In my typical daily multitasking routine I have to rely on various tools which help me with my productivity. Over the years I have tried several types of tools and have found a few that I still use today. There are multiple products covering various tasks spreading over numerous categories, so obviously it would be a fool’s errand to try to cover them all. In this post I want to share with you a couple such tools that I find quite helpful for my day-to-day tasks. Your mileage may vary. I will be covering more tools in future posts, so stay tuned.
These tools would be from the windows desktop management software category. Phew, that was a mouthful! Under this heading could be any number of utilities for managing such things as taskbars, application windows, wallpapers or screensavers among others. The applications reviewed here cover a combination or all of these functions. What they all have in common is that they are primarily designed to be used in a multiple monitor setup. So that is the aspect I am going to be concentrating on in this review.
I generally prefer free utilities but once in a while will take a look at a trial version of paid software or a “freemium” alternative. So, let’s start!
UltraMon from Realtime Soft AG was something I came across in my search for additional functionality beyond that offered by the lowly Windows taskbar. It is described by the developer as “a utility for multi-monitor systems, designed to increase productivity and unlock the full potential of multiple monitors.” In my setup I am using two external displays, engaging in multitasking insanity littering those desktops with several open and/or minimized windows. Needless to say this can slow one down when navigating from one window to another. So here’s what UltraMon brings to the table:
- efficiently move windows and maximize windows across the desktop
- manage more applications with the Smart Taskbar
- control application positioning with UltraMon Shortcuts
- multi-monitor support for desktop wallpapers and screen savers
- mirror your main monitor to secondary monitors for a presentation
So let’s explore each one of these features briefly. I will also offer my comments along the way based on actual use.
Moving windows around from monitor to monitor is pretty straightforward. You can either use the custom buttons added by UltraMon on the upper right of each window or custom hotkeys (see below) if you prefer using the keyboard over the mouse.
The hotkeys offer other functionality in addition to manipulating windows such as:
- Center mouse on primary monitor
- Move mouse to next/previous monitor
- Disable or enable secondary monitors
- Launch screen saver
- Run application or script
- Launch UltraMon shortcut
- Apply display profile
- Lock mouse to active window or primary monitor
The Smart Taskbar is one of my favorite features in UltraMon, complementing and improving the functionality of the built-in Windows taskbar. Windows 8 and later will display all the open applications on each monitor regardless which screen they are actually open on. UltraMon allows you to display open applications only on the respective monitor where they are running by turning on a feature referred to as “secondary taskbars”. This is the “Standard” option. I find this easier to keep track of all the open windows I have scattered. Again, this a personal preference based on how I work, so you may either stick with the default taskbar behavior (i.e. each monitor taskbar shows all open windows) or select the “Standard, Primary Mirror” option which offers a kind of compromise between the other two options (see screenshot below):
Wallpaper, Screensaver and Mirroring
Another feature of UltraMon I enjoy is the ability to set a different wallpaper on each monitor. In addition to that it is also possible to set a single image to cover the span of multiple monitors or create gradient color backgrounds.
Similar options exist for managing screen saver configurations on a per-monitor basis as long as the chosen screensaver supports a multi-monitor environment.
Again, UltraMon takes the concept of mirroring (or duplicating) windows a step further than the built-in Windows functionality. As per the developer’s documentation, these are the additional refinements offered by UltraMon:
- Mirror to one or more monitors
- Mirror only a single application, part of the desktop, or the area around the mouse pointer
- Zoom the mirror image or flip it horizontally and/or vertically
- The source monitor can run at a higher resolution than the mirror monitor
- Pause mirroring (freezes the current image on the mirror monitor)
- Use hotkeys to start/stop/pause mirroring
- Source and mirror monitors can be driven by different video cards
This is a feature that allows you to create custom application shortcuts that control which monitor a particular program will open on, its size and position. You can even change each monitor’s display settings on a per-application basis and revert them back once the application is closed. If you are like me and use the same set of apps day in and day out, this could be pretty handy. With that said, I actually prefer a different utility for this particular functionality. So that brings me to another tool in my admin arsenal that I rely on every day.
Windows Layout Manager
I came across this somewhat obscure utility while searching for a solution to a specific problem related to how I manage my program windows across multiple monitors. I typically arrange certain apps like email and browser windows on my primary monitor and others such as a file manager or remote desktop app on another. The annoyance that I kept running into when using my laptop with all these windows open or minimized is that as soon as I disconnected from the external displays, all these windows would converge on the laptop’s internal display.
OK, no big surprise there. But when I would later reconnect the external monitors, I would have to manually place all the same windows into their previous positions on each screen. So if you do this a few times a day, this could get old really quick. So perhaps Windows Layout Manager (WiLMA) can help you with this problem as well.
This utility’s main claim to fame is its ability to create and apply multiple windows layouts based on different monitor configurations. As per the developer’s description: “A layout is a collection of window definitions that contain conditions and actions. Conditions that describe the window and how it should be detected and matched and actions that allow various actions to be taken such as minimizing, moving, relocating, moving it to a different screen, offsetting the position, maximizing it to a certain screen, etc.“
Before digging deeper, I wanted to point out a couple of things. First, this utility has not been updated in quite some time. Nevertheless, I have been using it successfully on the two most recent versions of Windows – 8 and 10. So at present I do not have any concerns about its age. Second, there is a bit of a learning curve involved in creating layouts but well worth the effort and the documentation is there to help along the way.
What I particularly appreciate about this tool is that it solves my problem described above and the flexibility with which it does that. I can create multiple layout profiles and apply them as needed based on my monitor setup. Right now I have three possible variations – laptop only (single display), two external monitors or three monitors when the laptop is open and connected to the external displays.
Another cool feature once you have your layouts created and configured is the ability to assign a hotkey to each layout. So in my case when reconnecting my laptop to my external displays, I am able to instantly restore all my windows to their previous positions as they were before I undocked the laptop. You can get all the specifics from the developer’s website (linked above). Here are some screenshots:
So are there any really cool tools you use to manage your environment or increase productivity? Please share your experience, ideas and suggestions in the comments area below.