What's good about widescreen besides movies?
August 22, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

After many happy years using standard aspect monitors, I will soon break down and buy a widescreen (14" or 15") laptop. Please give me your tips for improving my widescreen experience.

Sadly, it seems that even Lenovo no longer makes laptops with standard aspect screens. My primary use for a laptop is document-centric (plus web and light coding) so I would probably prefer a "tallscreen" laptop if such a clumsy beast existed.

I would like to optimize use of the widescreen, but so far my only idea is to move the Windows taskbar to the side instead of the bottom. I've tended to keep all of my windows maximized in the past. I can see how having two windows visible could be useful, but would appreciate some examples of how that improves your workflow (on a laptop-size screen).

I also have some old fullscreen games which don't have options for widescreen resolutions - is there any way to run these without stretching the game's XGA (or VGA!) display across my WXGA screen?

Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks.
posted by steadystate to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Best answer: I've only ever had widescreen laptops; strangely, for the same reason that you say you would want a tallscreen. As a student, many's the paper I've had to churn out, and being able to keep my document open right next to, say, my notes makes it infinitely easier/faster than having to Alt+Tab between them endlessly.

One thing that certainly helps is to go with the highest resolution screen you can, and then to break yourself of the habit of maximizing all the windows. My current laptop's screen resolution is 1680x1050. If you were to maximize most any program on that screen, you'd end up with a ton of wasted space.

Once you're not maximizing windows, there's a ton of stuff you can do with that extra screen real estate. For a while I used the Windows Sidebar, although I ended up ditching it as I moved toward a very minimalist desktop setup. But it's nice to be able to have Firefox open on one side of the screen and still have my Pidgin windows and media player visible on the other side.

As for gaming, check out the Widescreen Gaming Forum. It's possible to get many old games to support widescreen resolutions, often through slightly hacky but still workable means. And you could always run the game in a window.
posted by sinfony at 10:03 AM on August 22, 2008

Widescreens are very useful if you use instant messaging clients. You can have the client(s) always open on the right side of the screen
posted by lockle at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2008

Best answer: I also have some old fullscreen games which don't have options for widescreen resolutions - is there any way to run these without stretching the game's XGA (or VGA!) display across my WXGA screen?

I have an nVidia graphics card. One of the settings available is "change flat panel scaling"; my options are to (1) stretch ignoring aspect ratio, (2) stretch maintaining aspect ratio, (3) use display's built in scaling, or (4) do not scale.

In other words, with my graphics card I have control over this behaviour.

I don't know if Intel or ATI graphics cards offer this setting. If they don't, well, that's product differentiation in action.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:20 AM on August 22, 2008

Best answer: Window tiling applications are nice. One came with my last laptop, an Acer. GridVista, I think, was the program name. Allowed me to set up grids on the screen, and get apps to maximize within the grid. I generally split the window in half and let apps take up half the screen. Worked really well. You could for example have code in one window and a live preview in the other - side by side. Or have two files open simultaneously for comparison purposes. The tiling app just makes it really easy to snap windows into specific positions, rather than arranging them manually. You can install the GridVista program on any Windows box, by the way; don't know if Acer sells it but if you look around you can probably find it or something similar.

In the old MS Office (2003) the Office sidebar was suddenly useful rather than a waste of space; I left it open more often and finally found it to be useful without getting in my way. Photoshop, etc. and any other program with many toolbar palettes really benefit from increased real estate - the toolbars are less likely to cover the document / file you are editing.

Keeping the Taskbar on the side of the screen sounds like a good idea but if it is too narrow you won't be able to read enough of the names of open apps to be able to switch windows as easily (imagine having six Word docs open and only being able to see the icon - which one do you click?). If it is wide enough to show the app names, then you're wasting a lot of space that you can't get back (unless the Taskbar is set to auto-hide) - which defeats the purpose of the wide-screen.

Unless you have eagle eyes using a high-res screen on a relatively small laptop is going to be hard visually without turning on large font sizes in Windows. My old Acer was 1600 x 1440, and it was great except that I had the damnedest time reading the screen without squinting. 120% font sizes made Explorer easier to use (I could read desktop icons, etc. better) but there are many, many places where Windows apps do not handle font scaling well. My current laptop is running 1440 x 900 and that seems pretty good, no issues with font size weirdness, and I am no longer swearing at as many website designers for making their default fonts so damn tiny. Test a few models out at Best Buy, etc. before making a decision on screen resolution - a lower-res screen may save you some money, while a higher-res screen might just give you a headache. (Not suggesting you BUY a laptop from Best Buy - they just have many on display, so it's not a bad place to go to physically play with many different systems and see how the screen resolution affects your ability to use it).
posted by caution live frogs at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2008

When I got my wide-screen laptop I was amazed at how much better backgrounds with horizontal lines look. Here's some links to good-for-wide-screen pictures:
Earth, Horizon, View from ISS, [deviantArt is good], [so is nasa].
posted by philomathoholic at 2:28 PM on August 22, 2008

Also - ensure you buy a higher-end, higher-resolution widescreen.

My current model is 1280x900...

The 900 vertical pixels is extremely frustrating.
posted by jkaczor at 2:46 PM on August 22, 2008

re: tiny font sizes in web browsers on large resolutions - you can use firefox 3's Ctrl+Scroll Wheel to increase or decrease your text size.
posted by Lizc at 12:49 PM on August 25, 2008

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