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Microsoft had Universal Control before Apple, but it hasn't done enough with it

Surface Book 2 13-inch and 15-inch
Surface Book 2 13-inch and 15-inch (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Yesterday at WWDC, Apple announced Universal Control as one of the new features for macOS Monterey. Universal Control allows you to control multiple devices with a single mouse and keyboard, including iPads and MacBooks. You can even drag and drop items across an iPad, MacBook, and iMac. Some Windows lovers may have immediately thought of a similar feature from Microsoft that's available in the app Mouse without Borders.

Like Universal Control, Mouse without Borders allows you to use a single mouse and keyboard across devices. It can also drag items across multiple PCs. It's a great app because it means if you have one of the best PC mice, you can use it on multiple computers. There are, however, two major differences that stick out between Universal Control and Mouse without Borders. First, Mouse without Borders came out several years earlier. Second, Microsoft hasn't done enough with Mouse without Borders to have it compete with Universal Control.

First doesn't mean best

Universal Control

Source: Apple (Image credit: Source: Apple)

During every major Apple event, people joke about how Apple "invents something." I've certainly taken a jab at Apple for acting like they came up with Live Images or other features. But like it or not, this pattern is part of Apple's strategy. The company takes ideas, such as waterproofing a phone or wireless charging, and then perfects them within their ecosystem. If that feature happens to come out years after Android or Microsoft rolls out an equivalent, so be it.

Apple isn't first to the party with many of its features, but the company at least puts its whole heart into it, as seen by the announcement of Universal Control. When Apple unveiled Universal Control, it showcased it at a major event on an iPad, MacBook, and iMac. The feature works seamlessly across major Apple hardware.

Microsoft has a different approach to some features, which isn't necessarily bad but is certainly different. In the case of Mouse without Borders, it's a Microsoft Garage Project. Microsoft Garage allows people at Microsoft to experiment with ideas and develop them further. Sometimes, such as with Arrow Launcher becoming Microsoft Launcher, an app or idea will be rolled into a proper Microsoft app. In other cases, Microsoft Garage projects are retired.

Of course, Microsoft doesn't use Microsoft Garage for all features or ideas. It rolls things out properly all of the time, but it didn't give Mouse without Borders the treatment I think it deserved. For Mouse without Borders to compete with Apple's Universal Control, Microsoft would need to build it into Windows 10 and embrace it in a similar way to Microsoft Launcher.

Building it into Windows 10

Mouse Without Borders Windows

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm not sure why Microsoft has left Mouse without Borders as a Microsoft Garage project. Maybe the company isn't happy with its performance. Perhaps data Microsoft has suggests that it isn't that popular. But to me, Mouse without Borders would fit right in on Windows 10. People with a portable device like the Surface Go could drop their 2-in-1 at their desk and use it alongside a desktop or a laptop.

I'm honestly surprised that Mouse without Borders isn't built into Windows 10. It works fine, and I recommend it to anyone who uses multiple PCs, but significantly fewer people will find it if it's a separate app you have to find on your own.

Mouse without Borders also has a configuration process that looks more complicated than Apple's Universal Control. You have to enter security codes and pair up PCs. While we haven't gotten our hands on Universal Control, I assume it will work seamlessly and be easy to set up, much like other features designed to bring iPads and Macs together.

If Microsoft built Mouse without Borders into Windows 10 (or Windows 11), it could have it sync through your Microsoft account and work seamlessly between devices. It's a shame to see such a great program left in the garage.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

57 Comments
  • If you have Logitech devices Logi's Flow software gives you the same thing across three devices with a Bluetooth connection, and has done for some years. It's not just for mice: you can also use your keyboard. So if I need to write a text message on the phone that's sitting propped up on my desk I've found it far more reliable than Microsoft's Your Phone...
  • You beat me to the punch. You can do this with Flow using Logitech devices. As cool as this is, it just solidifies Apple's approach to financially strapping the consumer with multiple devices.
  • Justy because MS can't figure out how to make a tablet or phone doesn't mean they wouldn't want people to buy into that sort of ecosystem. Apple doesn't strap the consumer with multiple devices, they make those devices work seamlessly together so it makes sense to stay in the ecosystem. I could buy a Surface, Fire tablet and iPhone, but why would I?
  • You're kidding, right? Of course Apple doesn't force the consumer into purchasing the device, but they sell the false narrative - pushing the need for multiple devices. Why would you buy a Surface and any other tablet? If you say media consumption or what have you, there is no need to continue this discussion. The iPad, especially with the "Pro" version, sells the idea of not needing a computer(PC) because it is one.
  • Um.. I have a desktop, and then a Surface Go 2 with a Brydge keyboard which I use mostly for mobile working, but which I also use in tablet form as a second screen - which is handy from time to time despite having a 27 inch monitor on the desktop. And an Android phone. And yes Onedrive keeps everything in sync after a fashion, but it's about more than that. I guess we all have different use cases as techie people seem to like to call it these days
  • I have a similar device setup/line up, desktop with Surface Pro X. It's cool to have a portable device when you have a desktop, but a laptop is already portable. Also, I'm getting at the fact Apple pushed the iPad over the laptop... but still wants you to buy one and their laptops. I totally agree - use case drives our approach.
  • Hi there! I've got a Surface Pro 5 and a proper tablet. Why? Because the Surface has worse better life than my other tablet, it gets hotter, and I dislike managing Windows on a tablet device. When I turn on my tablet, I want to use it to be available Right Now. I don't want to deal with extended boot times, installing Windows updates, and all the other fun that comes with managing a full OS. Plus the apps on my tablet (an iPad Pro) are actually optimized for that environment. I also haven't forgiven Microsoft for pushing out beta updates that nearly bricked my Surface Book 2 (yeah, I have 2 Surfaces. Long story involving compensation from the MS Store for a broken XPS 15).
  • If you apreciate your work you use Surface.
  • Microsoft have figured out how to make a tablet. Not all tablets have to work like iPadOS :/
  • They almost figured it out with Windows 8, but even that had the not-so-touch-friendly desktop, it has only gotten worse since then.
  • Logitech Flow isn't compatible with Windows on ARM because Logitech still haven't update their software like Microsoft have for their mice/keyboards.
  • While it looks like a handy feature for some, it is the same feature as Timeline in Windows. Practically nobody would use it. I can imagine all the frustration one would go through when at 0:51 of the video would attempt to type on one device while the focus was on another. Takes a lot of getting used to. As much getting used to as long such a device layout would not remain.
  • You've said what I was going to say, Mouse Without Borders is A Microsoft Garage product. I don't think everything that MS Garage has to be adopted by Microsoft.
  • Timeline partially failed because Microsoft suck as marketing their features. Apple are masters at it. Clipboard history isn't well known but it's so good in Windows 10 once you use it you won't go back.
  • Exactly. These gimmick features are presented as lifechanging, but in the end only few people end up using them. You just forget they're there.
    This is very similar to what Sony is doing with their PS5 controller with rumble. Okay, it's rumble feedback, guys, we've seen it before, and all the other times it was a great gimmick that nobody ended up supporting. What makes you think it's special now and this time it will be implemented all across the board?
  • Well for obvious reasons people that don't have multiple Macs on the same desk or a Mac and iPad can't use this, and they are majority so majority will not use this. However if you focus on that minority it is reasonable to expect that many will use it. If you really use two devices you will likely drag and drop something between them sometimes. It is so powerful, useful and simple to use that comparing it to Timeline makes really no sense. If somehow it happens that you have a Mac and iPad without the Magic Keyboard, it is likely that at least once in a while you will use your Mac's keyboard and trackpad as a 'free' replacement. So it is in no way comparable to Timeline. Apple awards its most loyal users. While they are minority it is reasonable for Apple to invest them. Unlike that Timeline was for no one. At least in the way it was implemented.
  • @ Gregorius Magnus: So you're saying if Apple does it people will use it but if Microsoft does "Practically nobody would use it"? Great logic you've got there.
  • Nice but in cloud universe I would say it is not very useful.
  • Hello it's AirDrop here.
  • I'm just glad you included a link to Mouse Without Borders, since I'd never heard of it.
  • I was thinking the same myself. never even heard of it. but then, nothing about microsoft is very consumer forward nowadays.
  • I shall only say one damned word about this: Continuum.
  • How many people have any 2 or more of those devices?
    Most would have a macbook and/or and ipad, and they don't have the same use cases at all. Universal control only solves the problem of connecting a keyboard and a mouse to the ipad without a dongle. Myself, I've got a laptop and a Surface go, and MWB has been more annoying than useful so far.
  • It says something I had to read an article about Apple to learn Mouse without Borders by Microsoft was even a thing. Thanks though. Yeah dumb it's not just been integrated into Windows already.
  • Like a lot of things Microsoft they're hamfisted by it only working between Windows PCs. Which is a lot of people but not half as useful as PC to Phone, Tablet etc... Like AirDrop, Quick Share, Nearby Share etc... Looks really useful but I can't remember when I last owned two PCs.
  • Guys, you can continue being part of the pro-Apple narrative but this gimmick has been out ages ago for whoever wants to use it, in various forms, at least for ten years. As someone else points it, there's a recent Logitech version.
    Honestly if I was an Apple fan and didn't know just how hollow and mediocre their supposedly grandiose updates really are, I'd be worried for the company, having to make up these gimmicks to add newness to their ecosystem. They don't have a lot more to sell, really.
  • Unless I'm missing something the Logitech version would not work with a mobile tablet. Its a little rare to have 2 computers you want to use at once. Much more common to have a laptop and an iOS or Android tablet that it would be cool to use at the same time. Apple has your back there, Microsoft (and Google) do not.
  • My Logitech Keyboard Mouse combo works like this. The mouse slides from my work pc to my home pc and the keyboard as well, then the keyboard has a dial on it to switch to 1, 2 or 3 and when I switch it to two it works on my Samsung tablet and when I switch it to three it works on my Sony phone. I've had this for almost three years now. Of course the mouse doesn't work on the phone or tablet, at least I haven't tried.
  • How is it a gimmick? Looks really useful.
  • If Microsoft makes it part of Windows, it should work across any device not just their own.
  • Yes but they'd all be PCs. That's the difference.
  • So Apple ate Xerox's lunch. Now it has eaten Microsoft's and is going after Tesla...
  • Logitech, as others have pointed out? I've had this option for years and have found it necessary or even useful... never.
  • Doesn't work on Windows on ARM because Logitech are to lazy to update it, as others have pointed out? And you need Logitech hardware.
  • MSFT doesn't focus on their technology but acquiring the companies and dropping their services/apps. I agree with an article point that, Apple fixed someone's problem and label it as their own technology after 3-4 years. What surprises me that people discussing Apple on twitter like a child. Many people appraise the Apple's Google Lens feature like a juvenile. I think Apple fans don't want to try anything or search anything outside their closed-ecosystem (which is 2% good but 98% worse) for future tech/devs.
  • Imagine to envy being able to control an iPad with a Macbook's trackpad when we have the Surface Pro in our ecosystem. An hypervitaminized tablet with full operating system and full pencil control and precise touch control. We have the best. Universal Control is Apple not being able to offer the best. Excuses.
  • My Microsoft Precision Mouse does this already and I haven't had any issues...
    Daniel Rubino even wrote an article on it back around the time when Surface Book 2 was announced:
    https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-surface-precision-mouse#:~:text.... I do wish they baked it into the OS instead of having to download Mouse and Keyboard Center (which interestingly enables a similar UX as Mouse Without Borders into the M&KC app for compatible mice.
  • Universal Control also lets you drag and drop files between devices. Otherwise thanks. Looks neat. Pity that mouse is so expensive though. I can basically do the same on my Logitech by just pressing a button as I move between devices to switch between paired devices.
  • It should be baked into the OS and the devices should talk to each other and the peripherals ride on that wave, so that at a basic level everyone using Windows (or even Android devices such as tabs but logged into Microsoft Launcher, for example) can use their favored peripherals across multiple devices with minimal-to-no config beyond being signed in. Keeping this productivity boost behind the "wall" of getting their mouse (and the downloading of stuff) means that Apple's offering of the feature built in looks like "magic" and everyone has access to it - making Microsoft's OS clunky and niche, since it "can't do it".
  • I'm so done with the whole Microsoft vs Apple vs Google nonsense. I bought into it for years, but have reached the point where I'll now use whatever works for me. After over a decade of holding out against Apple devices and pledging my loyalty (and wallet) to Microsoft, Surface, Windows Phone, and eventually Android and Wear OS, I'm now seriously considering an iPhone and Apple Watch. Why? Because while Android is good, Wear OS is goddam awful, and I want a good and useful wearable. Bottom line, Apple is the only company on earth that's nailed the wearables. I wholly agree that Apple are rarely first to the market. They don't invent anything. They steal good ideas, refine them, bake them into their hardware/OS/app walled garden, perfect the experience and absolutely nail the marketing announcements of these "new features" And that strategy works. It works very, very well. Microsoft, on the other hand, couldn't successfully market a machine that makes gold out of farts. They design and create truly amazing things and then out them in the hands of dimwad marketeers who really have no idea who they're marketing the products to. Being an exclusive Microsoft/Apple/Google fan does not reward the fan. The only winners in those fanboy scenarios are Microsoft, Apple and Google. Use what works for you. Screw loyalty.
  • While I agree with not being fan, your language and thinking is still at the fan state. Saying that Apple never did anything first is really wrong. First hi-res mobile screens. First touch without swipe ID. First secure face ID. There are many design aspects of their CPUs that are first and even unmatched (how do you think they are faster, simply by chance?). Currently they have by far toughest glass protection based on their custom technology. Not to say Apple has never copied, especially on the software side. On the hardware side they copy much more rare - simply they can't be always first as they need to wait for the technology to mature to be able to be produced in hundred of million of items in the year.
  • Former Windows Phone-turned-iPhone user here. Microsoft grabs you with their vision videos and some of their early releases, get you on the emotional train then make corporate decisions that neuter the further development of the platform as you watch other competitors (especially Apple) zoom past you with more refined ideas that you once imagined with Microsoft. The whole Windows Phone/Mobile was a major lesson in the dangers of blind faith in a tech company for so many and hardened previously believing followers into skeptics and agnostics. I realize with my iPhone (7, mind you, not even the latest) that I was missing a whole lot with a stagnant Windows Phone (which was stagnated conceptually after the update to version 7). Even the AR, 3-dimensional capture experience Apple just announced with the IPad Lidar was long "envisioned" in Microsoft's later Windows Mobile demos (that never saw the light of day!)! Yet, we still keep hoping to see MS live up to its potential and "vision videos".
  • With Panay overseeing both Windows and Surface divisions, I'm wondering if he will try to achieve a similar seamless integration as Apple.
  • My guess would be, yes. Microsoft are very late to the table with this, but Apple have proven beyond a doubt that the best devices and user experiences come when hardware and software is developed in the same room, with one team. I guess Microsoft are stuck somewhere in the middle, a bit like Google. They're creating operating systems that have to be able to run on hardware not manufactured or controlled by them. But, to compensate for that, they should absolutely knock it out of the park with every surface device
  • They need to integrate OS-level protocols for these kinds of interactions and allow OEMs to plug in and enhance to differentiate, but the baseline interoperability needs to be there for multiple signed-in devices irrespective of Windows or Android. Doing this securely is the other major thing to work on.
  • I would hope so!
  • I take my Go on SP& when I travel. But only one mouse. Every time I switch between the Go and the SP&, I must rediscover the mouse. Maybe Mouse Without Borders will solve this problem. It is just a pain that a simple Bluetooth mouse will not work with both my computers without having to remove and reinstall.
  • I'd just be happy to have different devices (i.e. phone to PC) that are on the same Private WiFi connection to be able to easily drag and drop files to one another like a wired network.
  • Stardock has their Multiplicity product that blows the doors off of Mouse without Borders. And it's encrypted! -m
  • Hi do you know if files being copy/paste or drag/dropped to an other pc through Multiplicity go through the cloud or locally through the wifi? (I mean in a scenario when you have 2 pc's on the same wifi)
  • There is a great desktop app called Synergy (developed by Simless). I have been using it for years to use a single mouse + keyboard + copy/paste between Windows and macOS. Universal Control might be good for diehard Apple fans, but for cross-platform work this is not an option. Same goes for Mouse without Borders.
  • I use this application all of the time. It even works on M1 Macs. So mac to mac, mac to pc, mac to linux, pc to pc, etc. Great app.
  • prtty much yea
  • Would like to see something like this build-in but also a better Connect/Project experience for eg using a Surface or laptop as second screen for an other pc (this is now a laggy experience, they either need to allow it by usb-c cable to speed it up or more optimization options).
  • Yes, thank you. It's like a placeholder for a powerful experience - hints at what is possible but fails to deliver. Beyond Surface, Microsoft OS devices need to be able to interact and extend to each other seamlessly. Samsung is doing it with their phones and Windows, so is Huawei (if I am not mistaken). It needs to be at an OS level authenticated with Microsoft account login. Your Microsoft Launcher Android device should be able to pair easily and talk to a Microsoft Laptop that is logged in to the same account (beyond Your Phone) without you needing to do a lot of config or going into Settings.
  • I remember playing with Mouse Without Borders (MWB) years ago when I downloaded it on one of my office computers. It just felt like some niche feature to play with and not a necessary productivity enhancer to retain. The clunky configuration process didn't help. Microsoft should have baked it in on the OS level long ago, instead they launched their mouse to compete with the Logitech mice with similar feature. Microsoft need to remember that most people will not go beyond what you provide to them out-of-the-box, so you need to make it matter to them. Universal Control is a cross-device productivity showcase, highlighting not just control but the universal and immediate drag-and-drop (without saving to the cloud) expands how useful it is to be in their ecosystem. The Microsoft Edge team seems to me to the most agile and communicative of the consumer-facing teams, at Microsoft as they keep pushing out updates and showing and explaining to you you the new things they've added (which many people begin to adopt almost immediately, I imagine). That said, with the M1 chip and its performance, and the possible new MacBook returning the ports and Magsafe and other pro(ductivity) features, some of those pros and creatives who angrily left Apple years might just return to them.
  • "Apple isn't first to the party with many of its features, but the company at least puts its whole heart into it" This comment is so true. If Apple wants to implement something they do it 100%. Microsoft and Google both fail miserably so often in this principle.