Control up to 9 PCs with one mouse and keyboard

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Most people are quite satisfied with a single PC on their desk, but there are a lot of folks -- developers, software testers, web designers, just to name a few -- who regularly need to switch among two or three computers. And you don't even need to be a tech genius to have two PCs: Many business pros have both a desktop in the office and a laptop that they can carry to meetings and take on the road. Want to control any and all of those computers with a single mouse and keyboard? No problem: You don't need any extra gadgets. You can do it with a free program.

This is really cool, becuase in the ancient past (say, a few years ago), to control multiple PCs with the same keyboard and mouse you needed to buy an ultra-technical piece of hardware called a KVM (which stands for Keyboard, Video, and Mouse) and use it as a sort of switching station. It was pricey, clumsy, and took up previous desk space.

Thankfully, there are easier alternatives now. A while back, I told you about Mouse without Borders, a free utility from Microsoft's Garage, a company-wide project that lets the company's developers work on interesting projects in their spare time. As I explained, once you install and configure Mouse without Borders, you can control up to four computers from a single mouse and keyboard, as long as they're all on the same network.

That's pretty cool, but Stardock has introduced their own alternative called Multiplicity. Multiplicity is similar to Mouse without Borders, except that it lets you operate as many as nine PCs at once.

While Mouse without Borders is completely free, Multiplicity has a free version -- which offers the basic PC control capabilities -- as well as a $40 premium version. For $40, you can copy and paste between PCs, drag and drop files and folders among computers, send the same mouse and keyboard input to all computers at the same time, and more.

Is it worth it? Mouse without Borders is perfectly adequate for most routine uses (such as controlling both your desktop and laptop), but Stardock is recommendable. I like the premium "centralized audio" feature (which sounds alerts from all PCs through one computer's speakers, so you always are aware of events occurring on all your computers), for example. And when Stardock releases a program, they usually get it right -- remember Fences? That programs remains one of my favorite Windows utilities of all time. I just wish the premium version of Multiplicity didn't cost quite so much.