My Home Office

In another post I am going to talk a bit about why I think multiple monitors are really important, but first I want to introduce you to my home office, so you can see my personal working practice in its full context.  First things first:

  1. Everything I need is within arms reach
  2. I try to scan all my paper, and its all there in PaperPort, see below
  3. I have two desks, a computer desk where I have my three monitors, and drive all my clients and servers from one keyboard and mouse and a layout, reading etc desk where I have space to organise.  The kids use this desk at night if I am happy to be disrupted a bit.
  4. I have a web cam on top of my primary display, again more on that later

So what does it all look like.  First the nerve centre:

One large desk with three monitors and one keyboard and mouse

The Main display, a 19″ flat screen running @ 1280*1024.  This is where I do all of my reading and writing.  Its a fab display very bright and crystal clear.  Its DVI connected to my main server, which runs Windows 2003 Server.

Next is my email console,  I use Lotus Notes and this screen is used to display my Email, Tasks and Actions all on one portal page.  Notes is running on my main server, it gets displayed on this laptop by using MaxiVista, which creates a virtual display driver which makes Windows Server think its got three monitors plugged in, (its actually only got 2).  The laptop has a broken screen hinge so I cann’t move it around but as well as providing a third screen, its running Microsoft Operations Manager, and is my main backup server running Microsoft Volume Copy Shadow service with snapshots going back quite a few weeks.  When I want to actually work on the laptop its easy as I always have a Windows terminal server session running.

Finally I have a nice flat screen 19″ CRT which I use to park windows, it looks like this:

This is a key part of my working practice.  I use this for the following:

  1. If I am having video conferences or Instant Messaging discussions, (I often have a few on the go at the same time), they go on here.
  2. I always have a web browser window open here.  I use MyIE2 which has tabbed windows, whenever I come across something of interest on the web, I just drag it onto MyIE2 and it opens a tab and downloads the page,  I can come back to it when I get chance, so my flow is not disrupted
  3. When I am reading my RSS and Atom feeds and Email on my Main screen, any web links I click on also open up as tabs on this screen.  When I have finished scanning the feeds for everything of interest then I move MyIE2 onto my main screen like this using Ultramon, a utility that makes it really easy to move applications around from screen to screen.  I then look at all the web pages I have gathered, tab by tab.
  4. I also have OneNote running on my secondary screen and if I find some web stuff or RSS or email stuff worth keeping I just paste it into OneNote.
  5. I also keep my IM clients, MSN Messenger and Lotus SameTime running on this display out of the way but only a glance away
  6. If I want to reference something while working I put the reference info on this screen, for example If I am workig on a document which has spreadsheet content I will have Word on my Main screen and Excel on my secondary etc.  Or if It am evaluating Linux I will have Linux running in a Virtual machine displayed on my secondary.
  7. If I am watching a virtual conference this runs on this display as well as its rare that it needs all of my attention
  8. Finally I keep X1 running here, X1 keeps a full text index of my emails, RSS/Atom feeds, stored web pages, contacts and files.

I also have my phone and scanner/printer/faxt/copier.  Just at the end of the desk so its easy to reach.  The phone is hands free.  I was suprised that I could get this working with Windows 2003 server, but using the compatability mode the Windows 2000 corporate drivers worked fine.

Once scanned all my documents are indexed as displayed as thumbnails of PDF files.  They look like this:

Thats all the PC and server displays, but I do have a few other bits on my desk

  1. Speakers – used mainly for music and conferences, which I normally drive off my broken laptop because its CPU utilisation is low
  2. A high quality USB microphone, which I intend to use for Video Conferencing, once my frields get themselves setup!
  3. A Pocket PC, Ipaq 4150, which syncs wirelessly to my Main server
  4. An in tray
  5. A bits box – where I can dump stuff that I use a lot and need to keep near but tidy
  6. A 5 draw unit, with a draw for paper stuff – To Scan, To do tomorrow, To do this week, To do next week and Waiting.  Its not actually on the desk, but its in a cabinet I can can get to if I swivel my chair.
  7. A bookshelf of stuff I am reading and referencing daily
  8. A desk downlighter
  9. A very nice flower vase that I pinched to keep all my bens and stuff in
  10. – update 9/7/2004 – I now have a laminator

I also have a very nice wireless laptop, not the broken one, which I use all over the house, (when I want a change, or work in the TV room at night), and in the garden and when I am not working at home.  All my data is replicated to it every night, so its always ready to go.  But when I am at home I access all my data from my servers via a Distributed File System tree, (as the data is spread around a bit and DFS insulates me from any changes in the future).

Finally I have a web-cam.  Its very old and has hardly ever been used, but recently I found that its makes a big difference to the feeling of “connectedness” you have when using Instant Messaging.  I was amazed that it worked fine on 2003 server.

The last little hint I have is that I run VMWare so that all of my lab testing and eval work can be done from the same desk.  When I need to run Redhat Linux for example this just displays on my secondary display in a window.  I can also terminal serve to all my kids machines and wifes machine to fix any problems etc.  I use MOM to monitor them all.

I also have a load of storage, the kids and I have bags for all sorts of different activities, walking bags, swimming bags, school bags, drama bags etc.  They are all in here:

And last but not least I have a magnetic white board on the back of the door, which I use to remind myself to do things when I leave the office!

I am pretty pleased with this Office, its taken a bit of work to get there, but its been worth the investment.  Its certainly the most productive environment I have ever had.  There are a few things I am planning to improve:

  1. I have a big void under the desk, where the scanner is.  This is where an extra lab server is going that will be dedicated to running VMware.
  2. I want a better speaker phone, with a business and home line input
  3. I want to upgrade my ADSL to business class, ie 20:1 rather than 50:1 contention
  4. I want an ioniser, (I only have a fan)
  5. Eventually I want to replace the 19″ CRT, good though it is, with another 19″ TFT, the difference in quality is so marked, but its a big investment and won’t happen for quite a while – if ever!

I also wrote a post a while ago about general Work Space design, check that out for more info.  I also promised to provide some insights into my experiments with flexible offices, (not home offices), that will have to wait for another day though.

A few other people mention this topic, but not enough:

Scoble mentions it in the context of MS research and again in an interview with Bill Hill, the co-inventor of ClearType 
Google will give you plenty of links, especially for Tablet PC’s that work great when used as a secondary display

There was a really good post by Jeff Atwood, but it now only seems to be in googles cache, here’s the link

Here is a link to a productivity study, which I will talk later about myself

here is a Q&A all about multi-monitors and Ultramon

Here is a nice gallery of different uses for multiple monitors

And if I had the money here’s what I would go for, dream on!


Quite a few of my friends are getting into the act, so it would be good to see some comments guys!

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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