One Keyboard and Mouse with Two Computers?

One set of controls to rule them all?


Q: At work I have to use a Mac and PC, (it’s a long story, I have some programs that were bought on Mac that don’t have PC counterparts and we have some applications that were built for the company and only work on Windows) and it’s really annoying having two keyboards and two mice on my desk. Are there Y-cables that you can use to share one keyboard and mouse with two computers, or is there some software I could use to do that? Both computers are on the same network, if that matters. If there is, would it make either or both of them run slow? Also, is there some way I could use my iPhone and/or iPad to control either of them?

A: The cable you talked about is called a KVM switches or Keyboard, Video and Mouse switch. It does allow you to share a mouse, keyboard and monitor with two different computers. They run anywhere from $20-$100. There are also KM switch cables that allow you to share just a keyboard and mouse with two computers that have two separate monitors. If you are using the two different computers at the same time, that might be the best option for you. The good side of using a physical cable is that the connection is the fastest, and you’ll never have any lag. The down side is that you are limited by the length of the cable, and to go back and forth between the two computers you’ll have to press a button or turn a switch.

There are two great programs that do the same thing as a KM switch over your network instead of a cable. ShareMouse works on 32 or 64-Bit Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7 and Apple Mac OS X “Snow Leopard”, “Lion” or “Mountain Lion”. It is super easy to use, and doesn’t require a lot of tech savviness to set up. However, it normally costs $30 per computer! Another option, and my preference, is Synergy. Synergy works on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s only a tiny bit harder to setup than ShareMouse, and it’s free and open-source, so there’s an entire community constantly working on making it better! On both programs you don’t have to press a button to switch computers; it’s as simple as sliding your mouse off the edge of one screen, and it will appear on the next screen. Also, both programs support clipboard sharing, which allows you to copy text on one computer and paste it on another.

Both programs are relatively small programs that don’t use up a lot of resources on your computers, and they hardly use any bandwidth on your network to run. One potential downside of using one of these programs is that if your network is bogged down (for example if you are running streaming video or downloading a lot), you might notice a slight lag in reaction time. Also, neither option support sharing a monitor between the two computers. If you are trying to do that with software, you’ll have to try a VNC application or Remote Desktop. That’s a little bit more complicated and I don’t think it’s worth it if you have both computers in the same room.

What I would do is start out by trying Synergy. That will probably solve your problem the best. If it doesn’t then try ShareMouse or a hardwire KM or KVM switch. If you need help setting up Synergy, Lifehacker has a great how to article.

In answer to your second question, there is an iOS app for Synergy, but it’s still in beta testing, and you have to be jailbroken to use it on your iPhone or iPad. To control my PC from my iPhone and iPad or Android device, I use Mobile Mouse Pro. It works on Windows XP or higher, Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, and Ubuntu Linux. Mobile Mouse Pro is available in the App Store for $1.99, and in Google Play for $2.99. You have to install a small server app on your desktop, but once you do and open the app, your phone or tablet turns into a multitouch trackpad, remote keyboard, and music and presentation remote. And, you can use your phone as a gyroscopic mouse, which means your on mouse will move with your hand motions, similar to how the Nintendo Wii controllers work. If you just want to try it out Mobile Mouse before you buy it, there is a free version called Mobile Mouse Lite in the App Store and Google Play.

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