My main Mac setup at Morrick’s Home Office is a MacBook Pro connected to an external 23″ monitor, to an Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Magic Mouse. I leave the MacBook Pro’s lid open and keep all main application windows on the larger display, using the laptop’s screen for secondary windows, tools, palettes, and Finder windows of remote servers.
As a general rule, all main windows are maximised: I like having a lot of screen estate with browsers, email clients, photo editing applications and when I write blog articles with MarsEdit (well, with MarsEdit I split the screen between the blog post editor and the preview window in a 70/30 ratio). Sometimes I work off-site, so I unplug the external monitor and take the MacBook Pro with me. If you have a similar configuration, you’ll know that as soon as you unplug the monitor, all windows will be gathered in the laptop’s main display. If there were maximised windows on the 23″ monitor, the maximisation is retained on the MacBook Pro’s screen, but since they came from a bigger screen, you’ll have to ‘reflow’ their contents by clicking the green button in the upper left corner of the window.
So far so good. The annoying thing happens when I return to my studio and revert to the desktop configuration. I plug the external monitor back in, I wake the MacBook Pro from sleep, and after detecting the second display it will automatically extend the desktop, but the windows will retain the size they had on the MacBook Pro. In an ideal world, I would just click the window’s green button and the window would perfectly adapt to the bigger screen once again, reflowing its contents correctly. But not all applications behave the same way, and that’s irritating. Mail is good, in this respect; Mailsmith isn’t (it only adjusts the height, not the width). Google Chrome is good; Safari isn’t (it behaves like Mailsmith). And so on and so forth.
By pure chance, the other day I discovered a little trick to avoid some hassle. Nothing extraordinary, mind you, but so obvious in hindsight that I wondered how I could have missed it. If you’re as annoyed as I am about the messed-up window size and contents, if you’re using Mac OS X Lion, and if the applications affected are Lion-optimised with a full-screen mode (check whether their main window has the two little arrows in the upper right corner), then activate full-screen mode before unplugging the external monitor. Lion will create a separate space for the application and will preserve its size when changing display configuration. When you’re on the move you could either use such applications in their own spaces in full-screen mode or restore them once you’ve switched displays, but remember to put them in full-screen mode again before re-attaching the MacBook to the external monitor.