OS X Mavericks preview: Multiple Displays finally work like they're supposed to

If you've ever been frustrated by the way Spaces or full-screen apps have been supported on multiple displays, those days will soon be behind you. When OS X Mavericks is released this fall, Macs will finally get truly useful, independent support for multiple displays.

Macs have supported simple-to-use multi-monitor displays since an era when they were unknown on PCs. Like, back when Macs were still predominantly black and white machines, when people wore suits with huge shoulder pads and big hair was all the rage. (I once had an SE/30 equipped with a video card that powered an external display.)

But when OS X Lion came out in 2011, Apple backslid when they introduced full-screen apps, which would cause one monitor to display a pattern while the other one held the app. And using Spaces since Lion - especially with multiple monitors - was an exercise in teeth-grinding frustration. Apple's changing that in Mavericks, making multiple displays finally work the way they're supposed to. And it looks like a lot of you are looking forward to it - based on our recent poll, more than half of respondents are enthusiastic about these improvements.

Here's what Apple has to say{.nofollow} about multiple display support in Mavericks:

OS X Mavericks takes full advantage of every display connected to your Mac, giving you even more flexibility to work the way you want. There’s no longer a primary or secondary display — now each has its own menu bar, and the Dock is available on whichever screen you’re working on.

Multiple displays dock

First of all, multiple displays in Mavericks can work independently. Each monitor can have its own menu bar. Let me repeat that so it sinks in: every monitor can have its own menu bar. That's never happened in OS X before, without installing third-party software.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means you can have two applications running on two separate displays, each one with its own independent menu bar. That means a lot less moving the mouse back and forth: up until now, you've had move the cursor back to your "primary" display to access the menu bar for the app running on a second display. Inelegant and confusing.

The Dock is available in any screen to screen - so if you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen (or wherever you've designated the Dock to appear), the Dock will be available.

Full-screen app support finally works the way it's supposed to, as well. Go full-screen on one monitor and the app will, predictably, take over the display. But the second monitor is unencumbered. You can go full-screen with another app on that one, or just use it in regular windowed mode if you prefer.

Mission Control, OS X's built in window management utility, now shows you an overview of what's running on each display. And you can easily rearrange the location of apps on each display by clicking on its thumbnail and dragging it to a new screen.

Multiple Displays Apple TV support

If you don't have the money or room to spring for a second display but you'd still benefit from Mavericks' new functionality, there may be a solution, assuming you have an HDTV hooked up via AirPlay, such as one that's connected through a second or third-generation Apple TV. Mavericks recognizes an AirPlay-connected television as a completely independent and functional display - you can display content from one app on your TV while using others on your Mac's monitor. At WWDC, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi demonstrated multiple monitor support running on an Apple laptop, using a primary, secondary and Apple TV display simultaneously.

OS X Mavericks' multiple display support is leaps and bounds better than what's available in Mountain Lion, and it finally puts to rest outstanding issues that have dogged Macs for years.

Is multiple display support in Mavericks something that you'll use? Are you more likely to use it, now that Apple's ironed out some of the deficiencies that have plagued recent releases of OS X? Let us know in the comments, and for more info, hit these helpful links:

Peter Cohen
  • I've been begging for this since Lion came out! I have two 21.5" monitors flanking each side of my 27" iMac and work across all three screens at all times. To be able to have the menu work independently on each display is huge as you pointed out. That and being able to use apps in Full Screen without that grey crosshatch pattern is going to be a blessing. I cannot wait for Mavericks to come out just for this. Sent from the iMore App
  • I just wish it would still support dragging windows between screens by moving them off the edge of one screen to the other screen, which the Mavericks method does NOT support anymore.
  • It DOES support the current multiple displays way of working and it also supports a newer method as outlined in this article. You can toggle between each option with a mouse click in System Preferences.
  • It's never been a big issue for me, but once I have it, I'm sure I'll wonder why it was never a big issue for me.
  • It does and it doesn't. Apparently, with the new Mavericks method of multiple desktops, you CANNOT have windows stretch across multiple desktops, nor can you move them fluidly from one screen to another by dragging them off the side of the screen to the secondary screens. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi6AhogZCeg This video shows the Pros and the Cons of the new multiple desktop method in Mavericks.
  • And this display functionality works from Mac to PC correct?
  • I don't think I understand the question. This display functionality is very specific to OS X Mavericks, which is by definition a Mac product.
  • As someone who has never owned a Mac, educate me on this one (and I'm not trying to make a troll comment, honest)... How is this considered such a big deal when Windows has had dual monitor support for, well, many years? Has the Mac finally caught up to Windows 98? I'm obviously missing something here, but not sure what.
  • Its such a big deal because macs didn't have it, and its been a pain in the buttocks for many users for a long time. Windows being able to do it doesn't have anything to do with it, apart from being embarrassing to osx.
  • Wow. How did nobody catch this troll's reply? Macs have had multiple display capabilities for a long time, since nearly the beginning in 1984, before Windows even existed. The issue arose when the capability was partially broken in OS X 10.7 ("Lion").
  • The best thing about this for me is that airplay from the Mac will finally be useful. I never understood why I'd want to use two of my available screens to show the same thing simultaneously. I always felt like I was taking crazy pills when people got excited about that feature.
  • I'm excited about this.
  • I've been using the developer previews (just installed DP3) of Mavericks since it was announced and the new "improved" multi-display support is completely broken. I can't watch fullscreen video on any of my monitors without the menu bar or the dock (or both), lying on top of them. I use my second monitor mainly for video playback and it's a pain in the ass. The only work around is using both VLC and Chrome/Safari in Lion fullscreen mode. That is ridiculous. Second, the command to call the dock from a second monitor is so unresponsive it's actually funny. It simply doesn't work. I keep hoping these are bugs that will be fixed by the time of release, but after three DPs, I'm starting to get really worried, not mentioning annoyed. I hate Mavericks.
    (BTW yes, you can't stretch a window across multiple monitor)
  • I was blessedly unaware of multiple screen problems introduced after 10.6 ... and I was under the impression 10.9 would apparently work much like things work on 10.6 (and before) with the addition of the option to have a menubar on each screen. But if that multiple menubar functionality also means a sort of compartimentalisation where you cannot move windows between screens freely, maybe cannot have a window spanning a screen border and possibly even restricting each app to its designated screen (??!), I fear I'll have to be sticking to 10.6 despite all the interesting new features in 10.9!
    So what news has there been since the month that the last comments were posted? This whole "fullscreen" feature is just a sales argument to me. Apple themselves used to advocate app-dependent behaviour of the zoom function, and rightly so (even more because they obviously have a bigger-is-better approach to screens ... ). How is going fullscreen any different that it's not something that ought to be left to each application to figure out how to handle?
  • Im glad this new feature can help some people. However I did not have the need to have two separate menu bars, as the movement from one desktop to another, the saving of a flick of the wrist was honestly no big deal. I could see how heavy users could find the constant movement form one to the other as tedious though. Nonetheless, i had hoped the desktops would be ACTUALLY independent of one another, in that if I organized folders, sorted in a certain way on one, it would not affect the sorting or order or placement of folders on the other. There may be this feature, but I haven't found it. Does anyone know how I could have folders sorted , say, alphabetically one one desktop, then other folders on the other desktop unmoved by the sorting order on the other? Maybe thats for the Mustang Operating system, 11.0? hehe
  • Bro, I had the same problema, but after researching a lot I found the solution:
    System Preferences > Mission Control and uncheck "Displays have seperate Spaces".
    Greetings :)
  • This is an absolute dealbreaker. Being able to move app windows from monitor to monitor is the ONLY REASON I have a second monitor. I rarely use full screen and having the dock and a second menu bar is ridiculous. I like my secondary monitor clean. I'm a graphic designer and my ability to work fast depends on being able to move app windows back and forth. Why on earth would they ditch this essential function! Basically, I can't upgrade to Mavericks until someone comes out with third-party software for this. Developers must be chomping at the bit – at least I hope they are.
  • Bro, I had the same problema, but after researching a lot I found the solution:
    System Preferences > Mission Control and uncheck "Displays have seperate Spaces".
    Greetings :)
  • Thanks. Yeah, I figured that out too after a bunch of online checking prior to installing the new OS. Had me really worried there for awhile! Appreciate your comment.