Mac OS X: Putting displays to sleep with Dockables

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
September 28th, 2007 • 3:31 pm

For years I have had to live with the following situation. My work station is a Mac Pro with a dual-monitor set-up (30″ + 20″). While I try to save energy as much as possible in my life, I need the Mac Pro on all the time, for a variety of reasons. One is that I have automatic backups scheduled to run in the middle of the night every night. Another one is that, due to bandwidth limitations, I almost always have some kind of low-bandwidth file download happening in the background. (I manage my downloads with Speed Download, which lets me organize downloads in a sequential queue and which has a bandwidth throttle that lets you limit the amount of bandwidth that the downloading process is using at any given time.)

On the other hand, I really do not need the displays to be on all the time. So I have configured the “Energy Saver” preference pane in System Preferences to put the displays to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. I cannot set it to anything shorter than that, simply because sometimes I am inactive in the sense that I am not typing or using the mouse, but I am still reading stuff on the screens.

But the thing is that there are often many situations where I know right away that I won’t need the screens on anymore, for example when I go to bed at night or when I leave my work station for a while. In those cases, there is nothing in Mac OS X itself that allows me to put the displays to sleep without putting the entire machine to sleep (the so-called “deep sleep” mode where everything goes to sleep, including the computer fans). There is only one “Sleep” command in the Apple menu, and it’s an all-encompassing command that does not allow the user to choose what should go to sleep and what shouldn’t.

Of course, I could manually turn the monitors themselves off using their Power button on the side, but this has several drawbacks. It requires manual actions, with controls beyond the range of the mouse or keyboard. It does not put the monitors to sleep; it actually turns them off (although the two states are visually identical on the hardware side of things, with only the tiny white light on in the bottom-right corner of the screen), which means that I cannot simply wake them up by pressing a key or moving the mouse; I have to manually turn them back on. In addition, the 30″ has some kind of hardware bug where occasionally, when I turn it off and then back on, I get all kinds of dancing green pixels around the edges of various items of the OS X interface on the screen; the problem can be remedied by turning the display off again, and then back on, but it adds to the reasons against using the monitor’s Power button more than is strictly necessary. (In fairness, the dancing green pixels also happen sometimes when waking the monitor from sleep, but it’s pretty rare. It happens more often when turning it off and then back on.)

So basically what I have been looking for all these years is a tip / software application that would let me manually put the displays to sleep without putting the rest of the work station to sleep.

I mentioned this in this recent post about searches conducted on the Apple web site using its search field. The trouble with this situation is that the keywords that you can use in a Google search to try and find a tool that lets you put displays to sleep in Mac OS X are very generic terms, such as sleep, displays, and Mac OS X. So it’s not exactly easy to find.

Well, after reading that post, a Betalogue reader was kind enough to e-mail me with the news that the application that I was looking for does indeed exist, as part of a set of small freeware tools called Dockables.

I have little use for the other “Dockables” in the package, but the package does indeed include one small application called “Sleep Display,” which does exactly and only that: as soon as you click on it in the Dock, it puts the displays to sleep. And that’s it. The displays are asleep, and can be awakened by simply pressing a key on the keyboard or using the mouse.

Of course, with my luck, the very first time I tried the application, I got the dancing green pixels on the 30″ when I woke up the displays. But I then tried the application several times in quick succession, and only got the dancing pixels one other time. So hopefully it won’t occur too often—although of course the Sleep Display application itself cannot be blamed for this. It is quite obviously some kind of hardware defect (either with the monitor itself or with the video card). Since it only occurs from time to time and is fairly easily remedied, I really cannot be bothered to push the investigation any further and try to get Apple to fix the problem.

So I guess my quest for a Sleep Display application is finally over. Thanks, André!

8 Responses to “Mac OS X: Putting displays to sleep with Dockables”

  1. Paul Ingraham says:

    Excellent. Thanks Pierre! And André!

  2. Paul Ingraham says:

    And an update: in Leopard, you will be able to put your display to sleep with a hot corner (and hopefully a hot key as well), as nature intended.

    From Apple’s feature page for Leopard:

    “In addition to launching Exposé or starting a screen saver, you can now use hot corners to put your display to sleep.”

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the update. A hot corner only is not ideal, but at least it is now accessible through the UI without a third-party product.

  4. danridley says:

    Another nice thing about the Dockables applications is that they can be launched with a hotkey from Quicksilver (and I would assume LaunchBar as well). Thus there’s no need to take up space on the Dock permanently.

    (I recently found use for the Start Default Screen Saver Dockable, because I use SynergyKM on my Mac at work [to share the mouse and keyboard with a Windows machine on a second monitor], SynergyKM doesn’t play well with the screen saver hot corner; and starting the screen saver is the simplest way to lock the workstation when I walk away from it. I assigned the Dockable to Option-L, which is physically Windows Key-L, which matches the keystroke used to lock the Windows machine.)

  5. Chris Karcher says:

    If you’re using Leopard, I’ve written a simple Dashboard widget to put the display to sleep:

    If you’re using Tiger, there’s another widget by Line Street Widgetry:

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks. It should be noted, however, that in Leopard display sleep can now be triggered using a hot corner (Screen Saver pref pane).

  7. Chris Karcher says:

    Yea, I gave that a shot but found that I was accidentally turning off my display too frequently. This mainly happened when I was running a full screen Windows session in VMWare Fusion and would flick my mouse to different corners (Start Menu, “X” to close windows, etc…).

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    My main screen is big enough (30″), so I don’t really hit the corners by accident. But I can see it can be a problem with smaller screens. There should be a setting that lets hot corners be less “hot” by only responding after the mouse pointer has been there for a few seconds.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.