Mavericks and multiple monitors – I assume they didn’t test it?

Since buying this 27″ iMac and adding a second external monitor, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Apple simply can’t have tested multiple monitor setups under Mavericks.

My reasoning behind this is that the behaviour of Mavericks on a 27″ iMac with a 24″ 1920×1080 external monitor attached seems to be completely random! Let me give you the evidence:

Case 1 – Any monitor will do. You would assume that when launching an application it will do one of two things. Firstly, it will try to open itself on the monitor it was last using, thus if I had Firefox open on Monitor 2, then when I lunch it again it will open on monitor 2 again. Secondly, it will observe whatever you have configured it for in the Dock. E.g. if I specify in the Dock that Firefox should use Desktop 1 then it should do just that. So far. my experience has been that the monitor on which an application opens is COMPLETELY RANDOM! Most days Firefox will open on the iMac, but about 30% of the time it will open on the external monitor for no reason that I can fathom. It’s not just Firefox, it’s 1Password, Readkit, Jump Desktop, you name it.

Case 2 – Window placement optional. Often when I open an application it opens with only half the window visible, i.e. half the window is off the edge of the screen. Even though when the application was last used the whole of its window was visible, next time around Mavericks decides that it’ll position the window half way off the screen!

Case 3 – Size is not important. Again, why is it so difficult for Mavericks to remember what size a window was when it was last open? I frequently find when launching an app that the new window is a tiny rectangle on the screen, rather than the size it was when I was last using it.

Case 4 – Out of sight, out of mind. Mavericks seems to have no idea where the boundaries of the screen are. I opened iFFmpeg only to find that its window opened completely off the screen. I could see it in Mission Control but no way could I get the iFFmpeg window on to a monitor where I could interact with it. Quitting the app and restarting it didn’t help and in the end all I could do was to reboot the iMac.

Case 5 – Sleep… all change. I have all my windows arranged across the two monitors and everything is finally how I want it. I step away for a while and Mavericks puts my iMac to sleep. On waking the machine, some windows have been minimized to just a title bar! Only way to rectify the issue is to quit the app and start again.

My guess is that Apple changed the rules surrounding multiple monitors and maybe didn’t tell the developers because the way Mavericks handles windows across two screen seems to be completely random!

Pick a screen, any screen…

For the past six years I have been using Macs and OS X as my primary way of computing at home. I used to build my own Windows PCs and must admit that I derived a certain amount of enjoyment from choosing and then assembling a bunch of parts into a working machine, however there was always a hidden cost to this… keeping the thing working. With Windows you always seem to have to work at maintaining the thing, keeping drivers up to date, keeping anti-malware software up to date and so on and so forth. Then there were the times when something that worked fine one day, refused to the next and having worked in PC Support I remember just how often I’d be faced with a machine that would bluescreen on reboot for no apparent reason or just lock up entirely. The joy of the Mac world was that things just seemed to work and you no longer had to worry about nursing the machine and OS along. The cost of time and stress saved by not having to try and figure out how to get the thing working… immeasurable. It’s fair to say that until I added a second graphics card to my early 2008 Mac Pro and installed Mountain Lion, I had a good five years with a machine that not once crashed, froze or panicked.

27" iMac (late 2013)

27″ iMac (late 2013)

So I was pretty confident that when the time came to upgrade and I purchased a late 2013 27″ iMac, I was going to enjoy a similar pain-free experience. After all, OS X Mavericks, installed at the factory on the latest greatest hardware – what could be better? Well seems not all is sweetness and light and this current setup doesn’t know that Macs should just work. For starters there’s Mavericks odd support for multiple monitors. I have the iMac hooked up to a BenQ 24″ monitor using an Apple Thunderbolt to DVI cable and for the most part it works just fine, except that Mavericks will randomly decide to open certain applications on the iMac screen one day, then the BenQ screen the next. You’d think it would always open the app either on the screen it was last open on, or on the ‘Desktop’ you specified on the application properties. Unfortunately not! For instance, I use Jump Desktop and under the Dock Options I have it assigned to ‘Desktop on Display 1’ i.e. the iMac’s built-in screen. For about 80% of the time it opens on the iMac main screen when I launch it, but often it opens on the BenQ monitor for no apparent reason other than it seems bored of doing it how I want. Sure, assigning it to a desktop has helped – before I did that it would seem to just pick a monitor at random, but why doesn’t it respect the setting I’ve given it?

Then there’s the windows that open half way off the screen. Certain apps like ReadKit and 1Password do this a lot – not always, but often enough to be irritating as I have to drag the window back into view, and this is after previously closing the app with the window fully on screen. It’s one of those problems that seems to have no obvious solution other than to wait for a fix from Apple. A quick search shows that it’s quite a common problem for Mac users using Mavericks and multiple monitors, so I shall keep my fingers crossed that Apple know about the problem and will be sorting it sooner rather than later.

Now as they say on all good TV stations… coming up in a future episode of Macbitz – an iMac that hangs on shutdown/restart and a DIY USB 3.0 4Tb external drive with UASP support (who needs Thunderbolt anyway?).