How to share a mouse and keyboard on multiple computers


How to share a mouse and keyboard on multiple computers

Stock photo of someone working on multiple laptops

For many of us, everyday computing means using more than one computer—and sometimes more than one computer operating system. That can mean a lot of cables and lots of swapping between keyboards, mice, and trackpads, but there are now multiple hardware and software options for sharing a set of input devices between multiple laptops or desktop computers.

Universal Control

Screenshot of Universal Control on macOS

Set up Universal Control on macOS.
screenshot: macOS

Of course, the new addition to this particular space is Apple’s Universal Control, which works with Macs and iPads. A main 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 everything to work, Universal Control must be turned on. In the macOS System Preferences, this is done via To sue and Universal Control; From the iPad Settings you need to go to General and AirPlay and handoverand turn on cursors and keyboard. After that, all of your devices must be close to each other, signed in to the same Apple ID, and on the same network.

Meet all of these criteria, and if you move your cursor over the edge of one device, it should land on another (you can control the arrangement in To sue in the system settings). If you only use Apple devices, this is probably the most sensible option: it’s built right into macOS and iPadOS and doesn’t require much setup.

mouse without limits

Screenshot of Mouse Without Borders.

Configure mouse without frame.
screenshot: mouse without limits

Microsoft actually has its own version of Universal Control, although you may not have heard of it: mouse without limits is a “garage project” by Microsoft employee Truong Do, meaning they worked on it in their free time. As you’d expect, it’s basic and only available for Windows, but it gets the job done.

To set everything up, install Mouse Without Borders on the computers you want to use it with, then use the security codes presented on each screen to connect over a local area network. You’ll be prompted to specify how your computer displays are positioned, and then all you have to do is move your mouse pointer from the edge of the screen to another computer to switch controls.

You can use any keyboard and mouse connected to any of your computers as input devices here, and it’s more stable and reliable than you might expect from a side project. The utility works with up to four computers and supports additional features such as dragging and dropping files and copying and pasting text.


Synergy screenshot

Choosing a layout in Synergy.
screenshot: synergy

synergy has been around a lot longer than Universal Control and Mouse Without Borders, and it’s more comprehensive too – not least because it works on both Windows and macOS. Pricing starts at $29 for the basic version, which covers you for three different computers: the computer with the main keyboard and mouse attached acts as the server, and the others are clients as configured in the Synergy software.

Once Synergy can see all the computers – which should take seconds as long as they’re on the same network – you can tell it how your screens are laid out. Then all you have to do is swipe your cursor from the edge of one screen to another (similar to multiple monitors) to change the computer you control.

Dig deeper into the Synergy software and you can set up custom keyboard shortcuts, which comes in very handy when using Windows and macOS computers at the same time, and sync the clipboard. There are alternatives incl ShareMousewhich works in a similar way: It’s free but only for basic functionality on two computers, and subsequent prices start at $95.

Logitech Flow

Promotional image of Logitech Flow

Logitech Flow works with Logitech hardware.
picture: Logitech

Established input device supplier Logitech has its own solution for using one keyboard and mouse with multiple computers. It’s called Logitech Flow. You can find it as part of the Logi Options software package, and as you might expect, you need Logitech peripherals for this to work.

Once you’ve connected your keyboard and mouse via the Logi Options software and installed the application on each computer you use, Logitech Flow works much like the other solutions we’ve covered in this list. The Flow tab on the mouse configuration screen allows you to customize how your displays and computers are arranged. After that, you can switch devices by dragging the mouse pointer from the edge of one display to another.

If you prefer, you can also use a keyboard shortcut to switch between computers (click the Switch between computers Possibility). There’s a lot more to explore in the software, from the ability to transfer files between computers to setting up custom keyboard shortcuts that work on whatever platforms you use.

A Keyboard Video Mouse (KVM) switch

A KVM switch is the traditional approach.

A KVM switch is the traditional approach.
picture: Greathtek/Amazon

Your other option is to take the hardware route with a KVM (Keyboard Video Mouse) switch: your keyboard and mouse of choice connect to the switch, and then all your other computers connect to the switch rather than directly to the peripherals . A physical key or key combination controls switching.

The decisive advantage over the software solutions mentioned is the additional “V” for video – you only need one monitor. You can hide multiple computers under your desk while keeping everything looking tidy and quiet on the surface with a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse. It also means that an expensive, high-end monitor 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 stay with one application and have no other device on their desk. KVM switches are available from common electronics retailers and can cost anywhere from a handful of dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on the number of connections needed and the type of connections.

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