The Lair of the Monotor

Marlena Compton posits If you do testing, you need more monitors.

Au contraire, I say, but I mispronounce it because I do not speak French.

I use a single monitor (across multiple machines, no less, through the magic of KVM).

Ms. Compton says:

Having more monitors leads to better testing because:
More supported browsers are open and easy to compare
More sessions are open so it is easier to see cause and effect problems
I can have more than one or even two or three users signed in with different permission levels.
Even though there are still several browsers open, I can also have some terminals open for grepping through log files and taking notes or logging bugs.

Of all these things, the only time I’ve found multiple monitors to be a worthwhile solution is while running automated tests on a number of machines. Each machine had its own monitor (14″ CRTs back in the day), and the master control monitor (17″ CRT, probably) launched the scripts and displayed a -tailing log while the scripts ran. In the automated environment, where you’re watching the scripts (and maybe the GUIs), this makes sense.

But in my world of manual testing, especially exploratory and ad hockish testing, one monitor is better. A big monitor, to be sure, so you can blow everything up really big, but one monitor just the same.

The reason: Focus.

Ms. Compton says:

In the world of web application testing, this is the difference between noticing something and having it obscured behind too many screens where you will never see it.

The principle extends to across too many screens as well as in open windows that don’t have focus. It’s hard enough to catch one little bit of squirrelly behavior in one little spot in an application page or an application window when it happens right in front of you. If you’ve got to turn your head or rely on your peripheral vision to catch it, you won’t.

A dramatic recreation
Dramatic re-creation

Personally, I focus all my attention on one browser/window at a time. If I could put a photography hood over my head, I would. Come to think of it, maybe I ought to get one. Because I’m zoned in on that thing I’m looking at or testing.

If I need multiple sessions open at once to have different users interacting, I’m still focusing on looking for bugs in one of them at one time. I can do that with multiple browsers open on one machine.

Compatibility testing? Let me tell you how I did it when I was a printer: I took the print sample I was supposed to match and I put the new print sample over it, and I held them together against the light. The Web testing equivalent is to maximize the browser windows, load the pages to compare, and use ALT+TAB to switch between them quickly. Misplaced items will jump around visibly.

So more monitors isn’t necessarily better, especially if your attention has a tendency to


3 Responses to “The Lair of the Monotor”

  1. Says:

    Certainly, each person has a preferred way of working. That said, I’m a bit leery of the idea of being “in the zone”. I’ve heard that argument used against the practice of pairing for programming or testing. But in my experience, the benefits of pairing far outweigh the loss of “focus”. There are always trade-offs, but I find the real estate of large and multiple monitors invaluable.

    I’ve paired a lot with Marlena recently, and she’s given me some great ideas that have helped me detect issues that I’d have missed before. I use side-by-side browser windows a lot more to be able to compare either different browsers/versions, or different versions of the app.

    When I’m testing a feature or a bug fix, when I used to not keep the description of what I was testing up in a window as I tested it, my mind might play tricks and I’d mis-remember the desired behavior. Keeping a window visible with that story or bug fix description helps ensure I am testing for the right things.

    Over my career, I’ve also found huge benefits in not only multiple monitors, but multiple machines. Nowadays, with VMs, I don’t need different physical boxes so much, though I find it useful to have some testing things going on on my laptop while I’m also testing on my desktop that has the two big monitors.

    Yesterday I worked from home for the first time since starting this job. I used to love my big monitor at home, but it is 3 years old now, its resolution is nothing compared to the iMac and Thunderbolt displays at work, and there was only one monitor. I really struggled with having to flip between windows, or make them tiny so I could have them side-by-side.

    I’m sure a lot of this is dependent on the type of app you’re testing. Marlena and I are testing a system where so much is on the client side, and it can be hard to detect tiny problems or differences. Look and feel, and usability, are critical, and comparisons help me test that.

    Interesting that you used Marlena’s picture from her blog post, along with snippets of her post, rather than linking to them. I’d be interested to see what you and your workstation look like, I can see Marlena on her own blog.

  2. Oleksii1 Says:

    Quick Alt+Tab is good for static content. But for “responsive designs” that look a bit different for different screens or browsers you cannot compare one over another.
    Also it is very convenient to have several windows even in manual testing visible at once, e.g.: app-under-test, a console with some script, issue tracking system that helps you to focus on one particular subject of testing a time.

  3. The Director Says:

    ::cough, cough::

    You didn’t see the bug because your focus was elsewhere.

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