Big Screen

16 December 2006

How do you improve the productivity of software developers?

An answer I've given regularly for many years now, and one that applies to almost anyone who uses a computer, is give them a bigger screen.

I used to raise eyebrows fifteen years ago by recommending that every developer should work on a 21 inch screen. These days I say that everyone should have at least two 20 inch screens.

Why is this important? If I have a small screen I can't see as much at once, so to see different things I have to keep popping windows to the front. With my two screens I can put a whole bunch of stuff on the screen at once and all I have to do is move my head. My eyes can flick between the text I'm typing now in Emacs and the rendered result in firefox. I can keep open an IDE with lots of subwindows and have documentation in a browser right there. I don't have look around on the task bar to see where I put that terminal window, I just mouse and type. It's often hard to imagine the improvement before you try, but I can really feel the difference since I doubled my screen.

And it's not as expensive as most people think. Chatting with a friend I looked up the price for my twin Samsung 204Bs - $700 for the pair at my local circuit city. Developers are expensive, it doesn't take much to recover that kind of cost (Hmmm, there's room on my desk for a third.)

Too often these days I see pair programming done on laptops with low and small screens. This is silly, big screens make a wise investment.