When I first unpacked the Raritan CompuSwitch, my first thought was, “This is TINY!” I was prepared for something a bit larger, being used to larger cases for simple A/B switches.
However, its small size made it a welcome addition to my office environment, and its power and flexibility was more than I expected from a unit dwarfed by a single-space rack-mount case. The CompuSwitch is an attractive machine in the endless sea of beige computer hardware. A black CompuSwitch would get more points from me on the coolness meter. When I was contacted by Michael Slaven, the OEM manager at Raritan, I was excited about the possible uses for a KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switch in a Linux environment that worked well not only for Linux, but also for DOS, Macintosh systems and various strains of Windows. For people who use multiple Windows machines, or in a mixed environment consisting of DOS or Mac OS and some version of UNIX, one sure way to keep enough room on a desk for actual work is to use one monitor, one keyboard and one mouse to do all your stuff on all your computers. The easy, painless and relatively inexpensive way to accomplish this is with the CompuSwitch.
I thought I would start my tests using a simple setup, in case I encountered any problems. For my controller setup, I chose an IBM AT keyboard (an original one with the great clicky keys, and the function keys on the left) with a Logitech PS/2 mouse and a Packard Bell 2160 monitor. See “Test Hardware” for a complete list.
Using a Windows 3.1 machine and one running straight MS-DOS would ensure as few variables in the mix as possible, while still enabling me to cover all three: keyboard, video and mouse. One machine used a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, the other required an AT keyboard and serial mouse. A simple plug-in, using their great cables made expressly for the switch, had me ready to hit the “go” button in less time than it took me to unpack it. Both machines came up with keyboard error messages on startup. A quick change to a no-name PS/2 keyboard put me back on track. Within a minute, I was happily computing away on two “obsolete” systems, switching effortlessly between them with the press of a button. Whether it was in the middle of serious graphics rendering, number crunching, or sitting idle while contemplating its digital belly button, each OS behaved as though it was being accessed by its own keyboard and mouse, displaying on its own monitor.
Windows 95 worked just as well, switching between it and DOS.
Tests using Caldera's OpenLinux 2.2 and Red Hat 6.0 both performed flawlessly, each having been configured for the test monitor. Neither KDE nor GNOME seemed to notice the unorthodox hardware configuration, and performance didn't suffer a bit.
Slackware was run first in console mode, and it recognized the monitor and keyboard at boot time. Running FVWM95 went perfectly too, with a normal setup.
Next, I hooked up a notebook which ran Windows 98. The PS/2 and USB ports presented no problems for the keyboard and mouse, and Windows recognized the external monitor with no problems.
Using a client's Novell and Windows NT servers also presented zero problems. Both recognized the PS/2 mouse and keyboard, even though they had been hot-swapped.
The only Mac I had to test with was an iMac, which ran both OS 8.6 and Yellow Dog Linux. With Yellow Dog Linux, I was unable to get the switch to work. I believe it was because this version of YDL didn't support USB very well, since it was brand-new when I got it. I had trouble getting even the original iMac keyboard and mouse to work. The switch, however, worked with the Mac#OS. There was no USB-to-video adapter, so I was able to use only the keyboard and mouse, but I've seen setups that could benefit from even this modest hardware reconfiguration.
Switching between Linuxes, and between Linux, Mac and Microsoft operating systems, was as easy as anyone could possibly make it. By the end of the day, it was apparent that anyone who needed direct control of multiple physical machines running Windows, Novell, Mac or Linux would be able to do so without having to worry about where to place all needed hardware.
In every test, the CompuSwitch made it as easy to monitor and control each computer as if each were connected to its own keyboard, mouse and monitor. I even found myself just switching back and forth between my own Linux machines instead of mounting file systems, or using TELNET or FTP.
I would recommend the CompuSwitch (and already have) to anyone who has more than one computer to control. Graphic design service bureaus, network server rooms and home-based businesses that use multiple computers are environments that can benefit from using this switch. The cost of the unit is less than you would spend on the monitors, keyboards and mice it replaces, and certainly takes up less desk space.
Alex Heizer ([email protected]) is a network consultant who used to spend his time trying to develop ALUX, a Linux port for the TRS-80 Color Computer that is not free, but instead you get paid to use it. Upon realising this was unrealistic and unprofitable, he has turned his attention to Linux advocacy and education. He currently advocates in New Jersey, but is trying to get out.