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