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hacksugar: Using your iPad as a second monitor


Looking for a novel way to put your iPad to work? How about using it as a second monitor for your desktop? Last week, I got a first look at iDisplay. It offers a system hack that extends your desktop space onto your iPad or iPhone. One big problem: although clever, the app remains at pretty much at alpha release. It's buggy, it's slow and it's not going to be ready for day-to-day use for a while.

So readers asked if I could hunt down some alternatives. After spending some time researching the issue, I stumbled across Screen Recycler. Patrick Stein, its developer, was kind enough to send me a promo license to test it out and you can see it running in the screen shot at the top of this post.

Screen Recycler provides the same kind of desktop space expansion that iDisplay is aiming for but pulls it off in a completely different way. Instead of using a dedicated application, you can use Screen Recycler with any VNC client. The system extension installed by the application transforms incoming VNC connections into virtual screens. That means you can use Screen Recycler with any platform that supports VNC, including any spare Windows and Linux systems as well as iPhones and iPads as shown here.

Like iDisplay, Screen Recycler can be slow, at least on the iPad. Stein recommends that you disable compression in the application settings to speed up response time on the external monitor. He writes, "Speed is mostly limited by the VNC client. You can get decent speeds even wireless if you are using a good VNC client." You can also set different degradation levels. You'll still need to take into account that you're working with slow updates. On the iPad, limit your second monitor use to items that you want to read or that update fairly slowly like IM chats and Twitter clients.

You can use the system Display preferences to arrange your monitors and menu bar once the extra virtual monitor is added. For some reason, I ended up having to move my main screen back to the left and re-set its menu bar. It only took a few seconds, but be aware that this might happen.

For Starbucks use (the gold standard of the iPad set), I found Screen Recycler to be handy and easy to use. I ended up using Mocha VNC Lite, a free iPhone application, on the iPad to test this out and found it worked very well. I'll be testing a few other VNC clients as they become available on the iPad but if you want to get started testing Screen Recycler (there's a free 20 minute test mode), Mocha offers a good way to try the system out before you buy.

Screen Recycler costs $30 and can be ordered from its website.

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