When the support team at ShareMouse first emailed me asking me to check out their keyboard/mouse sharing application, I was skeptical. I am a longtime user of Synergy and to date have found no compelling reason to switch to another program. And even if I did, I’d probably go with something a little more well-known, like Input Director, or something that’s already been mentioned on groovyPost, like Mouse without Borders. Overall, I felt like there was nothing “broken” in Synergy that needed to be fixed by a competitor. So, when I gave ShareMouse a try, I was pleasantly surprised: I liked it.
Update: After reading our review, Michael Schmidt from the ShareMouse Team got in touch with me with a few reactions to some of the points I made in this post. Where pertinent, I’ve updated and amended some of the content to incorporate his input.
ShareMouse Feature Rundown
ShareMouse is yet another application that lets you share your mouse and keyboard with multiple Windows or Mac computers. It’s free for personal use, but $24.95 per license for “power or pro” users (more on this later). When compared to Synergy and the rest of the lot, ShareMouse distinguishes itself from the well-established competition with a few key features:
- Automatic configuration (no fiddling with machine names and IP addresses)
- Handy hotkeys and graphical cues for keeping track of where your pointer is
- Glitch-free clipboard sharing (copy and paste image and text between computers)
- Password protection and network encryption
- Update: Michael from ShareMouse pointed out a unique feature that I missed: “ShareMouse works in any direction. You can control any computer from any other computer in any direction. No restricting one-way master&slave architecture.”
Those are what I see as ShareMouse’s main strengths. But if you’d like to see it in action, check out their demo video:
Feature-by-Feature: Synergy vs. ShareMouse
|Price||Free (open source); tries to install AVG toolbar||Free (2 monitors, 2 computers only); $24.95 per license (requires one license per computer—so expect to pay about $50 minimum)|
|Mac OS X||Yes||Yes|
|Clipboard Sharing||Text, Formatted Text, Images||Text, Formatted Text, Images|
|Configuration||Enter server IP; GUI, drag-and-drop grid||GUI, drag-and-drop|
|Dim inactive monitors||No||Yes|
Want more details? Let’s take a closer look.
My tutorial for setting up Synergy in Windows 7 was a bit lengthy. There were a lot of steps. The ShareMouse equivalent will be much shorter.
Start by grabbing the appropriate version from the ShareMouse download page (Windows or Mac OS X 32-bit or Mac OS X 64-bit).
All you need to do to get started with ShareMouse is to install the utility on each computer. Once ShareMouse is installed, the computers will instantly “see” each other on the network and start sharing.
The only important configuration options for Windows 7 are these two here: Configure Windows firewall and Install Windows Service for UAC support.
The first one is essential (unless you plan to manually configure your firewall to allow traffic from ShareMouse). The second one about the User Account Control support is less essential. In fact, I left it unchecked. What this option does is allow a shared keyboard to click the “Allow” button when you get the UAC window (usually for actions that need administrator access, such as tweaking system settings and installing programs). The drawback of leaving this unchecked is that you’ll have to use the local keyboard or mouse in order to allow such actions. Not a huge inconvenience to me. (It should also be noted that Synergy has a similar check box for “Elevated access,” but this is checked/unchecked after the installation process.)
When you are done installing, ShareMouse takes a moment to assure you that, even though your antimalware software might say otherwise, ShareMouse is not spyware and that you should ignore any warnings from your security programs. More on that later.
When installing on a Mac, you don’t get the option to configure the firewall automatically. Instead, ShareMouse will ask you to Enable access for assistive devices when you first run ShareMouse.
You can find this option by clicking System Preferences > Accessibility. It’s in the lower-left corner.
After installing the program on both computers, it’ll instantly begin working. In fact, I was a bit startled when my mouse hopped over to my other computer before I had even configured the screens. ShareMouse made a lucky guess as to how my screens were configured, but you can rearrange where the mouse exits/enters the screen by clicking the Monitor Manager button.
This pulls up a nice drag-and-drop interface for setting up your monitor positions. This is similar to the Windows display setup for multiple monitors, and is a bit more intuitive and nuanced than Synergy’s grid-style drag and drop screen link configuration.
As you’re doing this, a letter will show up on the remote monitors so you can easily identify them.
Those are the essential features you’ll want to configure. But you can also tweak the screen dimming and/or choose a hotkey to switch between monitors. While not a game changer, the screen dimming is a nice touch (and one that Synergy lacks).
When you switch between monitors, a big white arrow shows you where your mouse went.
Clipboard Sharing and Drag and Drop
Clipboard sharing in ShareMouse is enabled by default. The only quirk is that you must use the hotkey to paste a shared clipboard, rather than the context menu (Edit > Paste). You can set it up in the Data Exchange pane.
Update: Michael from ShareMouse points out that this isn’t a quirk or a bug; it’s a feature. Assigning a hotkey to your shared clipboard lets you distinguish between whether you want to paste from your local clipboard or the shared clipboard. Good point.
You can also drag and drop files from one computer to another. I tested this out by dragging a couple of images from Mac OS X’s Finder into Windows Live Writer. It worked flawlessly. However, according to ShareMouse’s documentation, dragging and dropping files doesn’t work if you run ShareMouse as an administrator. I haven’t tested that out, but if that’s true, then it’s another good reason to leave the UAC service option unchecked during installation.
Update: I sort of jogged over this point quickly without getting into some of the handy applications of cross-platform dragging and dropping. Using ShareMouse for popping one file over to another machine is much easier than what most of us have been doing—e.g. transferring via Dropbox, emailing ourselves attachments or copying to a thumbdrive. ShareMouse’s drag and drop file transfer is considerably cleaner and less cluttered than those methods.
Password Protection and Data Encryption
ShareMouse’s automatic configuration might be an issue if you want to limit control of your computer to only a few machines on your network. To remedy this, ShareMouse allows you to enter a password for each machine. Only machines that have the same passwords will share their keyboard and mouse.
You can also enable data encryption, which might hinder someone on the network who is trying to intercept copied and pasted contents or log keystrokes.
Licensing, Privacy and Other Considerations
Update: What follows is a discussion about the information that ShareMouse collects about its users. Michael from ShareMouse was a bit taken aback by my heavy focus on the possible privacy implications that come with using ShareMouse. I can’t blame him for that. But I would like to note that I—like many other groovyPost contributors—make a special effort to highlight any possibly privacy or security concerns as part of all software reviews. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Google’s Picasa, Facebook’s iPhone app or something by an independent developer. We know we are being paranoid about this. And we don’t mean anything personal by it. But we’d like to give as much information as possible while letting the readers decide.
Above, I mentioned two things that I would talk about later. The first was the price, and the second is the claim that ShareMouse is not spyware. These two items go somewhat hand-in-hand.
ShareMouse is free for personal use. The big limitation to the free, unregistered version is that you can only use it with two computers. In addition to the two computers limitation, there are a number of other caveats that are meant to distinguish between a personal user and a “pro or power user.” This includes things like support for server operating systems (like Windows Server), support for more than two monitors total, presence of a domain controller on the local network or “use of software which is typically used in professional environments.” That’s all well and good—I appreciate that the makers of ShareMouse would want to be paid for their hard work if it turns out that their software helps you make money. But the way they determine whether or not you are a power or professional user is a bit…funny.
Rather than operating on the honors system or requiring a license key to “unlock” support for the abovementioned system configurations, ShareMouse works by automatically detecting pro environments. For example, if it notices that you are running AutoCAD or Adobe professional software, it’ll kick into “demo mode.” Demo mode works as normal for a few minutes before deactivating keyboard and mouse sharing. You can reactivate it by restarting ShareMouse.
This seems like an unnecessarily clever way to enforce commercial licensing. Although I can’t immediately think of a way that this sort of awareness of your system could be malicious, it does sort of highlight the fact that their program is keeping tabs on this type of stuff. It’s also worth mentioning that ShareMouse says this on their website:
The power/pro user detection is performed completely internal on your own computer. ShareMouse never collects or transmits personal information over the internet. Period!
That’s not to say that ShareMouse doesn’t collect or transmit any information over the internet. According to their End User License Agreement (EULA), ShareMouse does phone home with your “license key, time/date of access, hardware ID and IP address for a limited time on our server for security reasons and to avoid software piracy.” This happens whenever you check for updates or register a license key.
Update: Michael from ShareMouse points out that this is standard practice and is shared by Windows, OS X, DreamWeaver, etc. He also notes that there is an offline registration process available.
All of that is strictly for your information. In spite of all the time I’ve spent examining the privacy and security considerations, I will say that personally, I would not feel uncomfortable using ShareMouse based on what I discussed.
What would stop me, however, is the price. ShareMouse is $24.95 per license. And you need one license per computer. So, at a minimum, you are paying $49.90. But considering that most people who will feel the need to pay for ShareMouse are those with more than two computers (since you can use two machines for free), then realistically, you’ll be buying three licenses for a grand total of $74.85.
Update: From Michael at ShareMouse:
Again, we never collect, share or sell confidential information. Period. Another period. And for paranoids a bonus period: Period. However… bundling software with 3rd party toolbar browser “add-ons” like Synergy does certainly compromises user’s privacy: It’s the sole job of “browser add-ons” of this nature to collect, share and exploit user’s data! We are approached by the toolbar installer bundling mafia on a regular basis but always rejected them …for privacy reasons.
In my opinion, the free version of ShareMouse is a very good value. It’s much more user-friendly than Synergy, so much so that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to some of my less tech-savvy family members. But as someone who frequently uses two displays on one machine (whether it’s another monitor or a TV via HDMI out), the free version simply won’t work for me. I’d much rather use Synergy for free. I think other “power and pro” users would agree—especially since the types of people who tend to have multiple computers and multiple monitors are usually geeky enough to navigate Synergy with ease.
Overall, I have to congratulate ShareMouse on creating a keyboard and mouse sharing program that is more user-friendly than Synergy. But if I could give some feedback to the makers, it’d be to make the pricing a bit more accessible and the mechanism for enforcing the licenses a little bit more conventional.