a window, it fills the whole screen, which still puts you back to alt-tabbing. Maybe a better window manager/gui that you could break the screen in to regions, so that when you maximize a window, it would only fill the top 40% or something. Or the ability to pin windows to a location, os you don't have to maximize them.

    I think my point is that more screen real-estate, be it one huge monitor, or 2 (or 3 as I sometimes setup) is very much more useful.

    God, I babble a lot.
  • Re:Answer is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:16AM (#16407029) Journal

    Two 19" monitors will give you the same flexibility, at a much lower cost point - AND you can angle each viewing area separately. You can't do that with a single screen.

    BTW, twin 19" screens are my setup at both home and the office (the home box is set with xinerama off, the work box with it on).

  • by s31523 ( 926314 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:27AM (#16407189)
    First, I find 2 or even 3 17-19 inch screens are better than one big one.

    In terms of productivity there is a noticeable difference when I work in our lab with one monitor versus at my desk with 2. Especially when debugging code.

    For me, however, the savings is more in paper than anything. I used to print requirements, interface documents, reference material, etc. Now with 2 monitors I can maximize the document I need on 1 screen then do the design/code stuff on the other. I have substantially reduced my paper consumption as well as other office supplies like highliters, pens, etc.
  • Re:Answer is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:03AM (#16407681)
    Two 19" monitors will give you the same flexibility

    Close, but not entirely. I've worked with multimonitor setups daily for several years now, I currently use a 21" plus a 14", and have come across several situations where one big monitor is better than two small ones.
    - writing documents. With a 21", I can view two entire pages (A4 in my case) side-by-side. On a 19" that's possible in principle, but the zoom factor's not comfortable for long periods. 21" is the minimum size for this to work. The palettes get parked on the 14".
    - many applications consist of one honkin' big window, instead of several medium-size ones. Outlook comes to mind. Watching a movie is better on a 30" than on two 19".
  • Re:Answer is (Score:2, Interesting)

    by larytet ( 859336 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:04AM (#16407689) Homepage
    twin here two - 19" and 20". much better than a single screen of any size, because all the reasons you mentioned + two persons can view the same screen + two laptops can be hooked up etc. Laptops naturally come with own screen, so sometimes i work with 4 screens on the same desk. Very convenient if you work a lot with e-mail, IMs, try to debug Java code in Eclipse and read all that RSS feeds simultaneously
  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:04AM (#16407691) Homepage Journal

    Expanding on Mr. McD's comment:

    when you maximize a window, it fills the whole screen

    What you say is true in Microsoft Windows. But since Mac OS 6 or earlier, the zoom button on a Mac expands the window to the smaller of the size of the document and the size of the screen. If your document is 80en wide, as much source code is, the window won't get wider than 80en plus window decorations if your source code editor follows the applicable interface guidelines.

  • by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:17AM (#16407871)
    One of my clients, involved in cartography (making maps), showed me his brand new 30" screen and said he had upgraded from 20" because on one single project, he was losing about 25% of his time scrolling around. So I'd have to say it not only made him more productive, but it also eventually paid for itself.


    I'm a sys admin for an ad agency. My 15(+/-) artists beg for dual displays or bigger monitors just about every month for this very reason. "If I had a bigger monitor I could get more work done." I have to aggree - I use three 19" CRTs at home at 4800 x 1200 resolution and it's AMAZING how much I can get done on my personal projects by being able to see everything at once (not to mention large display centerfold pr0n!).

    The problem is usually cost. Does two 24" display make them twice as productive as one 24" display? Likely not. That's $1000(USD) for the display, and you may also need an additional video card to drive it. Also, I've found that more displays drastically reduce the performance of the computer. So where the user may be more effecient with more screen space, the computer is not. Unless you upgrade it too - more added costs.

    At work right now I have a dual 3.2Ghz Xeon with 2GB of memory and a 24" display. I'm seriously considering buying two more cards to drive two more 24" displays that are not currently deployed. Maybe I'll let you guys know how it goes (:

    By the way, we upgraded our artists from 21" CRTs at 1600 x 1200 to 24" LCDs at 1920 x 1200. They're noticably happier, though I don't know that they're any more productive.
  • by jerpyro ( 926071 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:31AM (#16408105)
    I have one monitor attached to my RHEL4 box, where I use KDevelop, etc for writing php code.

    The other monitor is attached to a low-powered windows box useful for thunderbird/firefox/internet explorer (have to check my webpages).

    One mouse and keyboard: []

    Sure, you can't drag windows from one platform to the other, but copy/paste works and you can share mouse/keyboard.

    That's the most productive I've ever been, two 19" crts at 1600x1200. Now I just have to wait for 19" LCDs to get that kind of dot pitch.
  • Re:Idiotic example (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:49AM (#16408381) Homepage
    No one should spend the money on a big monitor (or better yet in my opinion, multiple monitors) JUST for dragging and dropping files.

    But there are multiple studies from independent groups saying you will get ~30% productivity gains by using multiple monitors.

    In my experience, as a programmer and web designer, anyone doing this full time is nothing short of retarded if they don't use multiple monitors.

    I hate taking my laptop somewhere else and working with just one, and can't wait to hook back up and work with two. I wish I were still on a desktop so I could work with three.

    If you work on computers full time and only have one monitor for financial reasons, you're stepping over dollars to get to dimes. Period.

  • Re:Answer is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:35AM (#16409067)
    Is it the bigger monitor or the higher screen resolution that makes a person more productive?

    Answer: both. Higher resolution doesn't help if the screen size stays the same, because it just makes the DPI go up and you have to scale everything to make it readable. Although a 15" 300 DPI display would be nice and sharp and unaliased, I don't think it would make me any more productive than a 15" 100 DPI one because I wouldn't actually be able to display more useful information.

    A 300 DPI 30" screen would be ideal, of course -- higher pixel density never hurts!

  • by E++99 ( 880734 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:01PM (#16409511) Homepage
    All single-monitor setups are for dweebs! I have a single 19" panel at work, and three 20" (1600x1200) Panels at home (soon to be my place of work): "trio20x" [] I have 5.7 million pixels ever before me, and yes, the productivity boost is worth it. The only disappointment is that my fish screen saver will only work on one monitor at a time. :-(

    Other interesting monstrocities from the same company:
    "trio-ultraHD" []
    "powerscape-ultraHD" []
    "arena24s" []
  • Re:Answer is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:14PM (#16409695) Journal
    My laptop has a 15" screen, and at work I plug it into a 23" display. Here, I've had the opportunity to work with a machine that has dual 30" displays. I am a lot more productive on the 23" screen; more so than I was when I used to run two 19" monitors at home.

    Using one large monitor is a lot better than using two smaller ones. You have a lot more flexibility than with two; you can split it into two uneven parts, or three different sections more easily. I often have code I'm writing, documentation I'm writing, and documentation I'm reading open, for example. Two things really help:

    1. Exposé. Switching windows quickly without it is a pain. It isn't needed as much on larger screens though.
    2. The zoom button working correctly on OS X. I don't ever want a window to take up the entire screen. If I did, I wouldn't bother with a multitasking GUI. I want it to grow to the optimal size to contain the contents.
    I am a bit surprised that this comes from Apple, because one area where OS X scales badly in terms of screen size is the menu bar. OPENSTEP managed much better here by having the right mouse button pop up the application menu under the mouse wherever you were, making invoking the menu an O(1) operation (rather than O(n) in terms of screen height on OS X).
  • Re:Answer is (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:35PM (#16410005)
    No, it totally doesnt depend on the task. I code, and I had 2 x 19" and hated it - I had a large black stripe between to two monitors. Now with a 30" I can still work side by side without the disconnect. You dont have to maximise windows!
  • Re:Answer is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by joss ( 1346 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:38PM (#16410049) Homepage
    I used to use 2 monitors all the time, I greatly preferred it to
    a single large montior for exactly that reason.. also I often
    need to use a virtual desktop to configure a server or the like
    where anything other than maximised is a massive pain to work with.
    However, I've recently switched to a triple monitor setup, and its
    far superior to dual monitor. There is a large psychological benefit
    to having a single central screen for whatever it is you are meant
    to be concentrating on and then having documentation/emails/IM/remote desktops
    or low priority tasks switched to the sides.

  • Re:four words: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @01:04PM (#16410429)

    Which is the standard answer, yet still utterly useless if the files in question have no particular common structure to their names. Under those circumstances, the GUI approach is vastly more powerful than the command line one.

  • by MCRocker ( 461060 ) * on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:20PM (#16412323) Homepage
    When I saw a user with all of their windows maximized, I used to think that they were probably a novice user (or perpetual novice). Most non-technical folks do it this way.

    Recently, I re-evaluated that opinion when I saw a developer using Eclipse maximized. His 17" monitor was clearly not usable with an application that had so many plugin panes simply because he didn't have room for anything else on his monitor if he wanted to size the window so that he could have all of the required views on the screen at the same time. I think that the maximized windows anti-pattern has more to do with the limitations of display size rather than because people are too stupid to do it the 'proper' way. In fact, I'd say, that the decision to maximize in a limited display is a sign that they're not so dumb after all.

    However, on a large monitor, it is my opinion that mazimizing windows is a true anti-pattern because the benefits of drag and drop and multiple application interactions go away when you can only see one at a time. Most of these developers don't even know that, frequently, the easiest way to change directory in a CLI is to type 'cd ' and then drag a directory from the file browser to the terminal window. There are lots of similar GUI patterns that make working on a computer much easier.

    Unfortunately, these things are often thought of as 'tricks' because the OS's have downplayed their use since users didn't seem to be using them. Most computer use is menu and wizard driven and there are very few applications that use a true OOUI.

    It's one of those bizarre situations where the design was ahead of it's time and the lack of use of the features fed back to the designers who dropped the advanced features just before the technology caught up to the point where these advanced features would have actually been useful. I guess it doesn't matter that much because most users have been so heavily trained to use copy-paste and other broken metaphors instead of drag-and-drop and gestures, so that even though it may now make sense to use drag-and-drop more, nobody will bother because they're used to the old way.

    It sort of reminds me of how an inferior technology like the old Palm torpedoed the prematurely advanced and poorly marketed Newton. Now we have to live with a bad paradigm.

    On the other hand, having a 23" HD format monitor now makes me question Fitt's Law [], which breaks down when the menu is waaay over there.
  • by Bassman59 ( 519820 ) <> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:38PM (#16412619) Homepage

    I'm an EE, and I've found that the more screen real-estate, the better. You can have a ModelSim wave display open enough to see the signals of interest, while still having its "project" window and a bunch of emacs windows open at the same time, and I don't need to alt-tab between them.

    It's also useful if you're doing PCB layout: you can have the schematic window and the layout window open and visible at the same time.

    Of course, the reason for using two monitors was that one large monitor to cover that real estate was usually a lot more money than two smaller monitors, although you needed a dual-head graphics card. Now, pretty much every graphics card supports two displays.

    I still think a pair of Apple 20" Cinema Displays makes more sense than a single 23" job; more pixels for the same cost.

    One thing I really don't like is the takeover of the 16x9 screen aspect ratio. It doesn't serve text-based design entry very well at all, although you can have several different editor windows open next to each other.

  • by Delecron ( 1012817 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:20PM (#16413185)
    I spend about a hundred hours a month programming an access database for my company. It "HAS TO" have a slick looking front end, which will all know is super easy in Access... I got them to spring for a 20.1 in Monitor and it's great but now I'm beggin for a second so I can have the source code on one screen and the front end on the other. I guarenteed you will all the Alt+Tabbing I have to do, I'll save at least an hour a week. For the little these things cost in the long run, you would have to be pretty Draconian to actuall want to break it down into dollars and sense, it should just be common sense. Common sense also dictates Ronda from the office pool doesn need a 24 inch screen to view e-mail and print reports. A 23 inch will do just fine.....
  • by LongTimeReader ( 1005649 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:34PM (#16413361)
    I have 2 monitors and I absolutly love it. Copy/Paste actions or file moving and especially for debugging. Just run the App on one and the code on the other. Effectively I have a 35" screen. Now if they were both flat panels I'd be even happier.
  • by Tim Browse ( 9263 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @05:25PM (#16414143)

    In fact, I'd say, that the decision to maximize in a limited display is a sign that they're not so dumb after all.

    Well that's nice. I'm sick of hearing about how maximised windows are stupid and useless, and how I just don't understand. People who still say that never seem to imagine this scenario: I'm about to do some programming for a few hours. I don't want to see anything else while I do that, so I'd rather I get to maximise, e.g. Visual Studio and block out everything else. But according to these people, I should not maximise my window, but leave other apps visible so I can drag and drop between them, or just not use the whole screen area because it in some way offends their sensibilities. (Newsflash to these geniuses: you can still drag and drop to other apps from a maximised app - try hovering over the Windows task bar while dragging sometime).

    But then, some people can't bear the fact that the way they work might not be the super optimal best way of working for everyone else, and so decide not to accept it. Personally, I use Windows on a two monitor system (which I find does help my productivity compared to a single monitor, thanks), maximise apps often, and use Alt-Tab to context switch, often so fast that people watching can't follow what I'm doing. Is the best way for my Dad to work? Probably not. Sure, I'll point out alternative working models to people, but that doesn't mean it's easiest for them. The Mac desktop model usually drives me mad, with hard drives/CDs hiding behind all the other windows, etc., but lots of Mac users love it. So what? People are different. Film at 11.

    On the other hand, having a 23" HD format monitor now makes me question Fitt's Law, which breaks down when the menu is waaay over there.

    Me no understand.

    Fitt's Law:

    The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.

    Surely this explicitly takes into account the menu bar being waaay over there? Or have I misunderstood?

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.