Once in a while, we find a program that’s so much fun and practical in use that it makes us want to go out and buy another computer. We found one last week. It’s Multiplicity, from Stardock, and what it does is let you control two to six computers with one keyboard and mouse.

Multiplicity

is just software — no extra hardware required. What we did was install it on a desktop and a laptop and put them side by side. We connected both of them to our D-Link router and were off and running. If you don’t use a router, you can also connect them by wireless or through a Firewire link.

The two computers became one, though they were running completely different programs. Slide your mouse off the edge of the screen on one computer and it appears on the other. The changeover is active and instantaneous.

Copy something to the Windows clipboard and you can paste it into a document on the other computer. Type control-C to copy anything defined with the mouse, then move the mouse pointer over to the other screen. Hit the control-V keys to paste from the clipboard. Joy copied a 214-megabyte folder of her cookbook files and transferred it to the laptop in less than a minute. It takes the “Pro” version to do a whole folder.

You can surf the Web on one screen and work on another. Rendering graphics scenes sometimes takes several minutes; you can let one computer do that while you work on the next scene. A parent with young children can let them play on one of the computers, and then quickly slide the mouse over to save them just before their character gets killed and they start to cry. (Game characters get killed so easily.)

This is fun to use, and useful to boot (sorry about that pun). Multiplicity software for linking two computers using Windows XP or 2000 lists for US$40. The Pro version, for linking six computers, is US$70. Both these and a free trial version can be found at www.stardock.com.

LASERS FOR LESS

Two major makers of laser printers have dropped prices on their latest machines to less than US$400. The savings on ink costs are terrific, and this is certainly the way to go; we use color laser printers almost exclusively now and very seldom turn to an inkjet printer.

Samsung’s new CLP-510 sells for around US$400 or a little less, depending on what you find with a Web search of the discounters. Minolta’s latest offering, the Magicolor 2400W, sells for about the same.

We’ve found, by the way, that there’s something a little tricky about prices on the Web, and you often get just as good a deal or better from local ads in newspapers. No shipping costs, either. The reason for the tricky prices is some retailers will quote very low prices for a few items so their name comes up first in a Web search for best deals. The prices can change literally overnight, and there seems to be a kind of game going on. The $400 price on the two printers mentioned above is their suggested list price, so you should expect to pay no more than that.

For US$100 more, Samsung has the CLP-510n, which is network compatible. Minolta has the Magicolor 2430DL, also for US$100 more, which can print photos directly from a digital camera by attaching it to the printer with a USB cable. That sounds great, but a few more words need to be said.

Colour laser printers print photos very well, but they do not print them well on the glossy photo paper used by inkjet printers. Laser printers use a hot roller to melt the ink powder onto a page. Unfortunately, this sometimes melts the emulsion on the surface of photo paper. The result is a mess on the paper and may even leave a mess on the heat roller, requiring some expensive repairs. We use Hewlett Packard’s heavy-duty (28-pound weight) paper for laser printing photos, not photo paper.

INTERNUTS: THE SINGING PHYSICISTS

At www.physicssongs.org there is a wry collection of songs about physics, astro and otherwise, maintained by a professor at Haverford College. There’s one by James Clerk Maxwell, generally regarded as the 19th-century physicist who had the greatest influence on the 20th century, who often sang while lecturing, and another by Nobel Prize winner J.J. Thomson, discoverer of the electron.

WHERE THE SPIES HIDE

We got an interesting report from Symantec a few days ago, focusing on what you’re doing when spyware and other unpleasant visitors invade your computer.

The software company found there was a considerable difference in the number of spies, ads and other annoyances attached to your computer depending on the kind of Web sites you’re browsing. Here’s a summary from an hour’s worth of browsing in each of various categories:

Sports: 17 pieces of adware, 2 spyware, 0 hijackers, 72 cookies.

Kids’ sites: 359 adware, 0 spyware, 3 hijackers, 31 cookies.

Game sites: 23 adware, 4 spyware, 2 hijackers, 68 cookies.

News: 3 adware, 1 spyware, 0 hijackers, 26 cookies.

Travel: 64 adware, 2 spyware, 1 hijacker, 35 cookies.

Shopping: 0 adware, 0 spyware, 0 hijackers, 10 cookies.

What stands out in this survey is the relative innocence ofshopping sites and the remarkably treacherous ground of gaming and children’sWeb sites, which are sometimes one and the same.

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