Big Mean Folder Machine nearing completion…

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My latest project, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” after being put on hold while the new artwork was being finished is now back on track. The 1.0 beta 3 release should be ready for next wednesday (my traditional “release day”).

My policy has always been to “get it out early and see what people make of it”, so I’m thinking about going “golden master” with this third beta.

I could, of course, continue releasing new betas that add more features, but I’m not really a fan of the new “endless beta” strategy where your golden master is 1.0 beta 28891 build 65839-20a and comes after 3 years of saying “don’t blame me if it does not work”.

It’s only a 1.0 release, so somebody is going to knock it because it doesn’t do something scheduled for release 3.4, but that’s going to happen anyway.. so unless I find a show stopper that’s it as far as betas are concerned..

I would like to take his opportunity to thank those of you who have contributed their insights and suggestions to the project.. I know version 1.0 is still far from fulfilling all requirements, but it’s only the beginning of the journey.. expect a point update with new features and refinements every 4-8 weeks.. and don’t worry you have free upgrades up to (but not including!!) versions 3.0.

Funnily enough, I haven’t mentioned bug fixes yet. This is because nobody’s reported a bug yet.. this either means that I have finally managed to get a 1.0 beta 1 release out that is 100% bug free (in my dreams), or that you’re holding back your reports on the assumption that “somebody else is going to report this”. Well, nobody has so far, so please get emailing!

As a sweetener: anybody who reports a genuine bug (“it doesn’t make coffee” doesn’t count!) before the 1.0 final release gets a free single user license.

Time Travelling..

This morning I’ve felt a need to reminisce and had a look at friends reunited, the top U.K. site for tracking down your lost friends from university. Not that I’ve had a lot of luck finding anybody.. (no I’m not going to pay to send email to people!).

That made me think: Can people find me on the internet? So I googled myself and came across an interview (!) that I gave a decade ago to myMac.com.. coming in late for work, PowerTools G3 Clones.. those were these days πŸ™‚

A Better Finder Launcher is set free

A long, long time ago, in another life time (the 6th of August 2003 to be precise), I released version 1.0 beta 1 of “A Better Finder Launcher”, my entry into the perfect Mac OS X application launcher contest. Back then I was full of plans for all the cool things I could do with that program..

There were already plenty of contenders our there, but I didn’t like any of them. My problem with them was that they did too much. All I wanted was a quick way of launching the applications that did not fit into the dock. Period.

I reasoned that I can’t possibly be the only person on the planet (or at least the Mac) who wanted something quick, simple and effective, rather than something bloated with features that nobody could possibly want, and so I set out to build a radically fast, radically simple and 100% effective application launcher.

As it happens, I was totally wrong about my market analysis. As it turns out, nobody wants a quick, simple and effective application launcher rather than a bloated “launch everything and the kitchen sink” launcher. And certainly the perceived value of a “simple” product is much less than that of a “complicated” product.

A Better Finder Launcher never took off: not even in a small way. Feedback on the product was never more than a trickle and most of the time was about “why does it not do more”, rather than “couldn’t it do this better”.

Development continued in a haphazard manner, driven more by individual user’s requests and my own whims than by market forces πŸ™‚

The fact that Mac OS X 10.4 introduced “Spotlight” and that the QuickSilver (“Less is more” can mean many different things) guys continued to do an impressive job and do it for free, didn’t help the product to flourish either. Still a hard core of loyal A Better Finder Launcher users continued to exist and I was probably the most hardcore of them.

I have long ago given up on making A Better Finder Launcher a commercial success and as a full time developer that means that I can’t really spend that much time on it (people keep sending me bills!). I was often tempted to acknowledge defeat (I have really) and discontinue the product (I will not) for good.

The thing that stopped me from cutting my losses and get out of the launcher market altogether was that hardcore of users. I didn’t want to let them down. Moreover, right from the start, A Better Finder Launcher was bundled with the A Better Finder series of tools and there are thus potentially tens of thousands of avid users out there that I know nothing about; my guess is that it’s more like a hundred or so, but still..

Unfortunately, I know for a fact that many A Better Finder users don’t like A Better Finder Launcher and that they would be much happier if I stopped bundling the program with the series installer. A Better Finder Launcher is a launcher and not a file utility per-se and it never really fitted in that well with A Better Finder Rename, A Better Finder Attributes and A Better Finder Select, which really are pure file utilities. For me, it was a way of adding a free goodie for the existing series owners.

How then do I get myself out of this predicament? Keeping the existing users happy while acknowledging defeat in the larger market?

My solution in the end is simple: As of today, A Better Finder Launcher is no longer part of the A Better Finder Series and it is no longer a paying product. Instead it becomes freeware (which may widen its appeal at least a little bit). I will continue to update the product in the same haphazard way as before and accept voluntary donations; existing users can now consider themselves early “donators” (thanks!) and customers who want the A Better Finder file utilities, but not the launcher, no longer need to “implicitly” pay for it.

I hope this will make the A Better Finder Series more focused, as well as giving A Better Finder Launcher a new lease of life. I’m currently considering changing its name and icon to reflect its new status, but this will need to wait until an icon can be procured, but a plan is already starting to take shape..

As a loyal user, I don’t want “my launcher” to go out on a low, however, which is why today’s 2.2 release features a number of much requested improvements:

  • two user interface modes: run as a normal application complete with menu bar and dock icon, or run as a hot key-only application (no dock icon, no menu bar)
  • improved responsiveness (always a goal)
  • all known bugs fixed

As Steve Jobs would put it “This is best A Better Finder Launcher we’ve ever done and it is really, really amazing.” … and one more thing … now it’s free.

No Big Bang for The Big Mean Folder Machine

For the past 12 months, I have been working on a new product behind the scenes.

The original idea for the Big Mean Folder Machine came to me while sitting in the lobby of our holiday hotel to find some “stuff” on my haphazardly organized laptop. Now usually, I don’t spend holidays slaving over a laptop, but my (by then heavily) pregnant wife decided that this was the right time to sleep 18 hours a day and Malta in winter is well.. like everywhere else in winter..

Over a late machiato and a club sandwich, I started thinking about how nice it would be if everything was as neatly organized as the Apple Developer mailing DVD in the DVD drive.. you know what I mean: “everything in its place and a place for everything”.

Now the reason why I don’t keep a tidy hard disk is the same as for everybody else.. it takes time to organize “stuff” in the first place and once you have an organization it’s forbiddingly time-consuming to change it.

“What about the poor people at Apple or anybody else who needs to ship electronic deliverables and wants to make a good impression?” I wondered. “How long does it take them? How many people does it take to produce effortless organization?”

Surely those guys have a clever build script that does all the work for them.. or maybe they don’t… or maybe there are at least a few people out there who do not.. wouldn’t they appreciate a nifty little tool that does it all for them according to their own “recipe”?

This is how, the Big Mean Folder Machine was born. The basic idea was to help you create a neat folder structure for your files to fit in snugly and copy (or move them) over into the new structure. All this with the bare minimum of fuss.

Now, once you start thinking about it there are all sorts of situations, where this kind of tool would be useful. How about your 43GB photo collection that you can’t backup because it simply won’t fit on those tiny 4GB DVDs? Why not break them up into 4Gb “chunks” first? How about organizing your photos by year, month and (why not?) by file type? The possibilities are endless.

Now something I’ve learned in the past decade of developing A Better Finder Rename is that you never know in which direction your software is going to evolve over time.. at least if you are listening to what your customers actually want.

The design challenge for an application like this is to produce something that people can actually understand without having to read a lengthy manual. Good user interface design demands that you as the designer have a very detailed understanding of exactly what people want to do with the tool. iPhoto is a good example: it makes the features that people are most likely to want to use, easy and accessible and it hides away the “advanced” features where they are unlikely to get into the way of the casual user.

Now this is hard to do with a new tool for which nobody has an existing mental blue print.

Moreover, file utilities typically perform tasks that appear to be very straightforward at first glance, but that reveal themselves to have lots of hidden complexities that may or may not become a problem. Last but not least, you want total control over the end-result..

My solution to this design challenge was simple. Instead of attempting to create an all-singing-all-dancing user interface without much user feedback to go on, I’ve kept it simple and concentrated on getting the internals right. This has resulted in a simple step-by-step “assistant-style” interface, with each step being explained as you make your choices. Over time this will no doubt evolve into a “control center” interface that will satisfy even a big mean control freak like myself..

This brings me to an important part of my development philosophy: “Don’t design for what you don’t (yet) understand”.

It’s all the rage on the internet these days to find a 1.0 release, give it a spin, find a minor problem or gap in the functionality and then write it off “as junk”, but a 1.0 release is only a beginning, it’s not an end!

It’s the developer’s best (and first!) attempt at the problem. The question really then becomes “is it good enough for now?” and “will it improve over time?”.

A lot of the 1.0 mania is due to the “old” way of developing software: you make a big boxed version of something and then leave it alone for the next 3 years until version 2.0 comes out. In the meantime, you do your best to avoid hearing what your customers have to say (= complain about) and so pretty much guarantee that version 2.0 will be exactly the same (only more so) as version 1.0.

This is emphatically not the way I do things: I get something out early (before it gets too difficult to change things) and start listening to user feedback. Then I improve the software based on that feedback at regular intervals (say 4-6 weeks). As the tool and my understanding of what people really use it for matures, more fundamental changes become necessary, so there is probably a re-write or two in the offing..

Today’s first beta release then, is the beginning of a feedback-driven development process, so if you have any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms please share them with me at reiff@publicspace.net.

Finally, there is the matter of the name.. until last Sunday, the product was going to be called “Big Bang”, playing on the idea of exploding (and why not, imploding?) your file collections, but then I saw that freeverse have a whole collection of electronic board games for the Mac that all begin with “Big Bang” (they don’t look half bad by the way).. so it was back to the drawing board.

In the end, my struggles to communicate what the tool will actually do when it’s finished, lead to the new name: “Well, it’s like a Big Mean Folder Machine!”. At long last a fun name for what I hope will be a fun product..

Before you ask: the current styling and artwork is a left-over of the Big Bang concept and will be replaced with bigger and meaner artwork very soon.. as a result, today’s first public beta release is going to be on the quiet, understated, side.. a link on the website and a blog entry.

I hope you’ll find The Big Mean Folder Machine a useful addition to your tool collection.. if it looks at all likely that it could do something that would be of value to you, please do let me know, so that one day soon it just might..

Portrait Mode is Back!

Today’s Mac OS X 10.4.9 update finally brings us Mac Pro NVIDIA 7300 GT owners, the portrait mode whose absence I had lamented in my Mac Pro Review no less than almost 6 months ago:

Anyway, the Mac Pro does not support portrait mode! Arrgghhh… What do you mean NO portrait mode on a Pro graphics machine in the 21st century?

The nice people at Ergotron had felt a bit miffed by my report of how difficult it was to adjust their triple monitor stand from portrait to landscape mode and instead of suing me, convinced me to test their “new and improved” LX Triple Display Lift Stand, which I promptly reviewed on this blog.

Well, I’m happy to report that changing my monitors back to the long-awaited portrait mode was no problem at all and took less than 2 minutes; no outside help required πŸ˜‰

BTW If you have posted a comment on this blog recently, please do not be offended but it will probably never get out of moderation. Logging in today I see that there are over 10,000 comments for moderation and I don’t think WordPress is up to displaying all these in a web browser window. Sorry.

Correcting Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) Information with A Better Finder Attributes

Most photo management solutions, including Apple’s iPhoto and Aperture applications, use the date and time that a picture was actually taken rather than a simple file date to arrange photos by date. This EXIF date is embedded in the JPEG files themselves and is unrelated to the normal file system creation and modification dates that you may see in the Finder.

While it’s great to arrange photos by the time they were shot, it can cause serious inconvenience when your camera’s internal clock is out of sync.. your photos will not appear in the correct order and your photo library will quickly become disorganized.

Amateurs and professionals alike occasionally forget to set their camera’s internal clock correctly, but by far the most common problems occur when travelling to another time zone (whether you’re on your honeymoon or reporting from a distant war zone) and when using multiple cameras.

Failing to adjust your camera’s time zone while on honeymoon may mean that the pictures that you’ve taken at breakfast on the 20th of January may actually be filed under the 19th around 10PM. Professional photographers often use a variety of different cameras fitted out with different lenses to cover the same event. Say a wide-angle lens for taking group pictures at a wedding and a 50mm lens for the portraits of the bride and groom. When the clocks of both cameras are out of sync (and when aren’t they?) the “cutting of the cake” pictures will end up interspersed with the “best man’s toast” and can cause a lot of extra work.

Adjusting the EXIF timestamp is by no means easily achieved. This data is written in stone (why would you want to change the time from the actual time to some ficitious time anyway?) and programs that allow you to edit (or better yet batch edit) this timestamp are very rare indeed.

Enter A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 and its ability to easily and conveniently batch adjust EXIF timestamps.

In this short tutorial, we’ll take some pictures and “fix” their timestamps. We’ll assume that we’re using iPhoto, but it could be any other photo application.

Don’t mess with the photo library

The first step is to locate the pictures we want to modify. This point is important, so let’s spell it out in bold:

Don’t modify the timestamp of the pictures that are already in iPhoto!

Work on copies instead.

iPhoto and other photo organization tools arrange your photos into their own folder hierarchy and you should never mess around with this or you risk losing precious meta-data and experiencing problems working with the files.

We have two options:

  • if the photos are not yet in the library, we can perform the changes before importing them
  • if the photos are already in the library, we must first export them before changing them and then re-importing the corrected files

Whatever else you do: keep the original files safe somewhere and correct the timestamp of the copies. That way you’ll never lose a photo.

Importing photos without iPhoto

If you know that the photos have incorrect timestamps, it is probably easier to correct their timestamp before importing them into iPhoto. How can you do this, since you use iPhoto to import the photos in the first place?

The solution is simple. Mac OS X comes with a little known image importing utility that uses the same code as iPhoto itself: Image Capture

You can find this nifty tool pre-installed in your “Applications” folder.

Apple have a brief description of how to use this tool on their Help website and I have covered using it previously in a tutorial on how to automatically give your iPhoto files meaningful names using A Better Finder Rename.

Exporting your photos from iPhoto

If your photos are already in iPhoto, you need to first export them before changing them.

This is easily achieved by using iPhoto’s “File” -> “Export…” feature:

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Keep the default values which will make sure that the original files are exported.

Changing the EXIF timestamps

First locate your exported or freshly imported image files.
Then make copies of them and keep them somewhere safe

Now for the sake of argument, let’s say we need to add precisely 6 hours (we’ve crossed 6 timezones) and 15 seconds (this is our second camera and its clock was 15 seconds slow compared to the first camera).

First we launch A Better Finder Attributes. (Just click here, if you haven’t downloaded it yet).

The dialog below will appear:

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Now drag and drop your photo files into the preview table on the right:

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Then select “Add or remove time from the date a JPEG photo was taken” from the “Action:” popup menu and fill in the dialog with the appropriate values:

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Note that you need to check the “I accept full responsibility for using this feature” checkbox before you can proceed. This is another gentle reminder that you shoud back up your files before messing around with them πŸ™‚

Finally click the “OK” button and the EXIF dates are changed:

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Voila!

Optionally delete the photos with incorrect timestamps from the iPhoto library

Hands down the best time to change EXIF dates is before you first import them into iPhoto. If this is no longer an option, you need to decide whether you want to keep the files with the incorrect timestamps or want to permanently erase them.

If you choose to erase them, your photo library will be in pristine condition with all photos arranged in correct chronological order, but you could potentially lose changes (effects, etc) to the files that you’ve already made in iPhoto. iPhoto is generally fairly good at dealing with this kind of thing, but I can’t vouch for it.. If you don’t erase the old photos you’ll end up with duplicates (the photo with the correct date and the original photo).

If you choose to remove the files from the iPhoto library, do so within iPhoto (pressing the Backspace key will transfer the selected pictures to the iPhoto trash). Never use the Finder to directly erase files within iPhoto’s Finder folder hierarchy!

Import your modified photos (back) into iPhoto

Choose “File” -> “Import to Library…” in iPhoto, locate your files and confirm the import.

Conclusions

As we’ve seen in this tutorial, changing EXIF dates with A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 is simple, but you have to be careful to let your photo management software know about it.

Most professionals will tend to use Image Capture, sometimes along with a few automatic scripts to import their files onto their Mac because this offers greater flexibility. If this interests you, you might like to read the already mentioned tutorial showing you how to use your own custom naming scheme with Image Capture automation.

I hope you will find this mini-tutorial useful.

Tutorial: Using A Better Finder Rename to import image files from your camera

Photographers, both professionals and ambitious amateurs make up a large fraction of A Better Finder Rename users.

All-in-one photo management and manipulation software like iPhoto assumes that file names are of little consequence and you’ll want to organize your images according to a project structure or meta data. This is fine as long as you never leave the photo management software, but of course you do so for all kinds of reasons: export the files to send to a third party, manipulate your files in a third party application, publish them to a non .Mac gallery, etc., etc.

In all these situations, you’d rather give your image files more meaningful names than IMG_66387.jpg. But how can you do this when all the files are managed by iPhoto software?

There are essentially two solutions: You can give your files meaningful names before importing them into your photo management software or after exporting them out of your photo management software.

Don’t ever try to rename files within the photo management software’s folder hierarchy! Applications, such as iPhoto, keep a lot of information outside of the actual image files and if you rename these files without the program knowing anything about it, you will lose valuable meta-data such as your albums, galleries, etc..

Using A Better Finder Rename to rename your image files after exporting them is trivial: simply drag & drop the files into A Better Finder Rename and let it do its magic.

Renaming the files before you import them is a little trickier.

Many Mac users do not know that you don’t need import your pictures directly into iPhoto. For the true professionals, Mac OS X offers a specialized application that does nothing but import images from your camera (and other image devices): Image Capture.

Image Capture lives in your “Applications” folder. Simply double click to launch it:

Image-CaptureScreenSnapz001.png

Now it’s time to connect your camera and switch it on. iPhoto will probably launch and ask you whether you want to import your pictures. Politely tell it that you don’t need it and quit it for now.

The Image Capture window will now show your camera:

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You can do pretty much everything in Image Capture that you could do in iPhoto as far as importing your images is concerned. “Download All” will simply get all the pictures off your camera, while “Download Some…” will let you choose from the thumbnails which ones you want to import. Note that you can also choose which folder you want to import your pictures to. The “Options…” dialog also contains some useful features.

Once the photos are imported to the folder of your choice, you can use A Better Finder Rename to rename them and then import them using iPhoto’s import feature:

iPhoto_import.png

Voila.

But that’s still 3 steps and a little too complicated for you?

Careful examination of the Image Capture window reveals the solution: the “Automatic Task” popup menu. This specifies which program should be run just after file have finished importing.

For now let’s simply choose the “A Better Finder Rename” application as the automatic task by:

  • selecting the “Other…” item in the “Automatic Task” popup menu
  • navigating to the “A Better Finder Rename” application in the “Applications” folder

Pressing the “Download All…” button will now first download all the images from your camera and then start up A Better Finder Rename:

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You can now use the full power of the tool to give your pictures more meaningful file names.

You can, however, still go one step further.

It is for instance often convenient to encode the shooting time and date in the file name; that way you always know at a glance when the original picture was taken. If you use this type of naming convention you can take advantage of A Better Finder Rename’s droplet feature.

Droplets are small, independent, applications that automate common tasks. You save a rename action and the correct parameters into such a droplet application and every time you drag some files on the droplet the files are automatically renamed according to these settings.

Instead of defining A Better Finder Rename as the “automatic task”, we can use a droplet that we have prepared earlier. In this case, I have encoded our naming convention into a droplet called “Image Capture Automation” and defined it as the automatic task in Image Capture:

droplet.png

Now as soon as I push the “Download All” button, the pictures are imported to the hard disk and once this is finished they are automatically renamed with our naming convention.

Looking for Pentax and Kodak RAW sample files

I am currently working on improved RAW photo format support for forthcoming A Better Finder Rename 7.6 and A Better Finder Attributes 4.4.

The biggest problem at the moment is that I have found it difficult to obtain sample images taken with different cameras.

So far I have been able to successfully test with the following file formats:

  • jpeg (with EXIF)
  • crw (Canon)
  • cr2 (Canon)
  • thm (Canon)
  • nef (Nikon)
  • tiff (camera)
  • raf (Fuji)
  • orf (Olympus)
  • mrw (Minolta)
  • dng (Adobe)
  • srf (Sony)

I think the code should also be able to work with:

  • dcr (Kodak)
  • Panasonic RAW format files

The problem is that I can seem to find any .DCR or Panasonic RAW sample files to test with anywhere on the internet.

If anybody has got a Kodak or Panasonic camera that use these file formats, could you please send me a file or two via email?

You don’t need to worry about the attachment size at my end. Should the files be too large for your mail reader to send I can arrange FTP access to my site for you.

I would really appreciate your help.

Best regards,

Frank

Ergotron LX Triple Display Lift Stand Review

When I recently reviewed the new Mac Pro machines, I mentioned that the one thing that didn’t really make it such a great upgrade for me was that the graphics cards in the new Mac Pros do not (yet?) support portrait mode. I mentioned that my beloved three monitor setup (from left to right: 21″ portrait mode, 21″ landscape mode, 21″ portrait mode) from the G5 PowerMac needed to be converted to a landscape only “panorama” setup.

I may have given the impression that doing this on my Ergotron DS100 triple monitor stand is not so easy. Well, it’s true. The DS100 is a kit-type system designed primarily for static setups with anything from 2 to 5 (or more) screens.

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This makes sense because until recently a dual (or God forbid triple) TFT screen setup was just prohibitively expensive. This meant that you were only ever likely to find such setups in environments like control rooms of half-billion dollar factories, airports and of course financial trading rooms. In these types of environment, “set them up and leave them running” stands are more than sufficient.

The price of LCD screens has now, however, plummeted so far that multi-screen setups are, if perhaps not cheap, at least affordable for most professionals. Thus monitor stands need to evolve!

After I reported my “niggle” with their product on my blog, the good people at Ergotron contacted me via email. That’s customer service! With most companies, it is YOU who have to contact them and they will then be happy to ignore you until you give up (e.g. Canon’s scanner support people).

Not so at Ergotron: they promptly set out to convince me that their monitor stands had already evolved. Would I like to give their new LX Triple Display Lift Stand a go? An offer I couldn’t refuse..

On paper, the LX Triple Display Lift Stand is exactly what I was looking for before I “settled” for the DS100. It can accommodate three flat screens, is fully height adjustable, you can allegedly easily rotate the displays from portrait to landscape mode and tilt them forward and backwards as a unit.

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Today, the good man from FedEx delivered a parcel roughly the size of a golf bag (at least I think that’s how big a golf bag must be). So let’s see what the new generation of triple monitor stands looks like..

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The giant box contains a surprisingly small number of components and right from the start you notice that this is a consumer/ prosumer kind of product. My previous stand had a utilitarian/industrial feel about it: designed for and by people who like ratchets and aren’t afraid of a spot of DIY.

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This stand is different. Each component is “designed” and attention was given to the detailed aesthetics; there are even nicely emblazoned “Ergotron” logos here and there. The bulk and the impeccable finish of the major components screams “German SUV” aesthetics.

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Assembly too is definitely at the prosumer/ consumer end of the spectrum. You simply plug the three major components into one another and fix them with 4 screws. 5 minutes flat if you are of a careful disposition.

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The assembled stand according to my wife looks like “space tech”; I think it wouldn’t look out of place on an big Audi Q7. It’s a bit too large to ignore, just big enough to impress and not quite so huge as to be ridiculous. In a word: nice.

It is of course the part where you put YOUR screens on the stand where things start getting tricky, and swapping between different setups “on the fly” is where the reality of manipulating some fairly hefty hardware re-asserts itself.. let’s see whether the new stand fares better than the old models in this respect.

Hands down the most complicated part of assembling your three display stand is to unmount your TFTs from their original stands. Many LCDs these days come mounted on a rotating, tilting and height adjustable base. Disassembling this and using the VESA compliant (if you’re lucky) mounts can be a little tricky especially on models with built-in USB hubs, power supplies, speakers, etc.

This is where the “oh my good I hope I don’t break it” feeling starts to strike (perhaps not so much if it’s not YOUR screen that YOU paid YOUR money for, but still..).

Luckily for me, I went through this whole process a while ago when assembling the DS100 stand, so that part was plain sailing for me πŸ™‚

Now for “How do I put my screens on that stand”?

This turns out to be not so very complicated, even though it takes two people to do it.

The basic problem is the weight distribution: the middle monitor goes on without a hitch, but the side monitors are more problematic. While you are trying to put on the first side monitor, there is obviously a lot more weight on that end of the stand and the whole thing is going to topple over. This is where you need the second person to stabilize the other end. Once the first side monitor is on of course, the entire stand will be unstable until you put on the third and final monitor, so don’t plan on doing this without having somebody else around to help you. While you’re at it why not invite a third person along?

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With the older DS100 model, this was quite tiresome because each screen was attached with a jumbo size screw that went through the horizontal rail itself. There was nothing keeping the screen horizontally stable until the screw was at least halfway in.

Imagine the scene: one person is holding the already mounted left hand screen level so the stand doesn’t fall over on its heavier left side, while the second person is trying to hold up the right hand screen so that the jumbo screw fits into the rail while trying to fit the nut onto this screw. This would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that some very expensive hardware is about to get damaged πŸ™‚

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The LX Triple Display Lift Stand makes things an awful lot easier by supplying a more horizontally stable base. What’s more the screens are first mounted on a kind of bracket with a straight edge that is hung onto the horizontal rail. This makes an enormous difference: you simply lift the screen and hang it onto the rail and then do all the fine-adjusting. Much nicer.

The stand comes with a whole array of mounting plates and screws to fit all VESA compliant monitors. If you are worried about your particular monitor being compatible, Ergotron have a very comprehensive list of monitor specifications on their website against which you can check your particular model. This also takes into account the weight of each monitor, an important factor.

My own setup consists of three 21 inch monitors: two Samsung 213Ts on the sides and one Samsung 214T in the middle. Ergotron recommend that the monitors have similar weights but this is not strictly necessary.

Since the LX is able to accommodate many different monitors and setups, a little bit of adjustment is necessary in order to get the best of it. The stand is capable of both moving your monitors up and down and to tilt them forwards or backwards in unison. Given that you might put three ultra light 17 inch LCDs rather than three heavy 21 inchers on the stand, the force that needs to be applied can vary dramatically. On the stand you can adjust Ergotron’s patented “Constant Force Lift and Pivot Motion Technology” (CF) by tightening three screws with the supplied adjustment tool.

I found that I had to tighten all three of the screws to very close of their respective maximum settings: I guess that the combined weight of my three 21 inchers must be close to the allowable maximum.

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Once these adjustments are made the screens do indeed move up and down and forwards and backwards easily enough.

Unfortunately, the ability to rotate the screens from landscape to portrait orientation somewhat interferes with the nice smooth action of the CF adjustments: the landscape/ portrait swivel is rather loose so that when you use the edge of the center monitor to move the whole unit up or down, or tilt it forwards or backwards, the center screen tends to rotate a little bit on its vertical axis. In an optimal setup, the edges of both side screens touch the center screen and are thus also knocked out of alignment. A stiffer action on the swivel would eliminate this problem and make the whole thing feel more solid.

Apart from this minor gripe, the adjustability of the stand is exemplary. Especially keeping in mind that my setup is probably towards the maximum weight limit..

The technical support at Ergotron informed me that the brackets have undergone a redesign and that the currently shipping product features this newer design. This confirms my earlier experiences with the Ergotron support team being very eager to get feedback and going to some lengths to satisfy their customers. I’m currently waiting for the new re-designed brackets to arrive and will update you on this point as soon as they arrive.

Moving the screens from landscape to portrait mode is also easily accomplished. You simply loosen the knob of the bracket, move the screen a bit along the horizontal rail to make some space, turn it, bring it back in and re-tighten the knob. A definite improvement over the DS100 where this was a two person job (in all fairness, Ergotron do also offer rotating “pivots” for the DS100, but I’m not lucky enough to own one).

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In conclusion then, the new LX Triple Display Stand is a marked improvement over the already more than adequate DS100 series. Unlike its predecessor, it is targeted squarely at the non-DIY crowd and makes both a stylish and practical triple monitor stand. As far as I am aware there are at present no other fully adjustable triple monitor stands available and this ought to make this an even easier choice for anybody looking for this type of product.

All this quality and ease-of-use comes at a recommended retail price of $299. Some people may think that this is an awful lot of money to pay for a monitor stand.

The reality though is that multiple monitor setups do not work half as well without a specialized stand. In order to be truly usable the displays need to be as close together as at all possible and arranged in a parabolic arc that keeps them at an easy viewing distance. Achieving this with individual stands isn’t easy and will usually mean that your elbows end up knocking into the stands of side screens. Supporting three large screens requires some no-nonsense engineering, and that comes at no nonsense prices.

What’s more by shopping around you can find the stand for anything between $200 and $250.

Your basic calculation for a three 21″ monitor setup will thus be something like: 3 times $500 for the monitors plus $250 is $1750 for a 4800×1200 pixel mega screen (that’s 5,7 Megapixel!). This isn’t exactly cheap but still compares favorably with a single Apple Cinema 30″ HD Flat-Panel Display that offers “only” a 2560×1600 screen at 4 mega pixels.

Of course you could just go for a 19 inch setup at 1280×1024 which would work out closer to $1000 and still give you an impressive 3,9 mega pixel.. or a dual 21 inch setup for 2 times $500 plus the $269 for the LX Dual Display Lift Stand. Choices. Choices. Choices.

Before you go off and order your own multi-screen setup: A word of advice for your monitor choice: choose something with a small bevel size (that’s the frame around the actual monitor) so that you easily place them close to one another and make sure that they are VESA mounting compatible. Sophisticated add-ons like usd hubs, built-in speakers and similar “nice-to-have” features can become a real problem because they might interfere with getting your screens as close as possible to one another. The extra features also often require the use of the supplied stand and you can thus end up disconnecting these features to get them onto a double or triple stand.

Samsung make some affordable “bare bones” screens without fancy USB ports, built-in speakers, etc but with great picture quality.

Right, I’ll now let you go off and plan your own triple monitor setup πŸ™‚