Take my 15" monitor ... please!

Many people depend heavily on the Internet for technical information, and the Windows 2000 Magazine Lab Guys are no different: We frequently gather information from vendor and reference Web sites. The equipment we use to access these sites ranges from 233MHz Pentium-based notebook computers to 450MHz Pentium II-based desktops. Regardless of the hardware, we equip all our systems with 17" monitors, which let us work efficiently—at a 1024 x 768-pixel resolution—when we run our desktop applications. But we take a technological step backward when we use the Internet.

Unfortunately, many Web sites format their pages for a 640-pixel width, wasting almost 40 percent of our screen area and forcing us to wade through long, narrow single-column pages of text to find the information we need. Even progressive sites that have adopted 800-pixel page widths restrict useful content to 640 pixels and use the remaining space for advertising. Most of us simply accept this irritating practice as standard fare on the Web. But if Windows 2000 Magazine arrived in your mailbox with each column of text printed on a different page, you'd think we were nuts!

Web masters say the 640-pixel page width accommodates users who use 14" and 15" displays and for whom resolutions higher than 800 x 600 pixels are impractical. The Lab Guys upgraded our monitors to 17" displays more than 2 years ago. Frankly, we think our production hardware is typical of most modern organizations. Prices for 17" displays have been in the $200 to $300 range, compared with $1200 to $1500 for new computers, for some time. But our readers have confirmed that many still use these 14" and 15" relics. Companies that seem willing to replace computers every 3 years frequently neglect to upgrade monitors. The unanswered question is, Why?

The Lab Guys believe the time has come to change your upgrade habits. Hardware enhancements during the past 18 months have far surpassed the needs of desktop OSs and applications. The systems you buy today probably won't need replacement for at least 5 years, as opposed to the traditionally accepted 3 years. By comparison, monitor-related productivity enhancements during the next few years will likely justify frequent (i.e., every few years) monitor replacement. For example, within 3 years, 19" monitors will probably cost just a few dollars more and enable even higher resolutions than 17" models do today. Flat panel displays will also cost less and will free more space (on both virtual and physical desktops) than they do now. So from this point forward, we'd like to see companies maintain desktop systems longer and set their sights on routinely upgrading displays and other peripherals in which enhancements will make a measurable difference in productivity.

Even if you aren't planning system upgrades this year, take a look at the older monitors in your organization. If your employers work on large spread-sheets or word processing files, small monitors reduce their productivity by forcing them to repeatedly scroll through documents. And if these monitors' quality is as poor as the older displays we've run across, you'll be saving your employees' eyesight as well. Spend the $200 or $300 now—you'll make your users happier, and you'll save money later when you buy new PCs or thin clients. Either way, it's time to give your users a break and donate those old monitors to a school or a charitable organization. With any luck, the Web masters will notice.