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In older websites, the standard is usually 960 pixels, because it has a lot of factors that it can be divided into, and most monitors were 1024 pixels wide. Recently, a large portion of laptops are 1366 pixels wide, so the answer may immediately be assumed to be something around 1200 or 1280 pixels. However, there are also desktops, TVs (HD and 4K), and I've recently been seeing some new computers that are up to 3200 pixels horizontally. Okay...

My point is, how should a website use up all this extra space? I'm thinking of scaling the site to match the width of the screen. Is this a good practice?

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    HD and 4K doesn't mean there is extra space. The screen size don't increase with the DPI. For example, there is some 5" smartphones with Full HD (1080p) screens, there is no extra space, just a more precise screen. – A.L Apr 20 '14 at 0:04
  • That's true, so for the question, assume it's a 96dpi or lower screen. – Phoenix Logan Apr 20 '14 at 1:54
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In my personal opinion, it is not a good idea to populate the whole big screen with more content as it would strain the user's eyes and neck having to see from one corner of the screen to the other. So, its crucial to kind of limit the focus of user to a certain area of the screen.

Of course, to populate the empty space of the screen, you could employ techniques such as using background image, adding content that's of little importance (be more mindful in doing so as it might distract users from their main focus), such as ads, relevant stuff that they might be interested in.

And based on my personal experience, people with big screen don't usually maximize a single browser, unless we're talking about devices with restriction that you can only run one app at any time.

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    +1 "And based on my personal experience, people with big screen don't usually maximize a single browser" Indeed! – Marjan Venema Apr 19 '14 at 12:29
  • Well, what about rather than populating the screen with more content, stretching the content to always fit the width of the screen? (enlarging text, images, margins, etc.) Of course with the exception of phones, which would be to small to shrink the content. – Phoenix Logan Apr 19 '14 at 15:56
  • There's only so much you can do with stretching content (enlarging text, images, margins, etc.) - do notice that these are techniques employed in Responsive Web Design. Then again, it really depends on the type of website that you're actually working on. Do visitors of your website mainly access your site from TV? If so, you could employ vertical scrolling just like on Windows 8 apps. – donysukardi Apr 20 '14 at 3:51
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Is this a good practice?, NO!

As you said in "older website", web design in general has changed over the years and designers are now focusing on usability and accessibility. Those extra spaces makes your content more readable.

Take a look at this: Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines

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I think it's not good to scale up, but a nice thing to do is ex. making a website background be prepared for such a big screens.

It is also a good reason (that empty space) to keep some hidden functionalities on screen such as facebook's chat.

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