The myth of the widescreen myth

Rafe Needleman has a problem with wide screens:

For most people, the world of work is in portrait mode, and wide-screen displays offer scant benefits.

Now, I’m not going to say the author is an idiot, as the first person commenting on the original article stated, but I am going to say that his experience is extremely limited and falls under the very common trap of extending his experience to everybody else’s. First of all, he seems to be working exclusively out of a laptop:

The column came about because my new MacBook has a wide-screen display (as do almost all new laptops). It’s gorgeous and great for watching videos, but it does not help my productivity one whit. I have to scroll more when I’m reading and writing, which slows me down.

Now, I’ve been in the “world of work” for many years now, and I know that working from a laptop implies a lot of compromises, including screen size. Equating all wide screens to the skimpy vertical resolution monitors that laptops have to use to guarantee portability is just nonsense. The author probably has never sat down in front of a desktop with a 22″ wide screen monitor or, even better, a two-monitor arrangement that you can use for real work.

He also seems to be complaining about websites that go too wide:

Like reading a page of text or a book, most Web sites are set up with strong vertical orientation. That works for text-based material, since wide lines of text, longer than about 60 characters, become hard to read (the reader has a hard time finding the beginning of the next line).

He does have a point there, however any web developer/designer who doesn’t know how to use the property max-width is not even worth his/her weight in mud and shouldn’t be in charge of creating websites. The problem here is not the width of the screen, but of design. Most web designers/developers do not take into consideration the diversity of display devices out there. This doesn’t mean the wide screen format is bad, just that most web designers/developers are bad.

Honestly, there is no productivity booster like a wide screen. Even if vertical resolution is compromised most applications will allow you to move their tool bars to the side, letting you use more vertical space for the work area while having your tool icons flanking your documents. In this arrangement you can often fit more tool bars, which means having more tools at hand.

Yes, you still have to scroll more. Big deal, your computer has an up-arrow and a down-arrow key that makes this action very easy. You can even do so using the track pad and with a bit of practice it’s quite intuitive. And, of course, if you ever decide to get serious about your job an invest in a good monitor instead of hunching over the paltry offerings of your laptop then you won’t even have to do that.

So, the problem is not the screen width, but habits. A wide screen can, and indeed does, increase the productivity of most computer workers, at least the ones who are serious enough about work to learn to use them to their full capability.