Thinking that I've lost it? No, you read that title right, I'm making a case for small screens (albeit many of them).
I've recently been given a 27 inch iMac by my advisor. This does nothing to change my feelings, I still think that Macs suck, and that they are one of the most gimped excuses for a computer. But that's for another post. Right now, I'll be making a case against big displays, and that holds for any computer, not just Macs.
The argument starts off with Fitt's Law. This is a law which relates the time taken to point at a target using a pointing device like a mouse, and relates the time to the log of the distance to the target divided by the width of the target. For convenience, I've listed the law, in mathematical form below.
Basically, all that it says is rather obvious. If you're trying to point at a tiny target located a mile away, you're screwed. But that's what happens with every large display. Note that I'm talking about large in terms of pixels, not physical size. It's perfectly fine to use a 1280x720 projector projecting on an IMAX screen (okay, IMAX fans, I've downgraded the IMAX effect, but it's just to make a point).
With a screen that's huge, in terms of number of pixels, your targets (like simple close, minimise or maximise buttons) become too tiny and too far away. This means a hell lot of wrist movement, when using a mouse, and that's never a pleasure.
The next thing is in terms of distractions. Mostly, I like to have just one thing open on my screen at a time, unless I'm referring to something else; but at any time, I just have one task open on my screen, and that helps focus by removing all distractions. With a small screen, there really is no place to keep too much stuff on the screen, and I end up using multiple workspaces. As a result, sometimes, during coding binge sessions, I end up writing code for hours on end (sometimes starting just after lunch, and continuing till dinner), never once switching to my workspace containing GMail or Facebook.
With large displays, I invariably end up having a browser open next to vim, and that's never good. It means more distractions, especially when you see the tab that prints out the number of notifications (yes, I know I can log out, but I'm addicted to the web).
Frankly, I don't really need so many pixels. I code in Vim, and that fits inside an 80x24 console. I could be fine with just a 10 inch netbook. The only time when I need extra space is when I refer to something else, like C++ reference, or StackOverflow.
So what's my ideal setup? A wide array of monitors (actually, just two), one with a browser open for reference, and another where I do all my work, ideally separated by a good amount, so that my primary monitor is right in front of me, and the secondary (used for reference) does not bother me unless I consciously look at it. Of course, it's with the cost factored in. All I'm saying is that I'd rather have two 17 inch monitors than one 27 inch monitor.