It is not uncommon for a computer expert or enthusiast when using multiple computers to increase their productivity. However, having multiple computers on a table can be messy if the cables are not properly organized. One way to keep the computer table tidy is by using a piece of hardware called a KVM (Keyboard, Video, Monitor) switch that is able to save both space and money. It is a small device that connects a single keyboard, mouse and monitor to multiple computers so you can control them without having individual peripherals connected to each machine.
If you can’t find a suitable hardware KVM switch or don’t want to spend extra money to buy it, there is another alternative which is to use a software based virtual KVM that works through network connections. You will need to install the software on all computers involved in sharing the keyboard/mouse and go through a one time simple configuration such as the placement of the computers, IP address/hostname, etc. Here are 4 free virtual KVM software tools that can be used to share your keyboard and mouse to control multiple PCs.
The current Synergy is a merge between the original Synergy project and Synergy+ which was a maintenance fork by a different developer. The most notable feature in the open source Synergy is the multi-platform support that includes Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The old Synergy was quite confusing to configure and fortunately there were third party wizard tools to help assist in creating the Synergy configuration file. As for the current Synergy, it is so much easier to configure and it merely takes a few steps.
In Synergy, a server is the computer that shares the keyboard and mouse while a client uses the server’s keyboard and mouse. After installing Synergy and selecting the Server checkbox, click the Configure Server button, drag the computer monitor icon to the grid and place it accordingly.
Double click on the new screen icon and change the “Unnamed” screen name to the computer name of the client. Click OK button to go back to the main program window and click Apply.
For the client, all you need to do is install Synergy, select Client from the setup wizard and enter the Server’s IP address or computer name. Finally click the Apply button and you should be automatically connected to the server. Synergy by default uses port 24800 and runs as service.
2. Input Director
Input Director has been available since 2007. The production stable release was last updated 3 years ago but a beta version released last year is available to download. Other than transitioning from one computer to the other by moving your mouse cursor to the end of the screen, it is able to share clipboard data by copying and pasting between computers including file transfer. Data security through AES encryption can be enabled for those who wants to prevent snoopers and hackers.
Setting up Input Director is quite easy as well by specifying the computer name of the slave and master. To avoid getting error messages, it is best to start with installing and configuring the slave first. At the slave computer, install Input Directory, run it and click “Enable as Slave” button. Then go to Slave Configuration tab, select the “Allow only the computers listed below to take control” radio button, click Add, enter the hostname of the Master computer and click OK. Alternatively, you can also select “Allow any computer to take control” if you’re connected to your own private local network.
The computer that will be sharing the connected keyboard and mouse will be the Master. After installing Input Director, run it and click the “Enable as Master” button. Then go to the Master Configuration tab, click the Add button, enter the hostname of the slave and click OK. You can now drag the computer icon on the grid to tell Input Director where the computer is positioned. Input Director works only in Windows and runs on port 31234 as a service.
Multiplicity is a product by Stardock that is well known for its ease of use and can configure virtual KVM software to control multiple computers with only one keyboard and mouse. This software is even listed as top 100 best product in 2012 by PCWorld’s Editors. Multiplicity is actually a shareware but the free version only allows you to control up to 2 PCs, doesn’t support clipboard transfer and encryption. For Multiplicity, it refers the computer with keyboard and mouse as Primary while the computer to be controlled is Secondary.
You should install Multiplicity on the secondary computer first so that it is easier and faster for the Primary computer to automatically find it. After installation, a random generated passcode will be given for adding the secondary computer to the primary.
After installing Multiplicity on the primary computer and clicking the “Be a Primary computer” button, it will ask you to enter the computer name or select the following detected computer. Click on the computer, click Add, enter the passcode and finally click Save. Similar to Synergy and Input Director, Multiplicity lets you drag the computers from the grid according to your placement.
4. Mouse without Borders
Mouse without Borders is a free KVM software by Microsoft that works in quite a similar way to Multiplicity. It can control up to only 4 computers, capture screenshots and allows you to share clipboard data as well as transferring files through drag and drop. Although unmentioned, the traffic seems to be encrypted by looking at a packet sniffer, WireShark.
You should also install Mouse without Borders on the slave first to get the security code by clicking No when asked if you have already installed on another computer.
Then install Mouse without Borders on the master computer and select the Yes option this time, followed by entering the given security code and computer name that you got earlier from the slave computer and click Link. Click the Next and Done button to complete the configuration. You can access to more settings options from the program.