Widescreen monitors are, in a word, awesome, and not just because they offer some kind of enhanced quality over their four-by-three ratio brethren. Depending on what you're using them for, like movie-watching, you'll simply see more of a given scene than you otherwise would on a standard display. The increased screen real estate (on the horizontal plane) also allows you to make more effective use of your desktop... provided you have the right software tools to create this enhanced productivity.
In fact, one of the biggest complaints surrounding the use of widescreen monitors is just that--the elongated desktop space is just too hard to navigate, and applications frequently don't make the best use of this additional room. I can't promise that everything out-of-the-box (or out-of-the-browser window) will look great on your widescreen display. However, what I can do is offer you a suite of tools designed to make your 16-by-9 or 16-by-10 experience as great as it can be. I've been using widescreen monitors for quite some time now. I know how it feels. That extra background space on the sides of every Web page you load? Maddening.
But I digress. Let's take care of that issue, and more, with some awesome widescreen monitor apps.
What's so great about MiniMIZE? If you have the extra screen real estate--and you do, if you're using a widescreen monitor--then why bother minimizing your applications to a tiny icon on your taskbar? The heck with that. Take that additional horizontal space on your desktop and pack it with big ol' thumbnails of the very programs you've minimized. It's a prettier treatment for organizing your active windows, although it would be nicer still if the desktop images of your windows were actually live, much like Windows' live taskbar previews.
Since this program is super-old and hasn't been updated since its third beta, you'll want to make sure that you're running it in compatibility mode for Windows XP (Service Pack 2), else you will see no new icons on your desktop whatsoever.
There are apparently a number of popular games that just don't approach the issue of widescreen displays with much tenacity. And by that, I mean that a batch of titles--including BioShock, the Call of Duty Series, and Wolfenstein--don't properly adjust the field of view when you switch to a widescreen mode. This results in your picture getting cropped, which gives you less visible playing space than a person playing on a 4:3-ratio display. Yuck.
Widescreen Fixer does exactly what its name suggests, correcting the field of view issues for these games (including those with PunkBuster-based multiplayer, which isn't apparently bothered by this utility) and opening up around 20 percent more of the picture than what you'd otherwise see on a 4:3-ratio display. More picture means more killing--or, to put it in friendlier terms, you unlock a greater hunk of the game's scenery to admire while you're dodging bullets from your online adversaries.
As for the picture above, The normal-looking part of the image is a shot of Battlefield 2141 in a typical 16:10 mode. The blue chunk of the shot is what you would see if the game was running in a default 4:3 resolution, and the red chunk of the shot is what Widescreen Fixer unlocks for a 16:10 display.
It doesn't get much lazier than this. So, you have this new widescreen monitor, and you've noticed that it takes a lot longer for you to traverse from one end of the rectangular screen to the other. You're tempted to turn up your mouse's sensitivity settings, but you just can't adjust yourself to the new sensation. What do you do? You install Edgeless, a little utility that removes the virtual borders of the left and right sides of your display. Like Columbus, your monitor has now turned from a flat map into a three-dimensional world. Move your mouse off the left-most part of your screen and it'll appear on the right. Move your mouse off the right-most portion of the screen and... can you guess what happens?
Edgeless 2 also allows you to wrap your mouse around your screen vertically. However, users below have noted some potential antivirus issues with said program. We can't determine whether this is a false positive or a warning flag, but if you've already installed this utility, then you'll want to run a quick anti-virus and anti-malware scan on your system just to be safe (in fact, let us know if anything pops up). As for the app, your best bet is to pick up the original, problem-free Edgeless utility. If you're running Windows 7 on a 64-bit operating system, you might need to drop this app into Vista compatibility mood for it to work.
To truly organize your widescreen desktop, you can always try partitioning it into zones. WinSplit Revolution is a handy little application that allows you to snap windows into preset configurations using a bevy of keyboard hotkeys. But don't think you're stuck to a basic, say, two-by-two grid of windows. You can have windows span multiple "sections" either vertically or horizontally, and if you find you need more room for more windows, you can quickly make space for an additional row or column using the built-in hotkeys. Although this application is really designed for the keyboard fanatic, an experimental "drag'n'go" mode lets you move your window around the screen while the program highlights the different places your window could end up.
The site isn't the prettiest, but don't let that deter you from the simple functionality presented by Always on Top Maker. If you don't want to fiddle with applications that split your screen into sections, or applications that dump your windows into icons on your desktop, or any other software craziness, then Always on Top maker is the no-frills utility for you. After all, the best way to make use of your widescreen desktop is to simply park something on one side while you do something else on the other--like, say, watch YouTube videos while you write freeware roundups. This normally results in your active window taking precedence over your inactive window and makes such a task impossible unless you literally isolate one program to one side, one program to the other.
Always on Top Maker lets you stick a window anywhere you want on your desktop, which will always remain on top of the active window you're working in. You toggle this functionality on and off with a simple keyboard shortcut. That's it. It's simple, it's easy, and it's a great way to multitask on your widescreen display without having to resort to fancier organizational applications.
And, no, this doesn't work to stop Plants vs. Zombies from auto-pausing your game when you switch to a different window. Sigh.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!