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Laptop usability

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I use my laptop with an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor when I’m at my desk. The monitor is a 21" beast, but the laptop screen is only about 15". When I’m using the monitor, I like to have my screen resolution set higher than when I’m using the laptop on its own.

The sequence I follow each time I connect or disconnect the laptop from the monitor is to hit a hotkey combination that tells the laptop to use the external monitor, then open up my display properties and set the resolution.

Why should I have to go through this? The laptop can obviously detect whether I have a monitor connected, because if I try and switch to external video and there’s nothing connected, the laptop screen stays on. I should be able to set the laptop up so that if I connect something to the VGA port, the system switches from LCD to monitor and changes my resolution for me.

Lyle Kantrovich
February 3, 2003 7:34 AM

I agree totally that this is an issue. I pointed out a similar problem to someone from Microsoft's usability team at CHI 2001. They were demoing XP at the time, and showing off new desktop UI enhancements. I asked them if they fixed the problem with the way screen resolution was set. They weren't aware of any problems. Then I explained that previous Windows versions have allowed for different "desktops" for each user (e.g. in a family), but the screen resolution was set globally for all users. If any user changes the setting, it impacts everyone. The system assumes that the HARDWARE dictates the optimal resolution. I pointed out that I experienced this when I wanted to set different resolutions for my kids than for myself. A 3-year old has different motor skills and needs bigger targets than an adult. Another reason I came across it is that some kids software requires a lower resolution to run. I also pointed that there are accessibility reasons for changing the way this works. Just because one person in a house needs large fonts (due to poor vision), doesn't mean every user of that PC needs them. Currently, making the system accessible for one user, makes it potentially inaccessible for another. Not to mention that users then have to become familiar with the technically complex terminology and settings related to screen resolution... Clearly, the way screen resolution is set in Windows (and Mac as well, I seem to recall) is an example of a system-centric design model, not a user-centric one.

May 16, 2003 3:24 PM

If you're into hacking around you could probably write a WMI script (via vbscript) that switches the screen resolution for you.

Adam Kalsey
May 16, 2003 4:21 PM

Interesting idea. I found this page: which has a WMI VBScript for setting screen resolutions and includes a GUI. It looks like I could remove the GUI parts and code something up that toggles between my laptop resolution and my desktop resolution at the touch of a button. I've already found a setting in the ThinkPad config that allows both the LCD and CRT to be active at the same time, so at least I no longer need to toggle the screen. It probably uses a bit more battery power to keep the external VGA port energized when it's not needed, but that's a small price to pay.

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