The Killer App(let) Review: Mouse Without Borders

By Thomas Mottl, Aperture to Pixels Photography

So I know I’m in somewhat of a niche market of trying to run more than one computer on my desk at a time, and I’ve tried a number of different ways to do it.  Since it used to be just a laptop and a desktop simultaneously, the idea is pretty simple, the laptop gets used like a laptop and the desktop like a desktop.  Recently I’ve moved beyond that.

This spring I moved on to running two desktops, which drive three monitors.  My old desktop used to run two monitors, so the three monitor thing wasn’t anything new (again, one on the laptop) and at my day job I run my laptop extended onto a desktop monitor for two, so again, multiple monitors is pretty normal for me.  But now with it being two desktops, I had to have two keyboards and two mice, and map network shares back and forth.  This was cumbersome as my desk, though fairly large, doesn’t like this.

I went looking for something akin to a “Virtual KVM” that would at least let me control one computer from the other, though the way I was envisioning it, I may as well have run the other computer headless.  What I found was the Microsoft Garage innovation:  Mouse Without Borders.

Now a quick background on the Microsoft Garage, it’s a garage.  An astonishingly large garage.  But it is a place on the Redmond campus where any employee can go and work on innovative projects, and they don’t have to be programs, or even computer related at all.  They have tools, work benches, computers, chemicals, whatever.  Go have fun.

Anyway, it seems that programmers at Microsoft had the same dilemma I was looking at now, multiple computers, but one keyboard and mouse.  They wrote a small application that allows them to link up to 4 computers together on a network and share the keyboard and mouse.  The amazing thing is that it works exactly like running multiple monitors on one computer.  When you go off the edge of one computer, you go onto the next one.  The keyboard follows the mouse, so whatever monitor you’re controlling you are interacting only with that computer.  It loads up as a system service so it is already active before you even need to log in.

That alone is worth the price of admission (oh, by the way, it’s a free app).  But now add on that it is adaptive.  If a computer is missing from the mix, like say a laptop or tablet, it just skips over where it should have been.  Now you’re saying, wait did he just say “tablet?”  Yes.  It works on all windows devices from XP through 8, so you can put your tablet in the mix and use it.  There’s even an option to force the tablet to show you where the mouse cursor is.  Oh, and it lets you move files seamlessly between computers.  The limitation… only files.  Need to move a whole directory?  Just zip it first then you’re ok.  It will move to the Desktop of the destination computer and there you go.

So, is it for everyone?  Obviously not.  But for anyone who can or wants to use multiple computers, it’s quite seamless and perfect.




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