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MoniSwitch: When You Have More Macs Than Sense

© 1999 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, March/April 1999, pp. 62-63, reprint information

Please note the manufacturer's comments below (June 2, 1999)

Everyone has the same problem: only two hands, only one pair of eyes. You've tried to compensate for this limitation by getting a chair with wheels and a "wrap-around" desk that looks like a battle station command console on Star Trek. But you still can't seem to keep track of everything. Then one day you get an E-mail that starts out:

MoniSwitch2 & MoniSwitch4: Umschalter zum Betrieb von 2-4 Macs an 1 Monitor und Tastatur.

You look at your Monitor and your Tastatur and say, "That's it! That's the answer!" Then you realize you don't read German. Dang!

The MoniSwitch is a keyboard and monitor switch that, depending on the model, allows you to share one keyboard and monitor with either two or four Macs. This is handy: many of the desktop Macs stack quite nicely, so you can have a tower of computers and, by rotating a switch, select the one you want to control at any point.

The front of the MoniSwitch2 offers this exciting two-position switch. Most people can master the switch with only minimal training. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

For graphic artists, the MoniSwitch is a clear winner. It isn't at all uncommon for a graphic artist to have an older Mac that is plugged into a scanner and a handful of removable media drives (Zip, Jaz, Syquest, Bernoulli). Meanwhile, they have a second Macintosh, a screaming, byte-burning Power Macintosh G3 that they use for rendering pictures and other horsepower-intensive applications. With a MoniSwitch2, they can switch back and forth between the two machines, taking advantage of all the peripherals, while viewing everything on a single screen and using a single keyboard, mouse, and graphics tablet. Best of all, the MoniSwitch2 that makes this all possible is only $110, including cables.

Network managers, those strange people who have windowless rooms overcrowded with incomprehensible stuff, will find the MoniSwitch4 indispensable. Instead of devoting, say, 10 linear feet of space to keyboards and mice for four Web servers, plus even more space for four monitors (which nobody but the network manager ever sees), a single MiniSwitch4 can control everything. Most amazing is the price: $165 for the MoniSwitch4, including cables.

Washington Apple Pi Labs, ever at the cutting edge of yesterday, didn't have a MoniSwitch4 to play with, so we used a MoniSwitch2 (for two Macs) and dreamed dreams of a MoniSwitch4. The MoniSwitch2 is an unremarkable metal box that, on the front, has a switch marked "A" and "B." Assuming everything is plugged in correctly, when the switch is in the "A" position, you can boot the computer from the keyboard Power On key, force a reboot from the keyboard, type, mouse around, view, and generally do whatever you want with whatever Mac is plugged into the "A" ports on the back. If you switch the MoniSwitch to the "B" position, you can do the same with a different Mac plugged into the "B" ports on the back. This saves a huge amount of desk space.

There are three sets of ports on the back of the MoniSwitch2. On the left, the input ports from Mac A, with Mac B's input ports in the center. The user views the monitor and types on the keyboard/mouse plugged into the set of ports on the right. No power is required, nor is any software required, and the A and B cable sets are included. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

And huge amouts of money, too. Say you are fond of big, expensive monitors. And you like big, extended keyboards. And you prefer fancy trackballs to everyday mice. With a MoniSwitch, you can share one 17" or 19" monitor, one keyboard, and one trackball between two different Macs, saving you from an expensive divorce settlement with your spouse.

The MoniSwitch isn't the only Macintosh keyboard and monitor switch, but it is probably the least expensive. Rose Electronics has an excellent keyboard-monitor switcher, the ServSwitch, in models that can support up to 16 Macs at once. But an 8-machine ServSwitch is roughly $1500, and a set of cables for one Macintosh is around $50. In other words, a fully equipped ServSwitch costs more than many Macs.

There are some critical differences between the ServSwitch and the MoniSwitch. With the ServSwitch, switching between computers is done by the keyboard: pressing Control, then 1 (not at the same time: Control, lift finger, then 1) switches to computer 1; Control, then 2 switches to computer 2; etc. This is quite elegant and quick. By comparison, the MoniSwitch is controlled by the large switch on the box, so your hands must leave the keyboard to switch between systems.

On the other hand, the MoniSwitch is in some respects more functional. If you hold down the Shift key during a restart, the MoniSwitch will force the Mac to load without extensions, as expected; the ServSwitch will not.

Another important consideration: both devices require Macs that have an ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) port and a 15-pin monitor port. In other words, they won't work on a Macintosh SE (no video port) or an iMac (no video port or ADB port). But they will work on things as dissimilar as a Macintosh IIci and a Power Macintosh 8600/300. Another nice touch: neither device requires any software.

Simply on the basis of price, the MoniSwitch is the clear winner: almost anyone who has more Macs than desk space can put it to good use. There are two "flaws" worth mentioning, however. First, the cables supplied with the MoniSwitch are fairly short: one meter (a little over three feet). This may not be a problem if you have some Macs stacked on top of each other, but if you are trying to share things between Macs on, say, two different tables or desks, the tables or desks better be close together.

The second "flaw" is one of training: you must let a Macintosh fully boot before switching to the "other" Macintosh. If you don't, the ADB bus gets confused, and the mouse will jump around, drag things you didn't want to be dragged, and generally act strange. A small application, ADB Cleaner, is included to help with this problem. When you double-click on ADB Cleaner, it "resets" the ADB bus. For several seconds you won't be able to do anything at all, then your Mac will make an odd sound and the keyboard and mouse will be working correctly. (After trying this several times, some at Washington Apple Pi Labs think the sound is that of a newborn baby after it gets whacked on the butt, right after birth. Others, troubled by this description, think they need to hang out with a new crowd.)

Buying a MoniSwitch requires some effort: it isn't advertised, nor is it sold in any stores. If you are in Europe, you can order one directly from the manufacturer, Dr. Bott KG. For those in the U.S., the exclusive distributor is The Mac Guy, a non-storefront Web retailer in Portland, Oregon.

If you have more than one Macintosh, a MoniSwitch could be an excellent space-saving investment. For those with only one Macintosh, consider: a new, blue and white G3 has both an ADB port and a video port.

MoniSwitch2 complete with cabling (2xADB+2xVideo) $110
MoniSwitch4 complete with cabling (4xADB+4xVideo) $165
The Mac Guy
Fax (503) 892-2475
Tel: (503) 789-0977

 Dr. Bott KG
Ortsstraße 37
D-07426 Unterhain
Tel: 49/36738/48348
Fax: 49/36738/43881

Fine print: The Mac Guy also sells adapters that may allow the MoniSwitch to work with a combination Macintosh and Windows machine, depending on how the PC is designed. We didn't want to spoil your reading pleasure, so Washington Apple Pi Labs voted to stick this notification down here.

Letter from the manufacturer, Dr. Bott KG:

Subject: MoniSwitch Review
Sent: 5/29/19 2:51 AM
Received: 6/2/99 8:04 AM
From: Roderich Bott, Roderich_Bott@drbottkg.de

Thank you for sharing a copy of your article with us - it was a great pleasure to read such a positive review.

Since you conducted your review there have been several changes in our operations. We have founded a US subsidiary, Dr. Bott LLC, that is managed by Eric Prentice. Eric is in charge of all US operations and I am cc:ing him so he is aware of your efforts, too. Eric would be the person to contact about ads and the like, too.

Regarding the article I have some minor corrections and additions:

a) The point of purchase has changed, obviously. http://www.drbott.com has all the details.

b) There is now a way to integrate PCs all while sticking to the familiar ADB mouse and keyboard with both Mac and PC.

c) That odd sound in ADB Cleaner. The guys who want to change buddies need not fear no more. Their mates are right, almost. The sound IS from a baby. The baby was not tortured or mistreated in any way to produce the sound.

It was my son, then not quite a year old, playing with the microphone in my PowerBook.

Later, we needed to signal the end of the lengthy ADB Reset progress. Not wanting to abuse anybodies copyright and wanting to get the cheapest sound possible while keeping it brief and distinctive I sought the assistance of an original artist willing to give his work away for free.

At that time my son was able to consent or deny so I requested that he allow us to use the sound for free. Fortunately he was in the right mood and said yes. I promised him a free MoniSwitch as soon as he would be in need of one in recognition of his waiver of all rights and royalties ;)


Dr. Bott KG
Dr. Roderich Bott, President and CEO
Ortsstr. 37
D-07426 Unterhain, Germany

http://www.drbottkg.de (German)

http://www.drbottkg.com (English)

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Revised June 2, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/