You’ve just set up a home office or begun work at a new company, and you’ve learned that you need two or more computers. Having a keyboard and mouse for each setup is not practical. Fortunately, there’s a special tool you can use to quickly access two or more computers with a single keyboard and mouse.
In the days before high-speed internet, Wi-Fi, and USB hubs, a physical “keyboard, video, and mouse” (KVM) switch was a handy tool. But time has changed, the hardware switch eventually got replaced by software KVM. As such, let’s explore some apps that allow you to share your keyboard and mouse between multiple computers.
What Does a KVM Switch Do?
A KVM switch is a box-like hardware device that allows one set of peripherals (keyboard, video, and mouse) to access and control multiple computers by pressing a button on the KVM switch or keyboard shortcut.
The hardware ensures that switching is smooth and that your peripherals work with computers in tandem. With the transition to virtual KVM, however, the relevance of physical KVM switches is slowly decreasing.
That is because of the ease of use, setup, and customizable configuration. And the best part is that you don’t have to press a switch or turn a dial to get the KVM to work.
So, what KVM software should you use? Let’s explore a few options.
Synergy lets you control multiple computers with a single keyboard and mouse. It’s probably the only kvm software with a wide range of support for various operating systems including Windows (7 to 10), Ubuntu (16, 18, 20, 21), Debian (9, 10), Fedora (18, 29, 30, 33, 34), CentOS (7, 8), and Macs (10.13, 10.14+ all platforms including M1).
The app works on a client-server model. The server is the machine with the keyboard and mouse and it runs the server process called “synergys.” The clients connect to the server through another server process called “synergyc.” Behind this model, Synergy uses the Bonjour protocol to aid in host (client) discovery, address assignment, and hostname resolution.
Step 1: Install the app on the main server and choose Make this computer the server.
Step 2: For all other clients, choose Make this computer the client. Once you’re done, you want to tell the server about the clients in your local network.
Step 3: Click Configure Server and set the layout of your synergy server configuration.
There is a limit of screens you can have in a five-by-three grid. As per your requirement, drag-and-drop the monitor icon onto the grid. Double click the client icons to rename the computer name (if needed), set the modifier keys, and dead corners. Finally, click OK and restart the Synergy app installed on your server.
Step 4: Write down the IP addresses at the top of the main Synergy window. We’ll use the server IP address on each client machine to connect it to the server.
Although Synergy will automatically connect the server with the client, the above procedure will come into use if it doesn’t work. With Synergy you can copy-and-paste clipboard data to PC, Mac, or Linux, move your mouse without any annoyances from UAC (set Elevated privileges to Always to unlock this), and lock the remote Windows PC with Ctrl + Alt +Del.
Download: Synergy (From $29; free trial available)
2. Mouse Without Borders
Mouse Without Borders is the oldest and most intuitive virtual KVM switch. It lets you share a keyboard and mouse between two and four Windows PCs, and it can run on Windows Server (2003, 2008, 2012, 2016), Windows 7 through 10, and need minimum .NET 4.0
Step 1: Install the app on all your machines. As you set it up, you’ll see the security code and computer name. Keep the dialog open and go to another computer.
Step 2: Once you have the app on a second PC, confirm that you have a security code, type in the details, and click Link. Click the Settings option to arrange your computers in different rows, configure keyboard shortcuts, details of the IP mappings, and more.
With this app, you can share clipboard data or files (limit 100MB), lock the remote PC with Ctrl+ Alt + Del and block screensavers on other machines. If this interests you, read our guide on how to remotely turn a PC on or off.
Download: Mouse Without Borders (Free)
3. Input Director
Input Director is a comprehensive, software KVM switch that can control, switch between, and manage multiple computers with a single keyboard and mouse.
To get started, install the app on all your PCs. Launch the app to see the main window as seen in the screenshot below. The app is compatible with Windows 7 through 11.
Step 1: We’ll set the main PC as Director (that has the keyboard and mouse attached) and all other PCs as Clients. Click the Client Systems icon in the left panel to display the Clients window.
Step 2: Here, click the Add button to open the System/Client Configuration window. Make sure your other computers have Input Director running and then click the Scan network for candidate systems button.
Step 3: Choose the system, then click the Select button to close the window. On the other system, the app will prompt with the message “ Add the Director system to the authorized list of systems that may control this computer.”
Step 4: Back on the Director system, you’ll see the new clients (check the green tick next to the client name for confirmation). If not, type in the IP address of the client systems and click OK.
Step 5: In the final step, we’ll enable the Encryption for data security in the client. Type in the password and click Ok. Make sure to input the same password for all the other Windows PCs.
With this app, you can share clipboard contents, lock a system using Win + L, lock the remote PC, manage the client systems according to your needs, and open a file on other machines without transferring them.
Download: Input Director (Free for Personal Non-Commercial Use)
ShareMouse allows you to control multiple Macs or Windows computers with a single keyboard and mouse. It works with any mix of Windows 8, Windows 10, and macOS 10.13 to 11.0 including M1.
To get started, install the app on all your machines. For Windows PC, the app works by installing a Windows service. And on Macs, it requires Accessibility and Full Disk Access to make it work properly.
Step1: Once installed, it shows up in the taskbar with a green checkmark arrow icon. Hover over the icon to see how many other PCs on your local network are set up with ShareMouse and ready to use. It will instantly detect your other laptop or desktop. With ShareMouse, you can drag-and-drop files or clipboards between computers without any hassle.
Step 2: The monitor manager (accessed by right-clicking the icon on system tray > Display manager) tells ShareMouse where your monitors are. It’s simple to use; just drag-and-drop them into their correct position. The app displays the monitor letter on each screen as you move them, for convenience.
Step 3: On moving the mouse cursor, it even dims the monitor you’re not using, letting you know where the cursor is and preserving precious laptop battery life.
The free version of ShareMouse lets you use only two computers with one monitor only. Once installed, you can transfer files between Mac and Windows through drag-and-drop (no cloud services involved), share clipboard data, sync login, logout, screensavers between multiple computers, send Ctrl + Alt + Del to a remote PC, and more.
Download: ShareMouse (From $95; free trial available)
KVMs Are Great for Multi-Systems Setups
If you have more than one system in use, a software KVM switch is an effective way to boost your productivity. Using a single keyboard and mouse to control multiple computers will save you time and money. In your home office or workplace, if you have a multi-monitor setup, check out our guide on how to the most of your monitor real-estate.