What Happened To My Desk?
Somehow the computers are multiplying on your desk. There’s the light-weight laptop you use on the road and at home, plugged into a docking station. There’s the powerful desktop machine you use for the heavy-duty number crunching. Maybe there’s an old machine that still has one program you’ve never gotten around to migrating to the newer machines, or perhaps there’s a Mac in the mix. Not only does each machine’s CPU eat another chunk of your desk, but so do its monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Worse yet, every time you want to switch from one machine to another, you need to swivel your chair to face the right monitor and dig the correct keyboard and mouse out of the clutter. It’s a big hassle. Fortunately, there are several different ways to reduce the clutter and simplify your life.
Sometimes Simple Is Best
The low-tech solution is sometimes the way to go. If you find it helpful for all of your machines to have their own monitors, but it’s driving you insane switching from one keyboard and mouse to another, simply unplug them from one machine and plug them into the next. USB keyboards and mice are designed to be plugged and unplugged while the computer is running. Some devices, such as Logitech’s “Unifying” line even allow you to link a wireless keyboard and mouse to a single receiver, allowing you to move both devices at once.
But Not Always
Physically moving the keyboard and mouse from one machine to another works, but it can be distracting, especially if you have to do it frequently or one of the computers is awkwardly placed. If this is your situation, try a software solution. Several programs allow you to control multiple computers with a single keyboard and mouse and switch between them by moving the mouse off-screen to the left or right. “Multiplicity” is a Windows-only program, supporting up to nine computers with a single keyboard and mouse. If you’ve got a mixture of Windows computers and Macs, take a look at “ShareMouse”, which can work with up to 26 computers. If you need to include Linux in the mix, or if your budget is tight, “Synergy” might be your salvation.
Too Many Monitors
These software solutions can do a lot, but they still require that each computer have its own monitor. If your desk is buried in monitors and you don’t need to see what’s on the screen of all of your computers at once, then a KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switch is your salvation. KVMs are a hardware solution. You plug your single keyboard, monitor, and mouse into one side of the KVM and then connect the other end to the ports on each computer. Switching from one computer to another is as easy as pushing a button. KVMs come in a variety of sizes, from simple ones that support two computers to multi-machine monsters that can handle 64 computers at once. Need to share more than just the standard keyboard, monitor, and mouse? Models that allow you to share speakers, USB hard drives, and microphones are common.
Bring It To Me
All of the solutions above assume your computers are located close together. What if you need to use a computer in the next room — or halfway across the country? There is a solution for that too. If you’re working with only Windows computers, everything you need is built in. Turn on “Remote Desktop” in the “System” control panel on the machine to be controlled and use the “Remote Desktop Client” on the controlling machine. It’s that simple. It’s just as easy in a Mac-only world. On the computer to be controlled, turn on “Apple Remote Desktop” in the “Sharing” preferences and use the “Screen Sharing” program on the controller. And yes, you can mix-and-match. To control your Windows computer from a Mac, download Microsoft’s “Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac”. To go the other way and control your Mac from a Windows computer, download any of the free “VNC” client programs such as “TightVNC”, “RealVNC”, or “UltraVNC”. Linux users aren’t left out either: “vncviewer” will control Macs and other Linux computers, while “rdesktop” will keep you on top of that remote Windows machine.