Productivity and Pixel Rigs - My Workspaces

So I was working on my post about Project Management and started this little guy right here, realizing that it was in need of it's own post (I know, 2 posts in one day = bad).

I'm a sucker for slick desktop setups and slick usage of screen space. Hell, Rands even made a term for something I do a while back and I was finally able to refer to my precise window management systems as Pixel Rigs.

My setups at work and home are so blaringly different, it's pretty obvious which is used for what. My home setup is dark, almost brooding, and allows me to enjoy myself to the max, while my work setup helps me to work most effectively on the things that I do.

After I show you these two completely different environments, I'll explain what's used for what.

Here's the comparison between the two:

The image to your right is my home setup. On the left is a 37" widescreen LCD TV. That's for media. Movies, Music, Etc. Right now, there's WinAmp on the Bento Skin running the Milkdrop Vis. To the right of that is my monitor. A 22" widescreen LG LCD. I love it. And to the right of THAT is my laptop. All of this is sync'd up using Synergy, which lets me use the same keyboard and mouse to control both systems. Speaking of input devices, I've got a new Logitech G15 as my keyboard of choice, as well as a Logitech G9 as my mouse of choice. Love those guys. The little blue glowy thing that you see on the bottom left is the power switch on the front of my server, and the blue glowy screen between the monitor and the laptop is the control unit for my Z-680 5.1 Speaker System (no link available). To the lower right, you see my Full-Tower case.

System Specs for main system:
Motherboard: Asus A8N32-SLI
Processor: AMD Athlon FX-60 OC'd to 2.86 ghz
Proc Cooler: Thermaltake Big Typhoon
Ram: 3 Gigs
Video Card: eVGA 9600GT SSC
Optical Drives: Sony DVD/CD R/RW Drive, LiteOn CD R/RW Drive
36 Gig WD Raptor System Drive
150 Gig WD Raptor Program Drive
250 Gig WD Caviar Data Drive
500 Gig WD Caviar Data Drive

Server Specs:
Motherboard: Asus A7N8X Deluxe
Processor: AMD Athlon 2800+ XP
Ram: 2 Gigs
Optical Drive: Sony DVD
40 Gig Maxtor System Drive (no link)
2 x 500 Gig WD Caviar Data Drive

Compare that to the picture to your left. That's my work setup. The laptop is to your left now, propped up on a monitor stand, with personal stuff above it to give me the mental breaks I need at work, but not at home. To the right of that are my two main monitors at work. Normal. Not widescreen. Above those is a shelf with stuff and junk. To the right of them are my phone and headset, an organizer/pad of paper thinger, and off-frame is a calendar, a paper organizer, and behind me is a whiteboard. Also, off frame to the left is another shelf, as well as a whiteboard under it. The keyboard is my old Logitech G15, and the mouse is my old Battlefield2142 G5. Behind that left monitor is my 250 Gig external drive. That sucker contains a nearly complete replication/backup of my music collection for work. It also serves as a backup.

Common to both of these setups are my headphones. The Steelseries Steelsound 5H V2 headset is incredible. I use 'em for late-night loudfests, and for listening to music at work.

Click the pictures for the Flickr-commented versions.

Looking at these two images tells you that I use these two setups for very different things. My home setup is dark and almost brooding, with big screens and not much else (save for a pirate flag hanging to my right and a Stevie Ray Vaughan poster above the T.V. This allows me to maximize my gaming experience and creative juices when, say, I'm playing CS:S, or mixing down music using Audacity. I also get into the Zone VERY easily in my home environment, because my setup is naturally great like that. My work setup is bright and the mental breaks that I don't need at home. It's accessible and open, almost inviting (which I do to make sure people know they can bug me for stuff).

You'll notice that I didn't post the system specs for the work rig, save for the external drive. This is because I don't few the system specs as being important for it. It's my work desktop. I use it for nothing else, really, and don't need to worry about it doing much else. While it would be nicer to have some bigger monitors (I'm starting to pull for 19" widescreens) and maybe slightly faster system (P4s are showing their age), it's purpose isn't speed, It's purpose is functionality, and for that, it wins the Gold Medal.

Pixel Rigs

I stole the term "Pixel Rig" from Rands over at Rands in Repose. He gave a term to this bizarre obsessive art that we've got.

I can't really provide a graphical representation of my work setup at the moment, so hopefully this description will suffice - My left monitor has Outlook maximized on it 24/7. The right monitor houses various other windows, including Firefox, spreadsheets, and various XML, HTML, and CSS files open in Notepad++. A console window is sometimes open, too, for me to do my groovy console thing. When I get boned and need to crunch for time when, say, styling HTML that's getting dynamically called through a javascript file, I'll switch over to another desktop to separate it from email and the like, which helps me focus on it more. I'll explain in a moment how I do that.

My main desktop has no pixel rig, because it doesn't need to. The only item worth mentioning is WinAmp, which is usually maximized on the T.V. After that, there's no order here, only chaos.

The best pixel rig I have is on my laptop. I sucked every pixel I could into the pinnacle of organization (at least for me). I can see everything I want to at once, without needing to touch a window. Here's the screenshot (Click image for fully commented Flickr version):

There's a lot going on here. On the left there's a large amount of info from a program I use on the laptop called RainMeter. This little app monitors system stats, tells me the time, and a few other small uses, and does it in a lean little executable with highly customizable skins. Really neat little app. To the right of that is my WinAmp playlist editor. Below those two is the WinAmp Vis. To the right of the Vis and Playlist is Trillian Territory. There's tabbed window that holds all of my conversations, including my always-open twitter IM interface through XMPP. Right of the main window is the contact list window for Trillian. Below all of that stuff is the main window for WinAmp. And below that are the Slit and Task Manager for my shell, Xoblite (a fork of the BB4Win code).

This layout will get other windows on top of it for web browsing, jotting notes, etc., but it's extremely effective for me. I've always been obsessed with pixel rigs and this is probably the best one I've ever had. When at home, I just close WinAmp (since it's on my desktop) and away I go.

This gives me a perfect opportunity to talk about my shell. Those of you who looked at that and wondered what distro of Linux I'm running would be wrong in your assumption. I don't run Linux. Instead, I run a windows shell replacement called Xoblite, a fork of the BB4win code. The idea is simple: replace the windows "explorer"shell with something that's more configurable and leaner. Usage is easy. Right click the desktop (which holds no icons), and there's a menu. I just navigate to the correct item (stuff I use a lot get's put right in that first menu, other things get put into intuitive submenus that I define) and I'm good. Xoblite also has multi desktop support, which means that I can have as many different virtual workspaces as I want, further enhancing my productivity. Also, I hardly use windows explorer after I found xplorer², a dual-pane, tabbed filebrowser. I've got Xoblite running on all of my systems, as well as xplorer². That lets me do a lot at any given moment. Throw Notepad++, Excel, and Firefox into the list and I'm in heaven.

What kind of setups are you using at home? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. I'd love to hear.

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