There is a ton of anecdotal evidence that adding more screen estate (more or larger monitors) leads to an increase in productivity, especially for programmers.
For example, where I work, all programmers have either two 20" screens or a single 24" screen. There is no agreement on which is the optimal setup.
More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows, you can do actual productive work.
— Jeff Atwood
Debugging GUI code with a single monitor system is painful if not impossible. If you're writing GUI code, two monitors will make things much easier.
— Joel Spolsky
Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is no indication that these effects are real, measurable and properly studied.
- The papers linked by Jeff (and around other blog posts), are all sponsored by monitor making companies (NEC, Apple...)
- The papers disagree on their conclusions: one says that a 30" monitor is better than smaller monitors, the other that there are diminishing returns.
- Even the bloggers do not agree whether increasing the size or the number of monitors is the correct thing to do in order to increase productivity (Jeff thinks that very large monitors are bad, but a three monitor setup works, others say exactly the opposite).
What are some reliable, unbiased studies that describe correctly the relationships between number of monitors, size of monitors and productivity of software developers?
Is there a set up which is proven to work better than the others, or is this an unclear effect that needs more studies?