At 45 the eye doctor told me that my vision was going to get worse with age. Nothing unusual there, as a perfectly normal part of aging, the eye gets less flexible, and range of focus gets narrower. He was right, as a few years later I needed bifocals to comfortably focus on the screen at laptop and desktop distances.

What I find at 51 is that after a long day my eyes will sometimes get tired, and have a hard time focusing on the screen - at any distance. Maybe this is just a sign that I need a new prescription. Maybe this is a simply a fact of life at this age.

There is at least some chance that focus-fatigue will be less of a problem if the screens are placed at greater than the usual laptop-screen or desktop-screen distances. The question of screen-distance is interesting as the prices for 1920x1080 HDTV screens have dipped below $1000 for 42-inch panels. The resolution is a bit lower than I would like for a single panel - but not horribly so. I can see buying two or four panels to use as my working screen surface.

Aside from the fact that my workspace would now look like a hacker’s lair from some dubious Hollywood product, there is the practical question of how to hook up the screens to whatever computer I am using at present.

It is possible (though somewhat/very tricky) to hook up more than two screens to a Windows desktop, in hardware (best performance, but sometimes difficult to get working) or in software (through MaxVista, a third party product). With a Windows laptop it is not easy to get more than one additional screen.

With Unix and the X Window system there is another very interesting possibility. This is especially relevant to me, as I have switched both my desktop and laptop computers to running Unix (specifically Ubuntu Linux … even though my paid-for time is to develop applications that run on Microsoft Windows).

The old X11 protocol inherent in every version of the X Window system assumes that a window may be displayed on a screen remote from the computer on the program is running. This is really very old stuff. The original version of the X Window system assumed that when a program puts up a window, the window may appear on the screen of another machine on the network.

This is incredibly cool as I could walk into a room with a wall of flat panel screens, sit down, fire up my laptop, and open windows on the wall-screens.

…. in theory ….

In practice, as far as I can tell, this would take a lot of tedious one-time setup. Not really a surprise as to be practical this use-case requires a fast CPU and a fast wireless network. Before performance might not have been nearly good enough. With current hardware, this case is feasible.

This is where the success of Linux is an impediment. How would you search for someone else who had solved the same problem? Linux, X11, X Windows, and “remote” are far too generic to return any sort of selective results, and most of what comes back is as answers is of poor quality.

How can you dynamically associate a computer with network-connected screens in the same room?