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Being a bit of a computer hobbyist, Albert Steptoe and magpie rolled into one, it’ll come as no surprise that I’ve ended up with two desktop PCs.
As I write, I can almost feel one of my wife’s somewhat hypocritical* homilies relating to the difference between ‘want and need’ coming on!
(*You should see her wardrobe(s) !)
Back to PCs - there’s the one I intended to own, and there’s the other that I’ve ‘come by’ after helping someone choose a new PC, who then uttered those fateful words “could you get rid of the old one for me?” as they reached for their plastic.
Truth be known this addition to the Bnibbles clan (or should that be LAN?) is reasonably high specification, and with the addition of 4gigabytes of RAM and a ‘new’ second-hand 500 gigabytes hard drive, the old one having being the cause of its original demise, it really ‘flies’ having been loaded with the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, the freebie operating system.
Thus, I can justify to myself the fact that I’m using it to teach myself a whole new set of computer skills. I was going to call it a ‘research machine’ but that’s a bit high-flown for what I’ve got in mind!
What I can’t justify to myself is cluttering up our office, aka little bedroom, with ‘two of everything’ - monitors, mice and keyboards.
This is where a ‘KVM box’ comes into the picture, the initials standing for……………
KEYBOARD, VIDEO AND MOUSE
Since keyboards and mice, and to a certain extent monitors come with a variety of connections these days, D-Link have a variety of these ‘KVM’ switch-boxes, some allowing for digitally linked monitors (DVI input), some allowing for mice that now insist on being-USB connected rather than the previous standard known as PS/2, these being the green and mauve circular plugs at the back of your PC.
The variant I bought allows for the usual green and mauve jobs, a typical analogue VGA connection for the monitor, but with the addition of a single switched USB port. This could either be used for a ‘fussy’ mouse, or, if yours still has the PS/2 capability, some other USB device that you’d like both PCs to have access to; a back-up drive or a printer let’s say.
GETTING IT WORKING
Set-up is pretty easy. You get two generous wiring ‘looms’, one for each PC. At the D-Link end, this manifests itself as what looks like a VGA connector, with a USB plug attached. You then connect these, giving consideration to which PC you want to call PC1.
At the PC business end, you get a VGA lead, the green and mauve mouse and keyboard leads and the USB lead which you break out and plug into your respective PCs.
Someone who wrote a short tirade on this product back in 2008 was clearly connecting it up back to front as he was complaining about the video lead being a yard long whilst the other leads were only one foot long! ALL the plugs at this end go into your PC – the yard long effort goes to the box!
The box works as unobtrusively as possible. If you only turn one machine on, then, you won’t know it’s there. Turning the second machine on makes no immediate difference, and it’s only when you press certain key-sequences that it switches, e.g. Scroll-Lock twice followed by F1 to swap PCs. There are others.
Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. However, they really had to pick the Scroll-Lock key to initiate the ‘hot key’ switching, didn’t they?
I’ll say – I haven’t got a Scroll-Lock key on my Logitech cordless keyboard.
THE CLASH OF THE BLUE-SKIES THINKERS
In separate rooms and worlds apart, here’s how I see the storm clouds of incompatibility forming.
On the one hand, we’ve D-Link’s think-tank, pondering a flip chart upon which someone has felt-tipped ‘Which key can we use to switch PCs?
‘I know, let’s use Scroll-Lock - after all when was the last time anyone used it?’ suggests some keen little so-and-so.
Somewhere else, Logitech’s team are looking to streamline the cordless keyboard that I ended up buying.
‘I know, let’s get rid of Scroll-Lock’ pipes up some genius, ‘after all when was the last time anyone used it?’
I do find the leads a little shall we say unco-operative, being quite thick and stiff like aerial or satellite cable. If you only want to stand two PC boxes side by side, the length is something of a an overkill, and leaves a mess of leads to stuff away in true ‘sweep it under the carpet’ form. I’m reminded of swans swimming against a strong current – all is serenity on top but there’s a real mess below the surface.
Oh yes, then of course I can’t do any ‘hot-key’ switching. Actually, it’s not such a show-stopper as I tend to use one PC or the other, and alone they initiate the box properly anyway. It’s only when I try to flip-flop between PCs that the fun of trying to locate the box down there in the gloom and fumbling for its manual switch starts.
If you actually have a Scroll-Lock key, then the box can be trusted to be left behind your PCs down among the dust bunnies as it can be controlled from the keyboard. I’ve had a couple of instances of having to operate the switch manually (or in other words, once a year). I put these down to the order in which things were switched on.
I SHALL NOT REST....
…until I’ve found some alternative to the Scroll-Lock problem. True both Windows 7 and the Ubuntu ‘distro’ of Linux have what are called ‘on-screen keyboards’, which in Windows’ case you invoke by typing OSK into the search box. These then allow you to ‘click’ on a virtual scroll-lock key.
Yes it sounded initially like a work-around of sorts but the keystrokes have to actually come from the keyboard for the D-Link box to detect them. What I REALLY need is a new keyboard (not an option), or some means of physically entering key strokes that are the equivalent of Scroll-Lock, rather than in any software that comes with the Logitech. Perusal of the internet forums tends to indicate that this is not going to solve itself quickly.
These seem to retail for around £34, but my version came via a 'refurb' specialist on E-Bay for £11.99.
Probably someone returned it after finding out about the Scroll-Lock problem!