In the last few months I've been involved with some coding for Geekzone and other sites we run. Suddenly we needed a server capable of handling ASP .Net, SQL Server and multiple domains for our in-house testing. I thought of buying a new computer to perform this role, but that would be overkill - a machine running Windows Server 2003, up 24 hours a day but used only a few hours - and for testing only, since the production servers are provided by a hosting company. Overkill, or overspending?
I decided to try Microsoft Virtual PC, and it actually works very well. After installing a virtual machine and configuring Windows Server 2003, I figured I only needed more memory on my desktop. An additional 1GB RAM did the trick, and that costed me way less than a whole new computer.
But the real estate space on my screen was getting a little bit too costly - I could only run so many programs before having lots of windows overlapping, and having to move things around.
The solution could be a second monitor, but that would require a new video card - and again that would cost. And again software came to the rescue. I tried MaxiVista, a software solution that allows another computer in my network to be used as a second monitor. Since I have a laptop available here that would be ideal.
Installation is very easy: the program is small and sits in the System Tray. From it I can create a client program - and the client incorporates a Unique ID, so it can only connect to my computer, and my computer will only accept connections from clients spawned from the server program. Once the client is installed and running on the second computer, it'll behave like the Windows dual display solution, but without involving any new video card, cables and monitors. Very handy - and clean.
The MaxiVista server can automatically locate a client on the network, but there's an option to manually enter an IP address. The instructions also cover very detailed firewall configurations for users with this type of software (or the new Windows XP Service Pack 2) installed.
Easy to use configuration options
The desktop turns into a virtual widescreen desktop, thanks to a virtual video driver installed by MaxiVista. As you can see in the screenshot below, the right half is my native desktop, the left half is the extension. When you move the mouse over the border it will automatically move to the next screen. You can move programs from one to the other, and even have a program split in between then (check the photo below). It's great if you want to drag-and-drop contents from one window to anoter, while having both in full scree at the same time.
The virtual desktop created: left side will show on the second computer
Interesting enough, if I have programs completely on the left side, as soon as I terminate the MaxiVista connection, these are automatically repositioned in my native desktop. Shortcut key combinations like WindowsKey-M to minimise all programs will work with MaxiVista, and only one taskbar is available - in my native desktop.
In my usage I've placed the Microsoft Virtual PC window running the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and a browser open with my work on the rioght side, while using Visual Studio .Net and other programs on the left side. I even place the laptop on a stand so the monitors can be at the same height.
Note the RSS reader split between the monitors
At US$49.95, MaxiVista seems to be a great money saving idea for users with multiple computers, in need of a multi-monitor solution. Use that old dusty laptop for something useful! The developers' website contains some tips about upcoming versions, including the ability to broadcast the desktop contents (that would be great for training or board meetings - no need for costly LCD projectors!), and multiple desktop clients making it a huge virtual desktop. You can even find a video (only 700KB) showing the program running with three laptops, and windows being moved between these monitors.