Have you ever considered using two monitors for your computer? It may seem a little extravagant, and perhaps extraneous, but there are several credible scenarios where a second monitor could really help you out. Consider how many times that you switch back and forth between two applications – either by clicking on the taskbar or using the handy Alt-Tab. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just glance over to an additional monitor to see that application?
Or consider the juggling act that you go through when you have to drag and drop files from one window to another – and you have to re-size both windows just right so that you can view the files in both.
Ever since Windows 98, Microsoft has given it’s Operating System, the ability to manipulate more than one display output. Since most PCs come with only one video display card, you must add a second card for your second monitor. This is easy to do with desktop PCs – you simply open your case, pop in a new video card (usually into an empty PCI slot), and plug in your second monitor. You can tweak the settings for each monitor by going to your Display Settings in the Control Panel – it will show two monitors instead of one under the Settings tab.
|Easy enough for a desktop PC, but what about a laptop? Today’s laptops are packed so tightly that there’s no way that you could add a second video card inside. Fortunately, a great company called Margi Systems Inc. provides a video card that fits into your PCMCIA slot in your laptop. The PC Card is called Display-to-Go and is a fantastic way to add important functionality to your laptop..|
Display-to-Go is a tad bit expensive at $229 but it will be money well spent once you start getting used to the pleasures of working with dual monitors. I personally open my e-mail application first thing after I boot up my computer and look at it all day long. Rather than having to switch back and forth to it every few minutes or so, I move the whole application over to my second monitor. That way, whenever I get a new e-mail, I can simply glance over to my right at my second monitor and decide whether the message requires my immediate attention. I know it sounds a little corny, but this has given me back a precious few minutes in my day.
Another way I use dual-monitors is on those extra long spreadsheets or timelines. I don’t have to scroll horizontally as much anymore because I can look at twice as many columns as before.
And lastly, the Display-to-Go card has become invaluable when I give presentations. Most people don’t know this, but Microsoft PowerPoint has a special option for working with multiple monitors. You can tell PowerPoint to show the actual presentation on your second monitor (or projector) while showing your notes and the regular application on the “primary” monitor. Now I don’t need to print out my speaking notes anymore because I can glance down at my computer screen instead of flipping paper. This is also true for trial presentation software packages like Sanction from Verdict Systems and Trial Director Suite from inData Corp. I can show the courtroom exactly what they need to see through the projector while working in the software on my “primary” monitor.
Even though I’ve made working with dual-monitors sound like a cake-walk, I do want to caution that any time you start changing a computer’s display it could mean a little time spent on perfecting the result. Its hard to fix a problem when you can’t see what’s going on. I certainly don’t want to dismay anyone from trying a dual-monitor setup, but I would recommend setting aside about 30 minutes to an hour to get familiar with how Windows works with multiple monitors.
As a prime example, it took me about 20 minutes to get Display-to-Go working on one of my Windows 2000 laptops. Fortunately, Windows always ask you to confirm a change that you make to the display settings, so after about 15 seconds, Windows will set itself back to the last display setting that worked properly.
When I first installed the Display-to-Go card and the software that came with it, I received an error. I got worried until I visited Margi’s excellent support site. They actually had a newer driver for the card and a fix for my specific error! It always makes you feel good to visit a manufacturer’s site and see information on how to fix the specific error you’ve received. Granted, it would be better to not receive the error at all, but at least you have the immediate ability to fix it. On my other Windows 2000 laptop, I didn’t have any problems at all installing the card or the software.
You can purchase the Display-to-Go card with a VGA or a DVI connector, depending upon the type of monitor or projector that you’ll be using. The Display-to-Go also includes a little management utility that resides in your system tray. It provides a few buttons and functions that allow you to manipulate your dual-monitor environment (such as pivoting the display). The Display-to-Go card comes in a 2MB and a 4MB version but I would highly recommend going with the 4MB version
I’m usually guilty as the next person when it comes to making backups of my data. No matter how many times I get scolded to make backups, I still don’t listen. I’ve even been burned before when my computer went on the fritz and I lost a ton of saved work. So I finally decided to do something about it and made myself look at backup applications. I focused on three. And while I wasn’t completely bowled over by any single one, each of them have their own subtleties that will definitely help you properly backup your data.
If you don’t currently backup your important data, then you’re playing dangerous game. Most people have a horror story or two of when their computer started smoking and they completely lost all their work. Don’t let it happen to you. The first rule of computer backups is to just do it! I am sure that your files, just like mine, are irreplaceable. Isn’t it worth spending a few extra dollars to protect your valuable data?
A complete and total back up of your computer system would be the simplest way to approach a backup strategy. But complete backups take a lot of time and a lot of space. The better approach might be to only backup the data that you have created yourself – documents, spreadsheets, databases, pictures, etc. You may not need to backup all of your applications if you still own the original installation CDs. The applications can be re-installed, but your “unique” data is what is valuable.
The other major decision you need to make in your backup plan is where to actually store your backup – both digitally and physically. It’s not a good idea to store the backup of your data on your computer’s hard drive. The whole idea of a backup is that if your computer takes a nose-dive, you’ll have your information stored somewhere else so you can retrieve and reload it. You could purchase a second hard drive to use as a backup for your “primary” hard drive. Or you could even get an external hard drive. But the most popular media used today for backing up your digital data is on CDs or DVDs.
In order to copy information to a CD or DVD, you’ll need an appropriate burner. A blank CD only holds 650 MB while a blank DVD can hold 4.7 GB of data. Depending on much data you’re looking to backup, a CD should be sufficient. (Note, you’re officially an “old-timer” if you remember backing up your computer on floppy disks.)
You need to also think about where you physically store your backup media. Your desk drawer won’t be a good place to store your backups if your office burns down. It’s a good idea to keep recent backups off-site somewhere. Some people might think this to be a little extreme, but think about how happy you will be if you had that off-site copy of all your work when a disaster hits your office.
|I like how the name of this backup application from New Tech Infosystems (“NTI”) is more of a command than a product brand. Backup NOW! Version 3 is a tad bit pricey at $79.99 but the program turned out to be my personal favorite, mainly because of the prevalent step-by-step buttons down the side of the application. I like things to be simple without having to use a “get-in-the-way-wizard” or jump through unnecessary hoops to accomplish something that should be easy to do.|
The simplicity of NTI Backup NOW! also means that the program is not going to do anything more fancy than just backing up the folders and files that you select. And herein lies a little quandary that I’ve had with backup programs for a while. I’ve done my own “manual” backups before by simply storing certain files on Zip disks or CDs. So I used to ask myself why I would even need a backup program to do something I already do myself. The answer is that programs like NTI Backup NOW! can handle the whole process for you much easier. Plus these programs will compress your files and handle the whole burning process for you. Using a backup application just simplifies the process for you – so that perhaps you’ll be encouraged to actually do the backup rather than putting it off for another time.
The first step in backing up files with NTI Backup NOW! is to simply select the files you want backed up. You get a Windows Explorer view of all your files and you can select whole folders or individual files. In the next step, you pick what media you want to store the backup on and name the backup file (I usually recommend putting a date somewhere in your name). The last step is to tell NTI Backup NOW! whether you want a full backup of the files you selected, or just the new and changed files. Then you click start and the backup takes off. It’s also a good idea to let the program verify the backup to ensure the backup worked properly.
Restoring your files is
another easy 3-step process. It’s a good idea to restore a backup you’ve
made every once in a while because you don’t want to find out your backups
were unsuccessful the day you actually need that backup. Testing your
backups is a good idea.
|BackUp MyPC is from Stomp Inc. The product was formerly called Backup Exec Desktop by VERITAS, a successful branding association since VERITAS provides the popular Backup Exec application used by many corporations to manage their enterprise backups. BackUp MyPC works much the same way at NTI Backup NOW! but provides wizards to walk you through each option for backups or restore projects.|
The Backup Wizard gives you the option of simply backing up every file on your computer, or just the files you select. The main screen of BackUp MyPC provides a Windows Explorer view of your folders and files and you select your backup media below on the same screen. I also appreciated the very handy and easy-to-read User’s Guide book that Stomp included in the package.
|Retrospect from Dantz Development Corporation is for the folks that are really serious about doing their backups. Retrospect provides a wealth of options and additional features to allow you to completely customize your backup experience. I am not particularly fond of the interface on Retrospect but I firmly believe that I could get used to it if I really needed to take advantage of the extra tools that the application provides.|
Retrospect doesn’t give you a Windows Explorer view right off the bat. Instead, you get a treelike navigation menu to access the function you desire. Before you can launch a backup, you are required to dictate the folders you want included, the destination for your backup, and your choice for several options.
While the extra options and features that Retrospect offers may be a little overwhelming for some, the trade-off is precise accuracy. Retrospect actually takes a little longer than other applications to backup your files but that’s because it takes the time to check your files to make sure the procedure was successful. This means your restores is going to be accurate as well. If you are responsible for a small office of computers, then Retrospect is certainly a product you need to be looking at. Dantz also provides scaled versions of Retrospect for server environments.