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Optimizing the dual monitor environment for the Mac Pro

Now that I've had the Mac Pro for a little over two full days I'm finding it a joy to work with. It's very fast and quiet and amplifies the Mac experience that started for me on the little MacBook. I have VMware Fusion up and running on it and most of my development environment in there and spent a big part of yesterday in Visual Studio writing code. Here's is what appears to work best for me:


Even with the dual monitors and an effective 3200x1200 resolution I still love using Spaces. Activating that through either the mouse or keyboard and swiftly navigating between spaces is now second nature to me. In Windows I always used Alt-Tab to switch between applications; while I occasionally use Command-Tab to do that on my Mac it's usually only to toggle back and forth between two applications quickly.

If you look at the image above you'll see that I've got 6 spaces to work with. I'm still tweaking that but I had a tendency on the MacBook to keep specific apps in certain Spaces and I'm continuing to do that with the Mac Pro.

Setting up VMware Fusion and Windows XP
At the bottom left is the Space I have dedicated to VMware Fusion and Windows XP. Fusion allows you to operate in one of three modes: Full Screen, Unity and in a window. The window view places your XP instance into a resizable window that lets XP think it's in a monitor of that size, which means if you resize the window to 640x480 then XP thinks it's operating on a 640x480 sized display. 

Unity mode, which is really interesting, places the applications from your Windows XP instance directly into your Mac environment. I tried playing with it and didn't care for it as much as I thought I would. There are a couple of little UI artifacts on the applications I tried running and it just seems odd having older Windows XP style windows sitting in OS X. It feels like being in a brand new car but looking down at the stereo controls and finding something that came out of a 6 year old car. Well, maybe not quite like that but it does feel odd.

I decided that Full Screen worked best for me. The only problem with it is that when you switch to that mode your Mac menu quickly auto-hides up to the top of the window. I like having my Mac's menu visible because that's where my iStat monitors are and I like to occasionally scan the CPU to see what's up. Since Full Screen mode for VMware Fusion only takes up one screen I decided to try placing VMWare Fusion in the second monitor. Here's what it looks like:


Now I still have access to my Mac's menu bar even though I'm in Windows XP in full screen mode, making iStat visible at all times. I'm still spending time tweaking this but it's starting to settle into this configuration.

One Quick Question for Everyone
My friend Bradley is a heavy duty Quicken user and has been really disappointed with the Quicken version for Mac.  He is down to only a couple of applications that he continues to depend on Windows for and Quicken is one of them. Can anyone recommend a decent replacement for it that is native to Mac? I'd personally like to find something as well, ideally one that interfaces well with my bank and credit card providers. I've spent zero time looking but have gotten such great tips from people here I'm hoping someone has a good recommendation.

21 comments:

dimitrios said...

With respect to financial software, you really don't have an alternative. I spent a long time trying out the various offerings on the Mac and found them lacking when compared to what is available on the PC. Now, folks have high hopes for what Quicken will release this year, but it is obvious that Intuit has let the Mac end of things languish over the past 5 years.

The only programs I couldn't find a Mac alternative for were Tag and Rename and Quicken. But who cares I use parallels for Quicken and usually wait till I have a good batch of mp3's before I use Tag and Rename on them. Not as convient as a native mac app, but it works and that is good enough for me.

I do have a question concerning virtualization software. Currently I have parallels accessing my boot camp partition and I am thinking of giving Fusion a try. Can I have both applications using the same boot camp partition? I won't be running Parallels and Fusion at the same time, but I will be using them both to access the same boot camp partition.

JT said...

Great blog! Keep up the great work. I'm a recent die-hard Windows developer gone Mac as well. I love Spaces! Specifically the ability to anchor an application to a particular screen. The other shortcut I put into place was to tie the middle mouse button (Microsoft wireless 6000 setup) to display the Spaces "overview". Makes moving apps from one window to another much easier. Check out Warp (http://www.ksuther.com/warp) to modify some of the Spaces behavior.
Online banking is where it's at: mint.com

Paul said...

@dimitrios - I had a few problems using both Fusion and Parallels on a Boot Camp partition, because Vista kept needing to be re-activated. Very annoying!

Mathieu said...

Quicken works fine with CrossOver. I've been using that for the last three months.

Probably works well with Fusion too.

William said...

I have a friend with the same problem. One suggestion I gave him was CrossOver Office to run Win Quicken without Windows. If it is just the stock stuff, I just saw FolioCalc reviewed here

http://macmegasite.com/node/4218

which might replace some of what is missing from Mac Quicken.

Eldfisco said...

Hi David,

I usually browse Apple's downloads page to find mac os x softwares.

And maybe here at business and financial is the software you need?

Eric said...

Same problem, I was stuck on Quicken for Windows because they never kept the Mac version current, switched to Moneydance and never looked back. Worked fine with my banks/CC.

David Alison said...

Moneydance looks pretty interesting Eric - I'll check that out. JT - Mint looks pretty cool too, also on my short list to check out. For me personally I pay my bills online already and have that set up so Mint may actually be the answer for me.

@JT - thanks also for the nice comments man. I tried Warp out but experienced a couple of odd problems that went away when I stopped using it. Don't remember them specifically right now though...

David Alison said...

@William: thanks for the FolioCalc link. Hadn't heard of that one, though as you mention it's really for stocks, not the regular personal finance stuff. I think there may be an opportunity to get a series of applications for this space, not the big comprehensive one like Quicken represents. Portfolio management and personal finance really can be two separate applications that only need a couple of tie in points.

Aaron M said...

David,
Your friend should check out "iBank" -- it is an excellent replacement to Quicken.

Like your friend, I was frustrated by Quicken for Mac and looked into several alternatives. I found iBank to be extremely simple to use, easy to manage, and looked great. They came out with a new version right after Leopard came out and it's even better, adding in downloading of your accounts from your bank and a couple other features. It uses CoreAnimation and all the fun jazz that Apple added in Leopard (it even won runner-up in the Apple Design Competition). I've been using it for about a year now to track all my finances and I find it works great. One of the best features is that you can create filters to automatically tag your finances as certain categories (for example, it will automatically tag anything from "Apple.com" as "Electronics" or "Safeway" as "Groceries", etc. With Quicken, I had to manually give a category for each transaction, every time.

tzs said...

Something cool you may have not noticed yet: Spaces and Expose are orthogonal. That is, if you bring up the Spaces view that shows all your Spaces, and then hit the key to tell Expose to show all windows, it will do that on all the Spaces spaces at once.

I've found it useful to set three hot corners. One set to Expose "show windows for this app", one set to Expose "show all windows", and one set to Spaces "show all spaces".

Switching between things on different Spaces and between different apps then becomes just a couple of quick flicks of the mouse. Flick to the Spaces corner to see the spaces, and maybe flick to the Expose "all windows" corner if I don't see the right window, and then a click to where I want to go.

Taras said...

Dougs Applescripts has many iTunes Applescripts that can perform many if not all of the functions of Tag and Rename within iTunes. Depending on the script and the action, they may take longer than Tag and Rename.

David Alison said...

@Aaron: iBank looks perfect. Native Mac application (not Java VM) and can grab all the data my friend has from Quicken.

@Tzs: I did indeed notice that - very cool. Activating Expose while inside of Spaces is pretty slick. I did try using hot corners once but I kept activating it by accident (one of the reasons I struggled with Warp other than the bugginess). I think I'm a little too over-caffeinated to use mouse gestures.

asherman13 said...

David,

Have you tried using Fusion in full-screen, or any other mode, in a separate Space, thus allowing you to effectively flip back and forth between what would appear to be a singularly Mac environment and a singularly Windows environment?

Love reading the blog, all the best.

David Alison said...

@asherman13: Yep, that's exactly how I use it. It's really cool.

Anonymous said...

Ausmith1 says:
There is on online version of Quicken now, there is a decent review of it at:
http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2008/01/08/an-introduction-to-quicken-online/

Mike Roselius said...

Quicken Online is not a bad tool but it has a long way to go. It's really more of a reporting engine as opposed to true money management.

Mint is similar and a little more mature. My complaint with the online apps (Wasabe too) is that they are building up a nice little database of users, financial information and spending habits, and if I was a bank - and had any money left from bad mortgages - I'd be pretty interested in buying up Mint or Wasabe etc.

iBank really is the premier native application for money management. Do know that you have to be running Leopard in order to use the newest version. But as an owner from the 1.x days, I can attest that it's a very actively developed application - which is nice.

One other to consider - as an online application - Mvelopes. (mvelopes.com)

You pay for the service - and at first it seems a bit pricey - but it includes CheckFree online bill pay.

It's a flash app - that works off the envelope system. They say, (and I would agree) that you pay for the service in the money you "find" from understanding your expenses.

I'm a big believer - and since it's online, you can access it from work etc.

David Alison said...

@Mike: Funny, I was talking to my friend Brad about this last night as we were going through the financial applications, specifically Mint. Regardless of the privacy policy they have I'm just a little uncomfortable with a FREE online service that holds all of my transaction information. Brad and I both agreed that if they charged even $5 / month they would probably get more people to use it because then it feels real and they have some responsibility to the users.

Thanks for the mvelopes tip!

Brakki said...

Have you tried out Cha-Ching? I got it as part of a Mac Heist bundle, but haven't really played around with it. I actually just started it up, so let's see what it's like...

pighair said...

I think your best choice on VMWare Fusion is single Window mode.
Try to use it in single window mode and stretch to both screen. Then you can use 3200*(1600-width of menu bar) screen.
Here's an example.

Dual Screen Fan said...

Hard to say if 1 large screen is better than dual screen. If you are going to use 19" monitors than go with a 23" display instead. You'll get more lines of resolution while giving up very little desktop area in the bargain. I went with two 21.5" displays at 1080p. Best thing I ever did.