Utility Spotlight: Control Multiple PCs

Mouse Without Borders can help make a smooth transition from one computer to another.

Lance Whitney

Many of you work with multiple PCs at the same time, either at your desk or running your datacenter. You probably find it clumsy bouncing from one keyboard and mouse to another. You could certainly set up a KVM switch to control your multiple computers. Microsoft offers a simple and free solution dubbed Mouse Without Borders.

This is not exactly an “official” Microsoft product. Mouse Without Borders is actually a prototype application developed at an internal unit called The Garage. This is a test lab run by Microsoft employees eager to build their own unique projects and tools. Some of the technologies developed at The Garage find their way into other products. Others are released as standalone applications. That brings us to Mouse Without Borders.

Total Control

Developed by Microsoft Dynamics AX developer Truong Do, Mouse Without Borders lets you use a single mouse and keyboard to control as many as four different PCs—unlike with a KVM switch, where you have to have each PC connected to its own dedicated monitor. Beyond just viewing and controlling each PC, though, you can drag and drop files and even copy text and other content among each of them.

Download Mouse Without Borders from the Microsoft Download Center. Install the file called MouseWithoutBordersSetup.msi on your first PC. After you install Mouse Without Borders on your initial computer, the program will load into memory and appear in the Windows system tray. You’ll see a “Let’s get started” message asking if you’ve installed it on any other PCs. Leave that message open and install the software on the second PC you want to control. After that installation, you’ll see the same “Let’s get started” message.

After you’ve installed the software on both PCs, choose one as your primary or local computer, the one from which you’ll control the others. Click the Yes button on the “Let’s get started” message. You’ll see a window prompting you for a security code and computer name.

On your second computer, click No to the “Let’s get started” message. You’ll then see a window displaying the security code and name for that computer. Enter that information on your local PC and click on the link button. Mouse Without Borders should then locate the second PC. Click on Next at the Success screen and click on Done. You can then close the same window on your second PC.

You should see the names of both PCs displayed in the Machine Matrix section in the Mouse Without Borders Settings screen (see Figure 1). Click on the Apply button to establish a connection between both PCs.

The Settings screen will show you a list of connected computers

Figure 1 The Settings screen will show you a list of connected computers.

Once the connection is established, you can change mouse and keyboard control from one PC to another by pressing the appropriate hotkey. By default, the key combination of Ctrl+Alt+F1 will pass control to the PC shown in position one of the Machine Matrix. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+F2 will pass control to the PC in position two. You can change the order of the PCs by dragging and dropping them to a new position. Because the control works both ways, you can also manually move to your second PC and control your primary PC with the same process.

If you prefer to not use hotkeys, you can also switch from one PC to another just by moving your mouse. By default, moving your mouse to the right edge of the screen on machine one will pass control to machine two. And moving your mouse to the left edge of the screen on machine two will pass control to machine one.

If you want to control additional machines, follow the same process previously described. Once you enter and save security codes and computer names on your local machine, you won’t have to repeat the process.

To copy a file from one PC to another, simply drag the file off the edge of the screen. On the other PC’s monitor, you’ll see an icon named Desktop. Release your mouse to copy the file to a folder called MouseWithoutBorders on the receiving PC’s desktop.

To copy text or an image, select and copy the content from one PC. Move control to the other PC, open a file, and then paste the selected content. You can copy a range of items, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. You can also cut and paste files from a host of other applications and keep all their formatting intact, just as if you were copying and pasting on a single PC.

Finally, Mouse Without Borders offers an Other Options tab (see Figure 2). Here you can turn clipboard sharing on and off, set the mouse to wrap around both sides of the screen, shut off the screen saver, and change the hotkeys for various functions.

The Other Options tab lets you activate a handful of other functions

Figure 2 The Other Options tab lets you activate a handful of other functions.

Overall, Mouse Without Borders performed quite smoothly. As a prototype, it does have some limitations. If you take the program for a spin, the unofficial Q&A forum can help address most issues you’re likely to encounter.

Though not as efficient as a dedicated KVM switch where you can access multiple PCs using a single monitor, Mouse Without Borders is still a handy and useful tool for anyone who needs to juggle files between multiple computers.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.