Optimizing the dual monitor environment for the Mac Pro

Now that I’ve had the Mac Pro for a little over two full days I’m finding it a joy to work with. It’s very fast and quiet and amplifies the Mac experience that started for me on the little MacBook. I have VMware Fusion up and running on it and most of my development environment in there and spent a big part of yesterday in Visual Studio writing code. Here’s is what appears to work best for me:

Even with the dual monitors and an effective 3200×1200 resolution I still love using Spaces. Activating that through either the mouse or keyboard and swiftly navigating between spaces is now second nature to me. In Windows I always used Alt-Tab to switch between applications; while I occasionally use Command-Tab to do that on my Mac it’s usually only to toggle back and forth between two applications quickly.
If you look at the image above you’ll see that I’ve got 6 spaces to work with. I’m still tweaking that but I had a tendency on the MacBook to keep specific apps in certain Spaces and I’m continuing to do that with the Mac Pro.
Setting up VMware Fusion and Windows XP
At the bottom left is the Space I have dedicated to VMware Fusion and Windows XP. Fusion allows you to operate in one of three modes: Full Screen, Unity and in a window. The window view places your XP instance into a resizable window that lets XP think it’s in a monitor of that size, which means if you resize the window to 640×480 then XP thinks it’s operating on a 640×480 sized display.
Unity mode, which is really interesting, places the applications from your Windows XP instance directly into your Mac environment. I tried playing with it and didn’t care for it as much as I thought I would. There are a couple of little UI artifacts on the applications I tried running and it just seems odd having older Windows XP style windows sitting in OS X. It feels like being in a brand new car but looking down at the stereo controls and finding something that came out of a 6 year old car. Well, maybe not quite like that but it does feel odd.
I decided that Full Screen worked best for me. The only problem with it is that when you switch to that mode your Mac menu quickly auto-hides up to the top of the window. I like having my Mac’s menu visible because that’s where my iStat monitors are and I like to occasionally scan the CPU to see what’s up. Since Full Screen mode for VMware Fusion only takes up one screen I decided to try placing VMWare Fusion in the second monitor. Here’s what it looks like:
Now I still have access to my Mac’s menu bar even though I’m in Windows XP in full screen mode, making iStat visible at all times. I’m still spending time tweaking this but it’s starting to settle into this configuration.
One Quick Question for Everyone
My friend Bradley is a heavy duty Quicken user and has been really disappointed with the Quicken version for Mac. He is down to only a couple of applications that he continues to depend on Windows for and Quicken is one of them. Can anyone recommend a decent replacement for it that is native to Mac? I’d personally like to find something as well, ideally one that interfaces well with my bank and credit card providers. I’ve spent zero time looking but have gotten such great tips from people here I’m hoping someone has a good recommendation.


  1. mklement says:

    Interesting article, thanks (I know it’s been a while).

    Thanks for pointing me to iStat Menus – great resource-monitoring utility.

    I have a 3-monitor setup, and would love to use Unity mode – unfortunately, though, it is an unmitigated disaster – ‘ghostly’ duplicates of windows appearing, windows getting ‘corralled’ in an area far smaller than the display at hand, windows not receiving input focus when activated via keyboard shortcuts. VMware knows about these issues, but no fix has materialized yet.

    The next best solution for me would be for Windows to occupy 2 out of the 3 monitors in full-screen mode, but that doesn’t work either – VMware Fusion either takes over a single display or ALL of them…

  2. I spent a solid week earlier this year looking for Quicken & Quickbook substitutes. Instead of Quicken, I now use Money from Jumsoft. It imports QIFs, it’s really easy to set up. And its cheap. The only disadvantage I found was that you can only have 1 setup. Unless I am missing a crucial step somewhere

    I have yet to find a suitable Quickbooks substitute.