SolutionBase: Get the best of both a KVM switch and Remote Desktop with KaVoom!

KVM switches are great for managing multiple computers, but they usually only work best when the computers are close. Here's how you can remotely control computers over Ethernet using Kavoom!

If you have used a hardware KVM switch in order to share a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse between multiple computers, then you know how convenient they are when you need to manage more than one computer from a single location and don't want to have to contend with multiple keyboards, monitors, and mice. However, you also know how much cable clutter a hardware KVM switch can add to your work area.

If you've used Windows XP's Remote Desktop or NetMeeting's Remote Desktop Sharing feature, then you know how convenient it is to be able to remotely take control of another computer on your network. But, you're also familiar with all the complex configuration settings, the poor video, and the slow performance.

What if you could reap the benefits of both these technologies without all the meddlesome problems associated with each one? Well you can, with a neat little software package called KaVoom! from KaVoom Software. KaVoom! is a software-based KVM switch that works exactly like a hardware KVM except that the "switch" appears on your monitor and you use the mouse or keyboard to select which computer to operate. There's no hardware device to take up desktop space and no power cords or cables to clutter up your work area. All that you need is an Ethernet network connection between the computers. As such, KaVoom! is not only a great replacement for a hardware KVM, it's also an excellent replacement for Remote Desktop.

Getting KaVoom!

KaVoom! is designed to run on Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003. It won't run on Windows 9x/ME. At the time of this writing, the current version of KaVoom! is 3.09.

You can download a fully functional evaluation copy of KaVoom! from the Download page on the KaVoom Software Web site. However, keep in mind that the evaluation copy is limited in that you can only use it for 20 minutes at a time. Once the 20-minute time period elapses, you must then restart the program.

You can purchase KaVoom! in a variety of license options, depending on how many computers on which you'll be using the software and how many monitors the computers have. For example, a two-port KaVoom! license costs $29 and allows you to operate two computers using a single keyboard, video display, and mouse. For pricing on other licensing options, check the Purchase page for the most current information. You can make your KaVoom! purchase via PayPal or Kagi, which is an e-commerce service company that handles online shareware registration.

KaVoom! overview

Before we get started, let's take a brief look at how KaVoom! works. To begin with, you'll install KaVoom! on two computers. You'll then configure one copy of Kavoom! to act as the primary and the other copy to act as the secondary. Of course, the primary will act as the main console and will thus allow you to take control of the secondary.

The advantage of KaVoom! is that this control takes place over an existing Ethernet network connection, rather than a set of specialized cables. Thus, all keystrokes and mouse movements on the primary computer are sent over the network to the secondary computer, and the video display from the secondary computer is sent back over the network to the primary computer.

While the keystroke and mouse movement transmissions are simply handled internally by KaVoom!, the video signals are a bit more complex. In order to send video information across the network, KaVoom! installs a special video driver on the secondary computer. Basically, this special video driver is designed to capture the video information on the secondary computer's screen, package it in a network-based format, and send it to the primary computer, where it is unpackaged and displayed on the screen.

In order to send information across the network, KaVoom! uses the TCP/IP protocol. By default, KaVoom! uses TCP/IP port number 5222. However, keep in mind that if this port is blocked by a personal firewall or in use by another application, KaVoom! will allow you to specify a different port number.

Installing KaVoom!

Installing Kavoom! couldn't be an easier procedure. Once you download the executable setup file, you'll then copy it to the two computers that you'll be using in your KVM configuration. Then, just double-click the executable to launch the KaVoom! installation wizard, which walks you through a series of pretty straightforward steps.

As soon as the installation is complete, you'll be prompted to launch the program. You'll then see the main KaVoom! window.

Figure A

As soon as the KaVoom! installation is complete, you can launch KaVoom!.

Configuring KaVoom!

Once you have KaVoom! up and running, configuring it is easy. As you can see in Figure A, KaVoom! starts out by assuming that the computer on which it is installed will be the primary computer. If it is, then you'll leave this computer for the time being and move to the secondary computer.

If you're working on the computer that will be configured as the secondary one, you'll click the Change button. When you see the first screen in the Change Configuration wizard, you'll select the Secondary option, as shown in Figure B. To continue, click Next.

Figure B

You'll launch the Change Configuration wizard to configure the system as the secondary computer.

When you see the next screen, as shown in Figure C, you'll be prompted to enter the user names of the people you want to be able to connect to this computer. In this case, the user names are the names of the users who have Windows user accounts on this particular system. KaVoom! doesn't keep it's own user account list, but instead relies on Windows to authenticate each user attempting to connect to the secondary computer. As you can see, you can also enable KaVoom! to accept user account names from a domain controller.

Figure C

KaVoom! relies on Windows to authenticate each user attempting to connect to the secondary computer.

After you click Finish, KaVoom! will display the message box shown in Figure D and will load the special video driver as soon as you click OK. Once the special video driver is loaded, you'll see a second message box that will let you know that the operation is complete and that you can now use KaVoom! to control the secondary computer from the primary computer.

Figure D

Be aware that the screen will flicker and go black as the special video driver is loaded.

You'll soon see that KaVoom! is started, as shown in Figure E. You can then configure the primary computer.

Figure E

Once you complete the secondary computer configuration, KaVoom! is ready to start providing access.

When you return to the primary computer, click the Change button to launch the Change Configuration wizard. Make sure that the Primary option is selected, then click Next. You'll then see the Change Configuration screen shown in Figure F. At this point, you'll see that KaVoom! automatically assigns the name of the computer as the Caption and assigns [Ctrl][F1] as the hot key. To add the secondary computer connection, click the Add button.

Figure F

KaVoom! automatically assigns the name of the computer as the caption and sets up the hot key.

You'll then see the Add dialog box and will be able to identify the secondary computer either by name or by IP address, as shown in Figure G. If you're running DHCP, your best bet will be to use the name.

Figure G

You'll use the Add dialog box to identify the secondary computer.

To continue, click OK to close the Add dialog box and then click Next in the Change Configuration wizard. You'll then see the next screen in the wizard, as shown in Figure H, and can select the way that you want to switch from computer to computer. If you choose to use a window with buttons, you can customize the window's layout. If you prefer, you can configure KaVoom! to hide the window and just use the hot keys.

Figure H

If you decide that you want to use the Switch window, you'll have several layout options to choose from

When you click Finish, you'll be returned to the main window. You can then click the Start button to begin using KaVoom!.

Using KaVoom!

When you start KaVoom!, you'll see the Switch window, shown in Figure I, appear in the lower right corner of the screen. You can then switch between computers just by clicking the appropriate buttons. When you switch to the secondary computer, the Switch window will remain on the screen, making it easy to switch back and forth. If you click the arrow button, you see the main window again.

Figure I

The Switch window makes it easy to switch back and forth between computers.

You'll also see the KaVoom! icon appear in the System Tray. Right-clicking the icon reveals a menu that allows you to show or hide the Switch window, access the main window, or exit the program. If you hide the Switch window, it no longer obstructs your view and you can then use the hot keys to switch between computers.

Cool features

One of the coolest features in KaVoom! is that it allows you to use the Windows Clipboard to copy and paste between the two computers. Just about anything that you can copy and paste on an individual computer you can copy and paste between computers with KaVoom!. This includes all kinds of data, as well as entire files. The only data that you can't copy and paste between computers are vector-based graphic images.

The other neat feature in KaVoom is that it will allow you to send a [Ctrl][Alt][Del] key sequence to the secondary computer by pressing [Ctrl][Alt][Insert]. This keystroke allows KaVoom! to send a [Ctrl][Alt][Del] on the secondary computer without affecting the primary computer. As you know, the [Ctrl][Alt][Del] key sequence will bring up the Windows Security window, allowing you to lock, log off, or even shut down the secondary computer.

If you share administrator duties over a group of servers with others, you'll be glad to know that KaVoom allows you to share access to secondary computers from multiple primary computers. In this situation, when you connect to the secondary computer, KaVoom! checks to see if another user is also connected to the computer. If so, KaVoom! will display a message like the one shown in Figure J.

Figure J

If multiple primary computers are configured to connect to the same secondary computer, Kavoom will alert you to the current connection status.

You can then decide whether or not to take control of the computer yourself. If you do and click OK, the next time the other person tries to regain control of the computer, they'll see a similar dialog box and be notified that you are now using it.

Multimonitor support

Another one of the neat features in KaVoom! is its support for multimonitor configurations. Of course, multimonitor support is an optional feature of KaVoom! and requires a separate license. If you run KaVoom! on a multimonitor computer without a multimonitor license, KaVoom! ignores all monitors except the primary monitor. (Keep in mind that the evaluation version doesn't provide multimonitor support.)

KaVoom! supports dual-monitor and multimonitor (defined as three or more) displays, and they can be configured as either the primary or the secondary computers. This means that you can operate a multimonitor secondary computer from a single-monitor primary, or vice versa.

If you're running a multimonitor secondary computer from a single-monitor primary computer, the primary monitor in the multimonitor configuration on the secondary computer must be set as the leftmost monitor in order for KaVoom! to allow you to proceed. If it's not, KaVoom! will display a warning message and wait for you to make the change, which is simply a matter of accessing the Settings tab in the Display Properties dialog box and dragging the primary monitor icon to the leftmost position.

That way, when you connect to the secondary computer from the single-monitor primary computer, you start on the leftmost monitor and can access the other monitors simply by moving your mouse pointer to the right edge of the screen. As you do, the other monitors will scroll onto the screen.

On the other hand, if you're running a single-monitor secondary computer from a multimonitor primary computer, you'll encounter an expanded Add dialog box, shown in Figure K, as you're configuring KaVoom! on the primary computer.

Figure K

When connecting a multimonitor primary computer to a single-monitor secondary computer, you can specify on which monitor you want the secondary screen to appear.

In most cases, the Automatic setting, which centers the secondary computer's screen on the primary computer's primary monitor, is sufficient. However, if you prefer a different position, you have several other options.

Taking advantage of KaVoom!

Once you begin using KaVoom! the distinction between a KVM switch and Remote Desktop is completely blurred, as this universal tool serves both functions equally well. For example, I now use KaVoom! to access several of the computers in my test lab from a single console. I also use KaVoom! from my laptop in the upstairs den in order to access my main desktop in the basement office.

I've also used KaVoom! to troubleshoot network application problems at one of my client sites. In that particular case, I installed and configured KaVoom! in secondary mode on the workstation encountering the network application problem. I then set up my laptop, which was configured as the primary, next to the server. I could then tweak settings on the server and test them out on the workstation without even getting up from my seat and without taking over the person's desk, thus allowing the person to remain productive doing paperwork that didn't involve the computer.

I've also taken advantage of the dynamic licensing scheme to temporarily install and use KaVoom! to subsequently troubleshoot several computers on a client site. To do so, I install KaVoom! on one system, license it, use it, and when I'm finished, unlicense it. I then repeat the procedure on another computer.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.