So you have an external monitor to use with your MacBook, or you’ve upped your game and gotten two of them. Coding will never be the same, I tell you that. Neither writing nor researching. With all that space, you can have a lot of fun with multiple windows arranged just the way you like them.
However, when you connect a monitor to your Mac, it switches to mirror mode by default. And this is just the beginning of all the things you need to change before the fantastic productivity dream comes true. To make it easier for you, I’ve compiled all the pitfalls with multiple monitors in this article. This includes how to use your Mac in clamshell mode, how to configure multi-monitor displays, how to find fantastic panorama backgrounds, and most importantly, how to take care of window management.
Note about connections: MacBooks come with Thunderbolt ports, but they’re backwards compatible with Mini DisplayPort. Plus, mDP-to-HDMI converters are pretty cheap. And although I have no personal experience with them, you can also find USB-to-HDMI converters if you want to connect more than one display.
Setting up the clamshell mode
If you have a huge external monitor and want to dock it to a MacBook and connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse instead of creating a multiple monitor setup, you’ll need to use clamshell mode.
All you need to do is connect your display to the MacBook via the Thunderbolt adapter and plug in the power cord. Close the lid and your MacBook will now work as a desktop CPU unit. The most important part here is the power cable, without it your Mac will just go to sleep when the lid is closed.
If you want to change the default monitor from your MacBook’s screen to one of the connected displays, go to System settings -> Display and you will see a Arrangement Tab. This lists all available monitors. First, make sure that Mirror displays option is disabled.
There you can see the menu bar on your MacBook display. Just click on it and drag it to one of your external monitors to make it the default monitor.
In the same Arrangement Screen you can move the displays to change the placement. If you mount your external display on top and your MacBook screen on the bottom, you can put it on top.
Display sizes are scaled accordingly. So if you have 27- and 24-inch monitors connected to a 13-inch MacBook, you’ll have no trouble figuring out which is which. Replicate your physical monitor setup in this window to make transitioning between multiple displays really easy.
Thanks to Mavericks, the multi-monitor capabilities of Macs have improved exponentially. Now each new display gets its own workspace, and you can create different desktops or full-screen apps for individual monitors.
This is great if you plan on using a monitor easy for media, monitoring your website, or social media updates. The Mac also remembers these workspaces, so you don’t have to start from scratch each time.
When it comes to wallpapers for multiple monitors, the Mac is a bit weird. If you right-click on the desktop and select.. Change desktop background The app actually opens the wallpaper selection window every other display.
Of course, there are apps that simplify the process of adding panoramic wallpapers, but most of them come at a cost. But you can still do it for free; all you need to do is download panorama wallpapers that are already cropped for individual screens. You can do this with wallpaperfusion or dualmonitorbackgrounds.com do.
Once you’ve downloaded your cropped wallpapers, select that folder in the sidebar and choose the appropriate images for each screen.
Window management with BetterTouchTool
And now we come to a serious problem with Mac that only intensifies as you add more displays. Window management. Windows has a great window manager (had to live up to the name, I guess) where everything sits tight and snaps into place.
Mac’s more liberal philosophy also affects window management where it can’t afford it. You can’t gesture a window to the side and tell it to take up exactly 50% of your screen, like you can in Windows with the Aero Snap feature.
Wait – actually you can. Thanks to a great free app called BetterTouchTool. I’ve already written about this in detail, but it’s basically an app that lets you create custom trackpad, keyboard, and mouse gestures (more on that below) and adds the same window snapping features as icing on the cake.
Once you have that enabled Window snapping Function out of the pop-up and given the access permissions for the app, it’s time to snap!
Just click on any window and drag it to the left or right edge so it takes up half of the screen. Also, you can go to the corners to assign your window to the corresponding quarter of the screen.
Finally, if you drag a window to the top of the menu bar, the window will expand on the current screen (not to be confused with full screen mode). The best part is that the app gives you a small preview of the exact space the window will occupy while still holding the mouse on the hot corner.
As you can imagine, this window snaps does not always work between multiple monitors. But don’t worry, because there are alternatives, which are discussed below.
Window management with multiple monitors using shortcuts
As I said above, BetterTouchTool lets you assign certain actions to trackpad, keyboard and mouse shortcuts. And BetterTouchTool has an amazing library of window management actions. You know where this leads.
Of all the great actions available, here are the highlights.
- move windows one place/desktop to the left or right
- Maximize window to next Monitor
- Move window to next Monitor
- Also, all the shortcuts to snap windows and much more can be turned into actions
That’s right, with a keyboard / mouse shortcut or just a trackpad gesture, you can either throw the current window to the next monitor or display it in full screen mode when it gets there.
As you can see below, I can’t dock the window to the right side of the screen. But thanks to some preconfigured shortcuts I can do that. I can also move the window to another monitor using similar keyboard shortcuts.
You will find many apps to do these things. In my research, I found apps in the $5 to $20 range that are dedicated to window management. But I’m telling you, you don’t need them. BetterTouchTool Will Take some time to set up, but when you’re done, it will be your install. You can set any kind of crazy keyboard shortcuts or trackpad gestures to snap or move windows around. It will be personal and intuitive and it will work.
Here’s what I say to everyone after recommending BetterTouchTool, and I’ll say it to you too.
A simpler alternative to BetterTouchTool
If you find the feature set overwhelming and don’t want to customize BTT endlessly, try Spectacle. It’s a small app that comes pre-programmed with keyboard shortcuts (which are customizable) for the same window snapping features as BTT. There is also a shortcut to fling a window to another display.