If you’ve got a laptop, desktop, tablets, and servers that you use in your office, you know that one of the barriers to getting work done can be switching between the devices. Repositioning yourself or plugging in devices can even make you feel resistant to getting work done. Luckily, there are a few different options for how to use the same mouse on all of your devices. Today, we’ll explore some options for unleashing the mouse by using it on multiple machines with both hardware and software.
Hardware Options: KVM and Bluetooth Switches
The older approach to using a single mouse with multiple computers is to have hardware switching. Back in the day, there used to be switch boxes—called KVM switches—that could change your keyboard, video monitor, and mouse over from one computer to another. These devices still exist, but there are likely better ways to achieve the same functionality, since using a switcher means that you can only look at one device on the monitor at a time and only use the mouse and keyboard for one computer at a time.
Some higher-end Bluetooth keyboard and mouse devices can take care of multiple devices on their own. Since they connect via Bluetooth, they can connect to multiple computers at one time, and then you use a switch on the mouse or keyboard to move to a different computer, tablet, or phone. This option doesn’t have any monitor switching involved, which implies that you have the devices visible at all times. And that’s probably the more common setup today—multiple screens for multiple devices that are always running or available—which makes this a pretty good setup for a lot of people.
Unlike the rest of the services below, Bluetooth devices aren’t technically network devices, so this approach doesn’t raise concerns about sending sensitive information or executing commands on your local network.
Software Options: Mouse Without Borders and Synergy
If all of your devices have screens that are on already, you might not need for your peripherals to switch between them, but rather, for your mouse (and keyboard) to be used across all of them seamlessly. Luckily, software solutions can make this happen relatively easily by using your network to send and receive input and control data.
If all of the devices that you’d like to have the mouse on are Windows devices, you can use Mouse Without Borders, which is now included in PowerToys. It (like other software solutions) uses your network to send mouse usage to other computers, meaning that you can just scroll to another computer’s display and carry on like they are all one device. Out of all of these recommendations, it’s probably the easiest to set up.
Synergy, on the other hand, is a more fully-featured service that shares not just your mouse, but your keyboard too, as well as clipboard functionality. It’s intended to be used on your local network as well, but it’s cross-platform, so you can use it for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. This helps erase the difference between your physical machines and gives you access to each of your devices without any disruptions.
Adding Mobile to the Mix
These software options are intended, primarily, to make it possible to work on multiple desktop PCs and Macs at the same time—but what about mobile devices?
Having a touchscreen device as part of your inputs and displays makes what you can do with them a lot more interesting. Personally, I use KDE Connect to use my phone and tablets’ touchscreens as a touchpad (mouse) and keyboard with my servers. It has many more features—like file transfer, notification sharing, and multimedia control across devices—and is open source and cross-platform as well. Using it on a home theater PC or a server means that all you need is a local network connection, then you don’t even need to plug in a mouse or keyboard to that computer.
There’s also Duet Display, an app that can turn your iPad, iPhone, or Android device into an “advanced” extra display for your Mac or PC. It can extend your desktop or laptop’s display onto the device, which is very convenient if you’re on the move and need extra screen real estate. This extra screen is, of course, a touchscreen too, so you can use touch gestures for scrolling and zooming on it, or even use it with a stylus or pen to make it into a handwriting or drawing input.
-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and Crown Computers Team