For many of us, our daily work involves using more than one computer, and sometimes more than one computer operating system. That can mean a lot of wires and a lot of switching between keyboards, mice, and trackpads, but now there are plenty of hardware and software options for sharing a single set of input devices between several notebooks or desktops.
New in this area is, of course, Apple’s Universal Control, which works with Macs and iPads. The keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) on one main Mac can be used to control up to two other nearby Mac or iPad devices, and you also get limited drag and drop support.
Universal Control must be turned on for everything to work. From the macOS System Preferences this is done through Displays and Universal control; from your iPad’s settings, you’ll need to go to General and AirPlay and Relayand turn it on Cursor and keyboard. After you do this, all your devices must be close together, signed in to the same Apple ID, and on the same network.
Meet all of these criteria, and moving your cursor over the edge of one device should cause it to land on another (you can control the placement in Displays in System Preferences). If you only use Apple devices, this is probably the most sensible option: it’s built into macOS and iPadOS, and doesn’t require much in terms of setup.
A mouse without borders
Microsoft does indeed have its own version of Universal Control, although you may not have heard of it: A mouse without borders is a “Garage Project” by Microsoft Truong Do employee, which means they worked on it in their spare time. As you’d expect, this is basic and is only available for Windows, but it does the job.
To configure everything, install Mouse Without Borders on the computers with which you want to use it, and then use the security codes displayed on each screen to connect through your local network. You’ll be prompted to pinpoint the location of your computer’s displays, then just move your mouse over the edge of the screen to the other computer to toggle control.
You can use any keyboard and mouse connected to any computer as input devices, and it’s more stable and reliable than you might think it would be a side-project. The tool works with up to four computers and supports additional features such as dragging and dropping files and copying and pasting text.
Synergy It’s been around a lot longer than Universal Control and Mouse Without Borders, and it’s also more versatile – not just because it works on Windows and macOS. Pricing starts at $ 29 for the Basic Edition, which includes three different computers: the computer with the main keyboard and mouse connected acts as a server and the rest are clients as configured in Synergy software.
Once Synergy has seen all your computers – which should take a few seconds, as long as they’re on the same network – you can tell how your screens are arranged. Then, you just need to move the cursor from the edge of one screen to the other (as is the case with many monitors) to switch the computer that you are in control of.
Delve deeper into the Synergy software and you can set up custom keyboard shortcuts, which is very handy if you use Windows and macOS computers in tandem and clipboard sync. Alternatives are available including ShareMousewhich works in a similar way: it’s free, but only for basic functions on two computers, with subsequent prices starting at $ 95.
Logitech, a supplier of input devices with a long tradition, has its own solution for using one keyboard and mouse with several computers. It’s called Logitech Flow. You will find it under Log options software suite, and as you’d expect, you’ll need Logitech peripherals for that.
When you connect your keyboard and mouse using Logi Options and install the app on each computer you use, Logitech Flow works similar to the other solutions in this list. On the Flow tab of the Mouse configuration screen, you can set how screens and computers are arranged. You can then switch devices by dragging the mouse cursor from the edge of one display to the other.
If you prefer, you can use a keyboard shortcut to switch between computers (click Switch between computers option). There is much more to the software to discover, from being able to transfer files between computers to setting up custom keyboard shortcuts that work across all the platforms you use.
Video keyboard-mouse switch (KVM)
Another option is to select the hardware route with a KVM (Keyboard Video Mouse) switch: Your keyboard and mouse connect to the switch, then all other computers connect to the switch, not directly to the peripherals. A physical button or keyboard shortcut controls the switching.
The key advantage over the software solutions we mentioned is the extra “V” for video – you only need one monitor. You can have multiple computers hidden under your desk while keeping the surface order and peace of mind with just one monitor, keyboard and mouse. It also means that if you have a high-end, expensive monitor, you don’t need to be limited to one device.
Some people prefer the hardware option so they don’t rely on Wi-Fi connectivity and don’t have to deal with software quirks; others prefer to stick to the application and not have another device on the desk. KVM switches are available from ordinary electronics retailers and can vary from a few to several hundred dollars depending on the number of connections needed and the type of connections.