Can i share my PC with my partner?
January 26, 2010 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Hello, I'm just about to buy a new PC. It has more power than I need right now (ITB/5,200 MHz/4,000MB ram) so i wonder, how easy is it to set it up so that two people can use it at the same time?

What I mean is, can two people on seperate screens use the same PC - effectively shareing the comptuter? We have two screens in our house, two keyboards, two mich etc. Most of the time we don't need to use it simutaneously, but we want to obviate the need to have two PCs in the house, even though we still want to have seperate workstations.
posted by MrMerlot to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What operating system do you want to use? The quick answer is that this is do-able in linux and not in Windows.
posted by pompomtom at 2:38 AM on January 26, 2010

(actually, that was the case last I looked, and I think Windows will fight you every step of the way (given you'd have two people using one license for windows), but it seems there's some sort of product for this these days - not a recommendation at all, I just saw it, and I wouldn't try it myself.)
posted by pompomtom at 2:47 AM on January 26, 2010

This device says it just does this. Transforms a computer into a "terminal"
posted by PowerCat at 3:12 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Assuming you mean that each person gets their own session (i.e. they aren't sharing the same session) then it's possible to do this with a server version of Windows but the normal home/client versions only allow one session. The server versions are mega-expensive though.

If you mean they share the same session then you can just use vnc or something like what PowerCat linked to. But that's not really very useful as you both presumably want to do different things not share the same applications.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:44 AM on January 26, 2010

I've never bought one of the machine-sharing devices myself but know folks who have, and none of them have had a satisfactory experience. The biggest complaint was that things weren't 'smooth' - basically there was a subtle but obvious lag between mouse-clicks or keypresses and things registering onscreen, and if both of you do happen to be on at the same time performance degrades a lot more than you'd expect.
posted by pupdog at 3:46 AM on January 26, 2010

This is not a good idea. While technically possible with some extra hardware, the thing you are asking to do is very complicated and difficult to support, even if you have the right hardware. And since you don't sound like a super-tech wizard ultra-geek, it's going to be way more hassle than is practical.

Buy a cheap, $200 PC for the second desk and use it for web-browsing and lighter work. If you still wish to pursue this later, there are ways to use that second "light" PC as a dumb terminal to connect to the apps and storage on that big, beefy PC you're now buying. Post another AskMe if you get to that point.

Computers are cheap; it's all the accessories that add up.
posted by rokusan at 3:47 AM on January 26, 2010

There is a new windows product for microsoft that allows you to do this. its meant for schools. I just dont remember the name.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:25 AM on January 26, 2010

You can get a perfectly good used PC via Craig's list for $50 and use it as the 2nd machine for web surfing, email, and other light duty tasks.
posted by COD at 5:13 AM on January 26, 2010

Like pompomtom said, you can do this in Linux (and without spending a lot of money).
For a really brief explanation see the Wikipedia article on thin clients. For information here's a promotional blurb about Linux terminal services from Ubuntu, and documentation, and you can ask for advice on the forums.

I'd highly recommend asking questions on the forums first if you decide to look into this. You'll probably want to be able to use Windows too; be sure to mention this.

(Note: I'm a Linux newbie myself, and I've never done this, so I can't give you personal advice. I linked to info one Linux distribution only because it's the one I happen to use, and the forums are genuinely helpful and tolerant of newbies.)

The Windows software pompomtom linked to looks interesting. I have no idea if it's any good or not.
posted by nangar at 5:44 AM on January 26, 2010

To run Windows with more than one screen, you'll need Windows Terminal Server and client licenses. It is doable, but it is not cheap and it carries significant performance limitations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:48 AM on January 26, 2010

(ITB/5,200 MHz/4,000MB ram)

5.2GHz microprocessors do not exist. I assume this is a dual-core 2.6GHz machine; this is Not The Same as a single-core 5.2GHz.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:49 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

This allows multiple people to use XP at the same time:
posted by cowmix at 5:59 AM on January 26, 2010

There are a few issues you need to solve.

First, does your OS allow more than one person to have an active desktop session open at a time? In the case of microsoft windows, the sanctioned method is windows server with terminal server licenses. There are also hacks that let you use terminal services on desktop versions of windows. Linux has similar options, though without the licensing restrictions. To support more than one simultaneous user with this approach, the other users must connect via remote desktop running on another PC or thin client & the video/graphics won't be as responsive for the remote user, though it should be just fine for web browsing.

Plugging two monitors, two mice and two keyboards in to a single PC is more obscure. I don't know that there is any officially supported way to do this in windows. I think I've seen something like it for Linux, but I can't recall where.

With the right software support, two people should be able to use a single PC with a dual monitor capable video card without any additional hardware beyond the extra monitor, mouse and keyboard, and with a modern system with enough RAM, performance and responsiveness should be excellent. What I'm not sure about is finding the right software support, but this wikipedia page on "multiseat configurations" looks like a good place to start.
posted by Good Brain at 10:17 AM on January 26, 2010

This allows multiple people to use XP at the same time:

Assuming you mean that each person gets their own session (i.e. they aren't sharing the same session) then it's possible to do this with a server version of Windows but the normal home/client versions only allow one session. The server versions are mega-expensive though.

These solutions require more than 1 PC.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:18 AM on January 26, 2010

It's really easy to set up a Linux machine as a terminal, and technically possible (if not much fun) to set up a Windows machine to do the same thing. But I don't know of any solution which would allow two people to literally plug into the exact same computer at the same time.

Just to clarify the poster's question, he's not looking for a solution with two computers, where computer A telnets into computer B. He literally wants only one computer, with two monitors and keyboards plugged in, and both people active at the same time.

I found a kind of KVM switch to do that but it looks like it won't let you both use the computer at the same time. I think you'd have to switch back and forth between workstations.

(Note that at the price ($389.85) you'd be better off buying a second computer, for most values of "better off.")
posted by ErikaB at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2010

Discussed twice previously (in 2006 and 2008). This seems to be a solution that works with Windows 7.
posted by Tawita at 7:28 PM on January 26, 2010

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