Last week, I had the good fortune to test some truly drool-inducing Mac hardware: a new, top-of-the-line Power Mac G5 featuring dual 2.7 gigahertz PowerPC G5 processors...

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Last week, I had the good fortune to test some truly drool-inducing Mac hardware: a new, top-of-the-line Power Mac G5 featuring dual 2.7 gigahertz PowerPC G5 processors and 4 gigabytes of RAM. But that was just the cake.

Two (two!) flat-screen 30-inch Cinema HD displays were the icing on top. Each was larger than my television at home; to use them in my office, I had to go to the extreme measure of cleaning off the surface of my desk. To power both displays at once, the Power Mac G5 included an NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL graphics card, a build-to-order item from Apple; the stock Power Mac G5 configuration includes an ATI Radeon 9650 card capable of powering a single 30-inch display.

Each screen is capable of a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, which, spread over two displays used as one giant desktop (monitor spanning), totals more than 8 million pixels. Why would anyone need that much screen real estate?

In my case, I was testing some video-editing software, which benefits from having a lot of space to display preview windows, multiple video and audio tracks, and palettes galore. As a longtime PowerBook user, I’ve gotten by with the single laptop screen, but using two has made me want to buy a separate monitor for my setup.

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Even with the PowerBook G4’s 15-inch screen, I find myself dealing with overlapped windows. With the dual-screen setup, I can keep iChat windows on one screen while viewing Web pages and working in Microsoft Word on the other.

Oddly enough, using two 30-inch monitors does have drawbacks. With so much screen space, it’s easy to lose the mouse pointer. So, after spending a day frantically wiggling the mouse occasionally to catch sight of the arrow, I installed Boinx Software’s Mouseposé (www.boinx.com), which shines a spotlight on the pointer when you press a function key. They also get a bit warm; with the Power Mac G5 in here, too, I didn’t need to worry about heating the office.

As nice as they are, you don’t need these gigantic monitors to benefit from using multiple displays on your Mac. And given that each 30-inch display costs $3,000, most people probably can’t afford them.

If you own a Power Mac or PowerBook, you can hook up an external display and take advantage of monitor spanning. Other Macs, such as the iMac G5 and iBook, can only display the same image as the main screen (called mirroring).

I know colleagues who swear by multiple-monitor setups, and I may just join the club — but probably with a monitor that’s more in my price range. Alas, I couldn’t keep the Cinema HD Displays and the Power Mac G5, which were returned to Apple.

Use for Automator:
Now that I’ve been using Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger for a few weeks, I’ve been able to poke around some more. (Glenn Fleishman and I covered the big new features, such as Spotlight, iChat AV 3.0, and Dashboard, in the last Practical Mac, April 30.)

For example, Safari includes the option to add a photo from a Web page to your iPhoto library: simply Control-click the image and choose Add Image to iPhoto Library.

That’s nice, but I want the capability to add image files to iPhoto from the Finder, where I have accumulations of e-mailed pictures. Using Automator, the new automation program included with Tiger, I got my wish.

Launch Automator, and from the Library pane, select the Finder. In the Action pane, drag the Get Selected Finder Items action to the workflow pane to the right. In a similar fashion, choose iPhoto and drag the Import Photos into iPhoto action below the previous action. Then, from the File menu, choose Save As Plug-in, give it a name, and make sure the Finder is chosen in the “Plug-in for” popup menu.

Now, you can select any image file in the Finder, Control-click it to bring up the contextual menu, and choose your workflow from the Automator subfolder.

I’ve never been a scripting guru, so I’m excited that Automator is easy to use . It’s made me look at what I do every day that can be automated.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Are there Mac topics you’d like to see covered? Send your suggestions to to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.