For many of us, everyday computing involves using more than one computer and sometimes even more than one computer operating system. This can mean a lot of cables and a lot of swapping between keyboards, mice, and trackpads, but there are now more hardware and software options for sharing a set of input devices between different laptops or desktop computers.
The new arrival in this particular field is obviously Apple’s Universal Control, which works with Mac and iPad. A primary Mac’s keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) can be used to control up to two other nearby Mac or iPad devices, and you also get a limited amount of drag-and-drop support.
For this to work, Universal Control must be activated. From the macOS System Preferences, this is done via View And Universal control; from the iPad Settings, you need to go to General And AirPlay and transferand turn on Cursor and keyboard. Once this is done, all your devices must be nearby, connected to the same Apple ID and on the same network.
It meets all of these criteria and by moving the cursor off the edge of one device you should see it land on another (you can check the arrangement in View in System Preferences). If you’re only on Apple devices, then that’s the option that probably makes the most sense – it’s built right into macOS and iPadOS and doesn’t need much in the way of setup.
Mouse without borders
Microsoft actually has its own version of Universal Control, although you may not have heard of it: Mouse without borders it’s a “Garage project” from Microsoft employee Truong Do, which means they worked on it in their spare time. As you might expect, it’s basic and available for Windows only, but it does the job.
To set everything up, install Mouse Without Borders on the computers you want to use it with, then use the security codes displayed on each screen to connect to a local network. You will be asked to indicate how your computer’s displays are positioned, so it’s just a case of moving the mouse cursor from the edge of the screen to another computer to change the control.
You can use any keyboard and mouse connected to any computer as an input device here, and it’s more stable and reliable than you might think a side project would be. The utility works with up to four computers and supports additional features such as drag-and-drop and copy and paste text.
Synergy has been around for a lot longer than Universal Control and Mouse Without Borders, and it’s even more comprehensive, not least because it works on Windows and macOS. Pricing starts at $ 29 for the basic edition, which covers three different computers: the computer with the primary keyboard and mouse attached acts as a server, and the others are clients, as configured in Synergy software.
Once Synergy can see all the computers, which should take a few seconds, as long as they are on the same network, you can tell them how your screens are arranged. So it’s just a matter of sliding the slider from the edge of one screen to the other (just like you might with multiple monitors) to change which computer you’re in control of.
Dig into Synergy software and you can set up custom keyboard shortcuts, which is very useful if you’re using Windows and macOS computers in tandem and syncing your clipboard. There are alternatives available, including ShareMousewhich works in a similar way: it’s free, but only for basic functionality on two computers, and the next price starts at $ 95.
Logitech, a longtime supplier of input devices, has its own solution for using a keyboard and mouse with multiple computers. It’s called Logitech Flow. You’ll find it available as part of the Logi options software package and, as you might expect, you’ll need Logitech peripherals to make it work.
After connecting the keyboard and mouse via Logi Options software and installing the application on each computer in use, Logitech Flow works similarly to the other solutions described in this list. In the Flow tab in the mouse setup screen, you can define how screens and computers are organized. Later, you can 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’s also a lot more to explore in the software, from being able to transfer files between computers, to setting up custom keyboard shortcuts that work across all the platforms you’re using.
A Keyboard Video Mouse (KVM) switch.
The other option is to take the hardware path with a Keyboard Video Mouse (KVM) switch – your favorite keyboard and mouse connect to the switch, then all other computers connect to the switch rather than peripherals directly. A physical button or keyboard shortcut controls the switch.
The key advantage here over the software solutions we’ve mentioned is that extra “V” for video – you just need a monitor. You can hide multiple computers under your desk while keeping everything tidy and serene on the surface with a single monitor, keyboard and mouse. It also means that if you have an expensive, high-end monitor, it doesn’t have 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 one application and not have another device on their desk. KVM switches are available from the usual electronics retailers, and depending on the number of connections needed and the type of connections, the cost can range from a handful of dollars to several hundred dollars.