11 November, 2009

One mouse to rule them all

It's all a matter of style

How do you control multiple computers? Some of us do it with fancy little KVMs. That can work well, though they're not cheap when you start looking at more than two computers. Then there's easy free software that can shift the mouse pointer focus between two computers running XFree86/Xorg. This has the advantage of switching the keyboard focus too, though it doesn't do the monitor switching for you. Oh yes, and there's the two-computer limit, unless you happen to run the software in daisychain mode; start it up on the first computer, point that at the second computer. Start it again on the second computer, pointed at the third computer, etc etc. That tends to get ugly though, and still requires that you have authentication (at least as far as Xorg is concerned) for each client. I decided to combine what a KVM does with what x2x does, though I seem to have slightly mixed results.

On both my computers, I'm lucky enough to have a video card with two outputs, though with the KVM I'm using, I can only switch one monitor. So—I plug a monitor into each computer as the primary output (yes, I have multiple monitors), start up the x2x program on the first computer and point it at the second computer's X server, switch the keyboard focus over to the second computer, and work with the applications over on the second computer with the same keyboard and mouse. Except now I've struck a problem.

The newest version of Xorg in the latest version of Ubuntu (9.10 Karmic Koala) doesn't support the XTest extension that x2x uses to operate with. Because of that, I can't use x2x any more from the Mandriva to the Ubuntu machine. I could probably get it going in the other direction, but once Mandriva removes the XTest extension from the Xorg setup they have, I also lose that advantage. So. What do I do then?

I suspect I'll be left with options such as Synergy. That has the advantage of being somewhat platform-agnostic, where clients work on both Windows and on Xorg. I've never used it, but the people who have told me of it say good things of it. So, let's see what happens.

Tennis, anyone?

On its own, the mouse isn't a very good gaming device, not unless you get one of those fancy multiple-button laser mice that report at twice the normal rate of other mice. That's a bit academic to most of us, however. Put simply, at least for me, joysticks aren't much use either. The trend these days tends to be for gamers to use multiple inputs, often using the mouse to point, then using an ancillary keyboard to call up all the other functions. These extra little keyboards (sometimes users use the ordinary keyboard instead) are USB devices, and wired into the Windows input layer or the Xorg input layer where games can see their key events and act upon them. Think of a key for each specific function, so you're probably dealing with up to thirty extra keys on a keypad on the opposite side of the keyboard from where you have your mouse.

Looking back at input devices, one of the original ideas was a 5-fingered chorded device to provide up to 31 separate events. As I've mentioned before, you often had to be quick on your ... fingers to use one of these well, so it was eventually scrapped and replaced with the mouse that we love (or hate) today. But it seems that we've almost come back to the idea of extra keys, though at least we're not always chording any more.

Quake, anyone?

No comments: