I have a question with regard to a multiple monitor setup.

I'm currently primarily a Windows user, but I've been running Ubuntu in dual boot to get a feel for it. The one thing I find lacking that will (I feel) force me to choose Windows over any Unix system for general use is the seeming lack of adequate support for multiple taskbars (or panels, as they're referred to in Ubuntu) on multiple screens.

I've googled, I've searched here, I've read every old forum post I could find, and found information numerous times that suggest I should be able to move panels from one screen to another. Now, this might sound silly, but they won't move to my secondary screen. I can add, remove and move around panels on the main screen, but they'll never drag to the secondary screen. Even if I could drag panels across screens correctly, this doesn't necessarily solve my problem anyway:

On Windows I use Ultramon. I get two displays, and a secondary taskbar that shows windows/tasks specific to that second screen. I'm looking for something similar, or as close to it on Unix; supporting Ubuntu would be preferable but I could always switch to something else (my important stuff is all in Windows right now).

Is there a Unix application available (free or not) that will provide multiple monitor panels/taskbars? Or alternatively, is there a way to hack in similar functionality?

  • 3
    Was there something in particular you didn't follow? I'll highlight the question so those who struggle to read novels can skip over the fluff and go straight to the question. – t31os Apr 11 '11 at 15:24
  • Your distribution doesn't actually matter, what matters is your window manager or desktop environment (i.e. the GUI part of the system), which by default in Ubuntu is Gnome. Are you willing to change to another desktop environment (it may broaden your choices)? Also, what do tasks do you do with taskbars/panels? (This is both for the benefit of people who know neither Windows nor Gnome, and in case someone has a partial replacement to offer.) – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 11 '11 at 19:40
  • I'd be happy to try a different window manager if it means i can use an app or hack to manage tasks on a particular window from a panel(taskbar) on that screen, but using two screens(ie. what Ultramon does on Windows). Tasks, watching movies, browsing the web, writing code, running a local server for web dev, email, remote desktop connections, chat, general stuff.... – t31os Apr 11 '11 at 19:51
  • In short, i'd like to avoid managing two screens worth of windows/tasks from one screen panel(taskbar)... – t31os Apr 11 '11 at 19:52
  • I've done a little more digging and i think i've found the information i needed, if it pans out i'll add my own answer with details. – t31os Apr 15 '11 at 11:19

This isn't a direct answer to your question, but you might want to take a step back and consider why you want this feature. It may be because you are used to working in a particular manner under Windows, but you might find that Linux offers a different way to approach your tasks, which could be much more efficient and may not even require a taskbar!

For example I use the Awesome window manager, which allows me to perform all window management via the keyboard. Moving windows around, switching between programs, even moving windows between monitors can all be done via keyboard shortcuts. Using 'tags', windows can be linked to shortcut keys as well. So one keypress switches to my two Firefox windows (split screen on one monitor) and another keypress switches to Thunderbird on another monitor. Because of this, having a taskbar is not really necessary. Although having said that, by default you do get a taskbar on each screen!

Anyway, my point is that before you spend too much effort making your new environment work the same way your old one did, consider why you are moving away from your old environment in the first place!

  • My main issue is having tasks all bundled onto one screen, that and performance. Ubuntu runs 2-3 times as fast even when running off the wubi installer(not on it's own partitition). I've no interest in using keys to manage windows, that's the opposite of what i'll be doing on any other computer i use(they all use Windows). For me, the keyboard is for typing, if the task doesn't require written input, then it's a mouse operation, which naturally includes window/task management, am i honestly expected to change my workflow that drastically just to use Linux? Appreciate the feedback nonetheless.. – t31os Apr 17 '11 at 8:55
  • @t31os: No, you're not expected to change your workflow, but you should at least consider whether you're dismissing a change that could ultimately benefit you. To put it another way, it's like the owner of a horse-drawn carriage complaining that this new-fangled automobile doesn't have anywhere to attach the horse :-) – Malvineous Apr 18 '11 at 0:59

I have an Ubuntu system that I think matches what you describe. I have two displays, with each display having a separate menu and separate taskbar. Each display even has its own set of virtual workspaces. I can run Windows in a VMware session (or via RDP) fullscreen on one display and treat the other display as though it were a totally separate Ubuntu computer (except that they share the keyboard and mouse).

I am doing this through the proprietary NVIDIA driver, using "separate X screens" (or something like that). I did not drag the new panels to the second display -- instead, a fresh set of panels was created by default when I enabled this mode.

On the whole, I am very pleased with this configuration, but there are some minor glitches:

  • You can't drag windows between the two screens
  • Some applications always open on the primary screen regardless of where you launch from (Chromium browser for example)
  • The nvidia-settings applet is dying with a segmentation fault (it never even opens the dialog), so I can't give you too many specifics at the moment
  • The "Workspace Switcher Preferences" is somewhat confused by this setup and seems to partially link the configuration of the two screens

I have found that restarting X seems to help resolve some of the various confusions that occur during the configuration process for this setup. Therefore, I recommend you try doing that if a configuration change doesn't seem to have had the expected effect.

Does this sound like what you are looking for? I'm still looking for ways to optimize this setup, so I'm hoping to hear from others who are using it.

  • I have recently discovered that the segmentation fault in nvidia-settings is related to the use of VMware Player. – nobar Jan 19 '12 at 20:39

The KDE desktop environment has native support for this. Check out Kubuntu which basically is Ubuntu using KDE.

Here is how you do it:

  1. Right click on the desktop -> Add Panel -> Default Panel
  2. Right click on the panel -> Add Widgets
  3. Choose the Task Manager
  4. Right click the Task Manager -> Task Manager Settings
  5. Check "Only show tasks from the current screen"
  • not what is asked, OP want to display panel on all screens – Édouard Lopez Mar 30 '16 at 15:16
  • @ÉdouardLopez: Since the OP said this: "I get two displays, and a secondary taskbar that shows windows/tasks specific to that second screen.", I think this is exactly what is asked. – Job Apr 13 '16 at 10:52
  • what you explain doesn't show multiple taskbar. It only filter task by the following criteria : is the task on current screen (physical device) – Édouard Lopez Apr 13 '16 at 11:46
  • @ÉdouardLopez: Given that there is 1 panel by default, steps 1-3 add a second panel with a second task manager. – Job Apr 13 '16 at 11:55

I use Gnome Classic, or Fallback as it's sometimes called, under Ubuntu 11.10. I have dual monitors, and on each can have as many panels as I want. The trick here is to keep adding panels on the primary monitor (in my case the laptop) until one appears on the external screen. Add as many panels as you want and move them to the edge you prefer, then delete the extra ones from the first screen.


The array of tools that can handle this in various forms is dizzying. There isn't one piece of software that does this, there much be a couple hundred.

First of all, you can configure linux to run dual head in such a way that you can run separate window managers on each screen. You could run gnome on one and kde on the other or twm on one and awesome on another.

Secondly many window managers have elaborate systems have handling what goes to what monitor, what taskbar / manager interface they show up in, etc. Most window managers even have more than one way of doing this, and many session/desktop managers have many tools that run inside them that choose to accomplish this differently.

Personally, like @Malvineous I use awesome to handle multiple monitors. It's tag system is uniquely different than most virtual desktop systems allowing mixing and matching of programs across one or several workspaces. I have one taskbar for each screen, but both taskbars are on the smallest monitor. Each taskbar shows the different desktops and what programs are running on each monitor. Although I can select these with the mouse it is mostly for a visual point of reference, not for clicking.

I suggest you play with several desktop environments and window managers until you find a combination that generally feels right to you. Instead of expecting a certain set of behaviors, don't write each one off until you understand how it was designed to function best, then evaluate whether it's methodology might be better for your work flow. Once you get the hang of the various options and pick a system, start customizing it so that it behaves exactly how you want, but stay flexible to alternate work flows. Many people have left their mark on linux workflows and there is a lot to be learned from them.

  • Don't confuse Gnome and KDE with window managers. They use Metacity (or Mutter in Gnome 3) and KWin as window manager respectively. – Job Apr 20 '11 at 9:48

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