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    Multi-head support on Linux has been terrible for a long time. What’s really aggravating is that for a while in the mid 2000’s, it was actually really great. Around the time that LCD monitors began to take hold, CRTs started getting downright cheap and any “serious” workstation had two or more big chunky CRTs sitting side by side. Not my battlestation, but here’s the evidence: https://www.linux-user.de/ausgabe/2001/12/044-dual/dual.jpg Eventually multiple 17” or 19” 4:3 CRTs replaced those.

    Both KDE and GNOME 2 handled multiple displays very well. Even better than Windows and Mac at the time. You could hot-plug monitors into your system and your desktop would magically expand to fill it. If you ran some applications on that second monitor and then disconnected it, the windows would automatically move back to the first. Reconnect the monitor again and the window moved right back to where it was. And all of this worked great when you added and removed displays even while the system was suspended.

    However, eventually a thing happened. Two things, really. 1) Widescreen LCD displays started getting cheap. (Why bother with the fuss of two monitors when you could get almost the same horizontal resolution in one?) 2) Users and developers flocked to portable laptops instead of big powerful desk-bound workstations. From my observations working in this field, most developers often work directly on their laptop with no external screen. A good percentage of those work in what i call “iPad mode” where each application they run is maximized full screen and instead of dealing with moving windows around, they just switch from app to app. Or, when they do plug into a screen, they close the laptop lid and just use the one screen.

    I feel that as a result of these cultural changes, multi-head Linux desktop configurations seems to faltered. My workflow involves spending most of my time in dual-head mode on my laptop: the laptop screen and an external monitor through a dock. When I need to go to a meeting, I undock the laptop and need to have the desktop do the right thing. And the same when I come back and dock it again.

    KDE ostensibly supports multi-head configurations but last I checked it was a little buggy and not as flexible as I’d like. XFCE’s implementation has been buggy and annoying for years, although they do keep trying to improve it. Right now GNOME is the only one that seems to get it completely right, or at least right enough for me. (Which is annoying because I don’t really like GNOME that much!)

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      In the 10+ years I’ve been running multi-head Linux (usually two, sometimes three monitors (3rd is the laptop screen)) I’ve had no big issues with it. Definitely not the issues I see colleagues having with Windows or OS X, which generally are hard to debug: it either works or it doesn’t on those OSs.

      However, I run a niche distro (Void Linux, Debian before that) and do not use desktop environments: I’ve always been on i3, StumpWM or EXWM and use xrandr to configure my monitors.

      I do realize this lacks the easy of use you might be looking for, but it’s very Linux ;-)

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        Same; I haven’t seen any multi-head issues since ~2005 on Debian.

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          use xrandr to configure my monitors.

          If you ever want a graphical frontend to xrandr, I do suggest arandr. It’s packaged too :) and can emit shell scripts that reapply the current screen configuration, for automation purposes.

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          Some anecdata, and an idea: I use Cinnamon and have not had problems with restoring external screen state in years, and I assume it is part-or-mostly because of utilities shared with, or borrowed from, GNOME.

          If you dislike GNOME (or Cinnamon for that matter), but this feature is very important to you, you might want to check other GNOME-adjacent projects such as MATE or Pantheon.

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            I used MATE on and off for many years after GNOME 2 was abandoned. I would like to keep using it but it seems like the developers have too much on their plate just to keep up with GTK and other dependencies constantly changing out from underneath them. As a result, it seems to be getting increasingly more broken for me, unfortunately. I wish I could contribute to the project somehow but desktop development is not in my wheelhouse.

            I used Cinnamon for a while years ago but haven’t tried it lately. I’ll have to give it a fair shake again. Thanks for the suggestion. I always seem to forget about it.

            Right now I’m seeing if I can acclimate to the Ubuntu (GNOME 3) desktop with some tweaks. So far it’s quite stable. The dash-to-panel extension and the arc menu extension make it pretty close to palatable (for me) from a UI standpoint, but we’ll see if that holds in the long term.

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              I feel like I was in a similar situation for a long time. I used Fluxbox and then Openbox for years, did the tiling thing for a bit, but ultimately decided I wanted a more traditional DE. I ended up ping-ponging between them all, never quite satisfied.

              Cinnamon passed the “works for me” threshold for me in 2016 as a function of several factors, but a lot of it seems to coincide with the Linux Mint team giving up on matching every Ubuntu release. They began basing on the LTS release and were thus able to focus their resources into squashing lower-tier bugs, adjusting experience-defining annoyances, improve UI response times, lower memory usage, etc. instead of forever chasing this-or-that compatibility.

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            I use KDE with three monitors right now, have for many years, and haven’t noticed any relevant bugs at all. What bugs bother you?

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              Most widescreen displays don’t really have more horizontal resolution. The newest ones are (roughly) half-height UHD displays (3840 resolution across, but only 1200 pixels down)


              A proper UHD (“4k”) screen is 3840 x 2160. So the non-ultrawide will have the same horizontal resolution as an ultrawide, but less vertical resolution!

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              I remember how amazing these products were when I first saw them, how expensive they were, and how I thought about all the amazing things I could do if I could make my own CDs ( and then DVDs and then Blu-Ray ).

              I haven’t had to burn a disk in years, and this past week I actually had to buy some DVD-Rs! I will be appearing in court and need to burn some dash-cam footage to DVD so it can easily be played in the courtroom. They don’t want to deal with video on thumb drives, etc.

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                I really don’t like Apple. I am using a Microsoft Surface Book right now, use Windows 10 servers in my office, use Azure for our cloud. I use OneDrive instead of Drop Box. I even used a Zune when portable music players were a thing.

                But the best, most hassle free smartphone experience these days is on iPhone. I have an iPhone X. I’ve tried all sorts of Android phones, but they were very “fiddly”, worked in unpredictable ways, and had maddening features (like a button on my Samsung phone that at the time couldn’t be disabled and brought up this usless “Bixby” personal assistant and would get pressed accidentally all the time).

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                  In the end the best, most hassle-free smartphone experience these days is on devices which are capable of hosting AOSP-derived Android distributions like LineageOS. OTA update, Google-free if you want it to be, you can choose between a host of different sizes, the price range goes from ‘dirt cheap’ to ‘almost Apple’. You get to be the one who decides what runs on your device and what will not, you get to be the one who decides whether you want to firewall the thing, which browser you get to use, etc.

                  What you describe might be the easy way out by trusting Apple to be there for you. If you trust them, good for you but don’t forget that in the end they are more intent on watching their own bottom line and their own interests. Should those go against yours it should be clear which side will win the argument. It is not the most hassle-free as you’ll have to deal with the consequences of those decisions, from not allowing other browsers (i.e. real browsers, not just shells around WebKit) to booting competing apps to keeping your SMS service hostage should you ever dare to move away from iOS (you can check out anytime but we’ll make it as hard as possible to actually leave) to… well, I guess you know the drill.

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