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May 15, 2005


One of the problems with being bi(processorial) is that when you have two computers and you actually use both, you end up having two keyboards, two mice and so on -- a veritable noah's ark of computer accessories. I suppose I could get one of those boxes where you can route your keyboard and your mouse into, and thereby control two computers with it, but where's the fun in that? Also, since I can't even remember what they're called, the idea of walking into Staples and trying to describe the concept to some guy in a red shirt who barely knows where the pens are is not one I greet with a huge amount of enthusiasm. So: two of everything.

The problem becomes where to put it all, and for most of the equation I was able to make it work. I shoved the PC behind the iMac (which, being an iMac, is all sleek and thin), put the PC monitor to the side, and generally place the PC mouse so that I can use it with my left hand while I use the Mac mouse with my right (I'm ambimouse-terous!) But what to do with the PC keyboard? My desk has a little shelf where the keyboard's supposed to go, which I generally ignore, so while the Mac keyboard is on top of the desk, the PC keyboard is below.

But this proved unsuitable, since I still do frequently need my PC keyboard, and it's a pain in the ass to drag out the little shelf and sit away from the screen and squint while i type and all that, or to use the Mac keyboard (I have to reach and it aggravates my early-stage case of tendonitis). And since I had to snake the keyboard cord down through the desk to get it to sit comfortably on the shelf, dragging the keyboard up to desk level is also more complicated and annoying than it really should be.

So I gave up. No, I'm not ditching the PC, I bought myself a wireless keyboard. Now the PC keyboard can go anywhere, do anything, and then when I'm done with it i can set it anywhere and not have any more problems with it. Easy. Since I'm using the Mac for most of my serious typing now, I went ahead and got the cheap, non-ergodynamically designed keyboard -- Mi Micro Innovations, $29.95 at the dreaded Wal-Mart. I did go to Staples to try to buy it there after spotting it at Wal-Mart(where I went for some digital photo printing), but it was $20 cheaper at Wal-Mart, and while I'm all for not sweating a $5 price difference for not spending too much green at Wally World, a 66% price difference was a little hard to ignore.

The keyboard is definitely nothing fancy, but I find the tactile response perfectly good, and since I never use all those silly buttons that line the top of today's new fangled keyboards (the ones that launch your browser, e-mail, music players and trident missiles), it's all the same to me. The keyboard came with an additionally perfectly acceptable 5-button wireless mouse, so I switched the wireless mouse that I had been using on the PC over to the Mac. Now the only thing there is the Mac keyboard. I'm free. in fact, I'm writing this on the PC, with the new wireless keyboard, which is in my lap while my feet are up on the desk. Ergonomic experts, commence your screaming now (I should note that I do have a hand brace on. You know. because I'm not completely stupid).

So now the setup is: left-handed mouse, keyboard, keyboard, right-handed mouse, two monitors, and one very pasty white dude going wall-eyed in front of the two screen. Surely, the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by john at May 15, 2005 08:49 PM

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Jon H | May 15, 2005 09:59 PM

Did you consider a KVM switch?

I picked up a cheap ($50?) 2-way switch on ebay, made by Hawking technologies. I just use it for keyboard and mouse switching, because my monitors are digital and the switch only does analog.

It works well, but OS X is better at handling the switch than XP. I have it hooked up to my PC and my PowerMac. My keyboard and mouse are USB, but the switch also has ports for PS2 mouse and keyboard.

David Klecha | May 15, 2005 10:41 PM

Yeah, a KVM switch is the thingy you're thinking of, sorta. Won't work too well with your configuration since the iMac has a monitor of its own, and part of the coolness of a KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) is that it shares out a single monitor to multiple CPUs. I love it, for my Mac Mini and PC and Linux box (plus an empty one for computers from clients that I test at home), but it's not for everyone.

But I do love wireless keyboards and mice. Did you get the "standard" wireless, or Bluetooth?

John Scalzi | May 15, 2005 10:43 PM

Standard. We don't cotten to that fancy bluetooth stuff round these here parts.

Brian | May 15, 2005 10:46 PM

Re: KVM switch, I bought a cheapie TrendNet 2-porter off of NewEgg (here) for $22 (it's up to $25 plus shipping now) a couple of months ago and have been really satisfied with it. I have a dual-monitor Win2k box and an old klunker Debian box that I'm using to introduce myself to Linux. I have the KVM switch connected to my keyboard and one of my two monitors, and a quick series of hotkeys takes me pretty much flawlessly from one to the other. (I use separate mice because my Intellimouse Explorer reacted badly to the switch and it's handy to still have some control over the Windows box (on the secondary monitor) while working in Linux.) Perhaps not the perfect solution, but I'm quite satisfied.

One concern about KVM switches with OS X and Windows... are the keyboards similiar enough that you can switch between them without key interpretation problems? Wouldn't all the extra 'option' keys and such confuse Windows, or alternately the 'Windows' key confuse OS X? (Jon H., could that be the reason why XP doesn't like your KVM very much?) I'm no expert on the technology here, but it strikes me that these could be cause for concern.

BTW, John, let us know once you've developed the ability to track one eye per monitor and use both computers simultaneously. It should be a great asset to your productivity. ;-)

Ryan Freebern | May 15, 2005 11:10 PM

I have a Linux box and a Windows laptop on my desk in front of me, running at all times, and I frequently need to switch between them rapidly. Reaching from one keyboard and mouse to the others just wasn't working out for me, so I did some research and came across Synergy, a software keyboard/mouse switch. Now, when I'm using my Linux box (like now) and I want to work on my latest Flash movie (on my laptop), I just slide my mouse pointer off the right edge of my screen, and, voilá, it appears at the left edge of the laptop's screen. Once you get it running (and setup was a breeze), it becomes so intuitive that you don't even notice it. I highly recommend it. And yeah, it works on Mac OS X too.

Mike Anderson [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 16, 2005 12:18 AM

Re: Mac keyboards on a Windows system...
I currently use a Mac keyboard at work on my Windows PC (Macally IceKey). The keys are a bit different than on Windows, but it's not really a big deal. I wrote up a review of it a while ago. I haven't tried it with a KVM switch, though, since mine at work is flakey to begin with. I just plug it straight into my PC and have my old keyboard plugged directly into my Linux box.

Jon H | May 16, 2005 01:43 AM


I'm using a Microsoft keyboard and trackball with my Mac and PC. The Microsoft-supplied driver thingy for OS X maps the keys and function buttons as necessary.

OS X 10.4 now lets you map keys, so other PC keyboards would work, too, without special drivers.

The only 'problem' XP has with the KVM is that it takes 10-15 seconds or so for the PC to figure out that the keyboard and mouse have been connected. It's not really a huge problem, but it gets annoying when I have to bop from one machine to the other, repeatedly.

OS X picks it up immediately when I push the button on the KVM.

If I had a 100Mbit switch or faster, I'd probably just use Windows Remote Desktop to control my XP box from my Mac. It works pretty well, but is a bit slow for me, probably because my router is (I think) 10 Mbit

I don't really like the Mac keyboard, actually. And I like having the media control buttons on my Microsoft keyboard. They control iTunes quite nicely.

Jon H | May 16, 2005 01:46 AM

David Klecha writes: "Won't work too well with your configuration since the iMac has a monitor of its own, and part of the coolness of a KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) is that it shares out a single monitor to multiple CPUs"

It'll work fine with his setup, he'll just need a monitor for the PC. Granted, this isn't the usual concept of using a KVM (hence the name KVM rather than KM), but it works fine.

As noted above, I use my KVM without switching monitors, because my monitors are SGI LCD monitors with a unique digital interface (not DVI). I couldn't run one through a KVM if I wanted to.

Jim Winter | May 16, 2005 09:31 AM

I love wireless for mouse and keyboard in that I have fewer cables to deal with. (Good, 'cuz I have a lot more toys plugged into my new desktop.) My problem is sometimes, the receiver will drop a character as I'm typing. I find myself working on my laptop to do manuscript work almost exclusively.

dave | May 16, 2005 09:59 AM

I was looking for a USB/DVI KVM a while back for my new Mac Mini. USB KVMs aren't cheap. Add in DVI, and you're talking the cost of the Mac Mini again!

I found that one of those very simple USB Printer sharing boxes can also be used to share a USB hub between computers. This hub can have a USB Keyboard and mouse plugged into it. Instant USB hub for under ten US$.

Using an apple keyboard with XP is fine: the Apple/Command key functions as the Windows key in XP. Linux happily ignores it, although I'm sure it could be mapped to something.

dave | May 16, 2005 10:05 AM


s/Instant USB hub/Instant USB KV!M/g

(KV!M == KVM without the M)

Nathan Neulinger | May 16, 2005 10:20 AM

Take a look at Synergy.


It will let you do what you're doing now (separate keyboards and mice), but will also let you pick one of those K/M as a primary and allow you to mouse past the side of the screen and start controlling the other machine.

Very handy if you want to share one keyboard/mouse between multiple machines, but don't want the single-keyboard and single-mouse approach of a KVM switch.

dlgreen | May 16, 2005 02:38 PM

I don't think they are done developing the OSX client yet, but when it does Multipicity by stardock sounds like the perfect solution for you. One keyboard one mouse and when you move the mouse off of once screen it shows up on the next. Hopefully they will get the macosx client out soon!


Scott | May 16, 2005 03:43 PM

(ergonomics related, and specifically requested)

Ian Mathers | May 16, 2005 03:52 PM

As a non-ergonomics expert:

Hand brace? Huh? How much typing should one be doing before one should start thinking about getting one of these?

John Scalzi | May 16, 2005 04:09 PM

When typing starts to hurt, Ian.

JonathanMoeller | May 17, 2005 02:10 AM

I've two desks, two computers. One for work, with no Internet/network connection of any kind, and one for Internet/e-mail/web stuff. The Internet computer gets shut off when I use the work computer, lest I get distracted. I always admire people who can get actual work done on a computer with Internet access. When I try to do it, things will *start* fine, and then four hours later I'll wake up and find myself posting comments on blogs.

Soni | May 17, 2005 02:12 AM

When typing starts to hurt, Ian.

Errr...from one who had CT (in both wrists) and is fanatical about researching the medical 411 on my aches and pains, I have to toss in the probability that once it starts to hurt, some form of at least semi-permanent nerve damage may have been done. Dunno if wearing the brace as a preventative will help or not, though (it probably would if you are predisposed to CT or had a history of other nerve problems, maybe not so much if you have genetically or self-created wrists of steel).

In any case, if you're going to be doing a lot of typing and it does start to hurt, definitely do not dawdle around getting to the drugstore for a good brace. Nerves are notorious for getting sulky if they're not attended to at the first whimper of pain and prolonged inflamation often leads to your permanent and very painful damage, some of which even the really good meds being sold on the corner by your local pharmaceutical entrepreneur won't touch.

Rich | May 17, 2005 10:10 AM

The Dell Optiplex

Press the intigrated solution button


Simon | May 17, 2005 02:01 PM

I'm curious: can you use the wireless keyboard to write on both computers at the same time? I'm not sure what use it would be, but I know it's something I would try.

John H | May 17, 2005 02:26 PM

can you use the wireless keyboard to write on both computers at the same time?

I don't believe so. Normal wireless keyboards use a receiver connected to the PS/2 port - you have to link the keyboard and receiver to each other before it will work.

Bluetooth does pretty much the same thing - linking the keyboard to the computer. The main difference is the computer might have a bluetooth receiver built-in.

Jon H | May 18, 2005 09:50 AM

" I always admire people who can get actual work done on a computer with Internet access."

Me too. I had a hell of a time when I worked at Britannica.com. I can spend a whole day browsing an encyclopedia. I even have to unmount the disk image on my Mac that contains the data for my on-disk dictionary.

I wish there was an easy way to block your own internet access on a computer at the office.

Dane | May 19, 2005 11:08 AM

John Scalzi wrote,"...the dreaded ***-Mart. I did go to Staples to try to buy it there after spotting it at ***-Mart(where I went for some digital photo printing), but it was $20 cheaper at ***-Mart"...

Careful, you mention the name THREE times!

...the Dark Lord Smiley-face is watching...Always. The blue-vested Price-wraiths will find you if you keep calling its' name.

J Osborne | May 24, 2005 04:46 PM

I wish there was an easy way to block your own internet access on a computer at the office.

On the Mac you can go to the networking panel and make yourself a "Location" with no network connections. Of if you like the command line sudo ifconfig en0 down to turn off the ethernet, and sudo ifconfig en1 down to get rid of the airport. Use "up" rather then "down" to stop work and resume browsing.

You could do it with the built in firewall (which would let you turn off just http but leave on office file-sharing), but my ipfw is very rusty. It might be "sudo ipfw add 50 deny ip port 80", then again it might not. I also forget how to turn it off (other then a reboot), so maybe you want to avoid that one :-)

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