May 1

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Synergy: Share Your Keyboard and Mouse Across Multiple Platforms

synergy in action

With the news that even Microsoft is supporting cross-platform development more people are going to have multiple systems at their desks. That's where Synergy comes in. It's a small piece of open-source software that allows you to share one keyboard and mouse across multiple screens hooked up to different computers. The computers can be running Windows, Mac, or Linux. It also lets you copy and paste across the computers and run a single screensaver across all of the screens. There is no drag-n-drop just yet.

The primary computer (the one with the keyboard and mouse) will run the Synergy server. All of the other machines will run the Synergy client. The server communicates with the clients via TCP/IP. There is currently no encryption or authentication and all data is passed to all of the connected clients. The clients only need to the server name to connect so you should only run Synergy on a trusted network. If desired you can install an SSH server (such as OpenSSH) on the primary computer separately to address any security worries.

I haven't tried Synergy yet (I'm on the road currently). My friend Stuart Updegrave (who told me about it) is using it daily across machines running Windows XP and Ubuntu Feisty Fawn and is really impressed. Have you used it?

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Comments: 31

  Tim Connor [05.01.07 02:47 AM]

It worked quite well for me when I used to use it. I assembled a sort of cheap patched together multiple-monitor/distributed set-up by patching adding an old laptop onto my desktop, via Synergy, some years ago.

  Darren [05.01.07 02:50 AM]

Yes! It's simply one of the best productivity apps I use for the desktop(s). Not too bad to configure, but with a bit more documentation for the various operating system idiosyncracies, it'd be perfect for all.

I know other non-techies using this, and they love it.

Btw, drag and drop isn't implemented (as you say), but you can copy and paste text e.g. A URL from one browser to another, larger chunks (paragraphs), etc. Though this can sometimes be a little buggy/inconsistent, but that may not be down to Synergy.

Highly recommended, especially for multi-headed setups.

  Adrian Sutton [05.01.07 03:14 AM]

Synergy is essential software for anyone with multiple computers. I've used it extensively with Windows, Linux and OS X and couldn't live without it. Definitely a pain to configure initially but simple enough. Once it's up and running though it works really well.

  Dave Sanders [05.01.07 03:42 AM]

I concur with the above comments. Its wonderfully useful software.

  Sachin Gaur [05.01.07 04:22 AM]

I am using this tool since last one year or so, very useful and cool.

Although it can be further improved in the way it is configured on linux etc(writing the machine oredr file!). Also when a machine gets down or a machine gets up, not so robust!

  James Healy [05.01.07 05:04 AM]

I use it a bit at work (across windows + debian) and love it.

Hilarity ensues when the laptop is taken into the conference room and my desktop mouse can operate it....

  Web Guy [05.01.07 05:05 AM]

Been using it for years. I'll never forget how amazed I was when I first saw it or the same look on other people's faces as they see it for the first time.

One of the coolest open source projects around, and has always been a hidden gem. Have used it across windows, linux, and Mac boxes. Bottom line: Synergy rocks.

  Michael Buckbee [05.01.07 06:22 AM]

I use Synergy to control both my Mac and my XP workstation.

If you're going to use it on OSX I highly recommend downloading the "Missing GUI" - http://software.landryhetu.com/synergy/ - it'll add a preference pane to configure everything on the OSX side.

Also, many PC games (like Company of Heroes) require you to "push" your mouse cursor to the edges of the screen to scroll around the map. It's a big pain to disable and re-enable Synergy every time you have to do this, so there is a handy shortcut, the "Scroll Lock" key will trap the cursor on whatever screen it happens to be on currently. When you're done, just tap it again and you're back to your cross platform control setup.

  Chris Atwood [05.01.07 06:42 AM]

I just installed this and am singings its praises to the whole office. More desk space!!

Thanks for showing this software to the masses.

  Chris Norris [05.01.07 06:43 AM]

I use it at work and home across an XP machine and a Mac laptop. It's quite an amazing program. I'm a bit concerned about the fact that it broadcasts everything I type when it's on, but I've read that you can set it up to use SSH.

  Shawn [05.01.07 07:07 AM]

Yes, I've been using it for the past few years. The first time you see it in action, it's a jaw-dropping experience. And now, I can't imagine going a day without it. In addition to just being able to move you mouse cursor and keyboard across multiple machines, having copy/paste functionality across those machines is priceless.

It does have its quirks though that sometimes require that I restart the synergy server, but those pale in comparison to the benefits you get while using it.

And I do use SSH tunneling so that I don't have to worry about sending passwords over the network.

  Jonathan Arnold [05.01.07 07:39 AM]

Personally, I prefer a KVM switch. Yeah, there isn't copy/paste between the computers, but that just doesn't come up that often.

  Tom [05.01.07 08:06 AM]

You can also run x2vnc, win2vnc, or osx2vnc on the machine with the keyboard and mouse; they can control any machine with a VNC server running on them (Linux machines and Macs do out of the box). It uses standard VNC authentication.

  Matt Turner [05.01.07 08:31 AM]

It'd definitely some handy software. All I would say is that i've found when using it, if you're not on a hard wired LAN then if you want to do something like Photoshop work on a client machine where precision is required then it's not quite up to the task.

For general program usage though it's fine and a great solution for using multiple machines without a KVM.

  rektide [05.01.07 09:11 AM]

i've been using synergy since it came out. i was using desktop rover before that, which is of the same vein except shareware.

the new configurator stuff in 1.4 is kind of a nightmare. text boxes map strangely to form fields, and theres just an enormous amount of work if you want to setup four or five systems side by side. everyone at work has found a need for synergy at some point, and it takes about 30 minutes of me sitting down and explaining to get even the techies up and running. 1.2 was far far simpler, albiet somewhat less powerful.

desktop rover was the first program that made "network is the computer" click in my head. (was that moto in use in 98?) of course, it only made me want more. a single keyboard in mouse in a multi system environment is just the start. now that hutterer's delightful multi-pointer X is here, we can keep pushing that boundary out towards more collaborative multisystem workspace environments. x has been crippled by a single core pointer long enough, haza!

  Reilly Hayes [05.01.07 09:30 AM]

I've been using it for a few years. I haven't used it as much recently (my primary machine is now a laptop). It's a great program.

  Charles [05.01.07 09:30 AM]

With hardware getting cheaper and cheaper, Synergy is an incredibly way to be productive across multiple machines, without the context switch of a VM solution or issues of KVM.

You can get a Dell desktop for $300, the licensing costs of Parallels and Windows operating system almost is as much. So Synergy makes this a cost effective alternative for developers to be productive. No issues with KVM when you make the switch. For web developers who need to do browser compatibility testing this is amazing. Coupled with VNC, you really get the ultimate single keyboard setup.

  Michael Chui [05.01.07 12:40 PM]

I used to carry a laptop (defunct now, so I don't) everywhere, but hated carrying the mouse around. (Nor did it have a keypad.)

It was great to be able to head to different desktop locations, plug into the network, and boot up Synergy and not only have access to twice the system resources for two computers, but access to preferred inputs for my laptop without carrying it around.

  Victor Trac [05.01.07 12:41 PM]

I've used Synergy for a few years now.. it's a great piece of software.

Currently I'm using it with three monitors at work, two of which are running Linux on a single machine and the third running OSX. At home I've got my laptop running Synergy server to control the TV media center PC through my home Wifi connection. Kind of like a poor man's wireless keyboard.

  gnat [05.01.07 02:50 PM]

Why would I use Synergy over VNC?

  ranti [05.01.07 03:21 PM]

Yes, I use it at home and work. Works really nice. It's already in the Debian repository, so installing it is a snap. They also have a GUI Admin called QuickSynergy.

  Mahlen Morris [05.01.07 10:02 PM]

I've been using Synergy since 2004; it's fantastic. Not only for my desk, but my previous company had a NOC with an array of 12 monitors, using Synergy to so that one mouse/keyboard could roam among four of them at a time (there's no hard limit to computers shared via Synergy, just that 3 people sat at the big desk).

For people wondering why use synergy over VNC, they are for different purposes.

Synergy is for when you have multiple machines and multiple monitors. So, for example, if i have two machines and two monitors on my desk; synergy lets me use both monitors seamlessly, moving from machine to machine, typing and mousing as you go.

VNC, in contrast, is when you have multiple machines, but not so many monitors. It allows you to view the screens of multiple machines through the same monitor.

I love having more monitor space available and easily accessible. I have three 24" wide screen monitors now on my desk, and I still consider that just a start :)


  Randy Stewart [05.01.07 10:13 PM]

Ha... just as I was about to comment, the person who introduced me to Synergy comments before me. Thanks Mahlen for introducing me to this great piece of software.

Unfortunately, Synergy stopped working for me once I went to Intel Macs, although I'm now wondering if QuickSynergy might work on Intel OS X.

If you are in a Mac only environment, I've been using Teleport which seems to work as well as Synergy did for me pre-Intel.

You can get it here - http://abyssoft.com/software/teleport/


  Gerry Power [05.02.07 07:59 AM]

The earlier iMac's didn't support dual monitors in Desktop mode (only mirror mode), so I setup a Windows box with a monitor next to my iMac with Synergy to control both, so I got a "virtual" second monitor. It worked so seamlessly, I often forgot it was not one machine, and would invariably attempt a document drag across the monitors!

I didn't need it anymore after I installed the firmware hack for the iMacs that allowed dual monitors in Desktop mode, and the latest iMacs have full support for Desktop mode, so it's not required. But I do highly recommend it if you need to control another machine on or near your desk!

  Jonathan Arnold [05.02.07 08:25 AM]

Ha, I only wish I had room for more monitors on my desk. Even with both of them now LCD monitors, there's no way I could fit a third one. Two of my machines are dual monitor, while the third chugs along with only one, but there's no room here to use synergy.

  Andrew [07.06.07 10:02 PM]

I'm using it, and it is magnificent! I'm currently running Vista on the host machine and XP Pro on the client machine and its genius! I cannot wait until they release an update for a drag and drop function, but so far its amazing! :D

  Tim [11.15.07 08:27 AM]

In response to Michael Buckbee's [05.01.07 06:22 AM] post. Thanks for the handy shortcut - "Scroll Lock" to trap the mouse. My previous workaround was to use the option "Switch on double tap within" in the Synergy options pane. I now use the "Scroll Lock" much better and makes it so that you don't have to delay the screen switching.

Thanks again.

  Rick [09.16.08 10:37 AM]

Just heard of Synergy and have just downloaded it; the one major thing it doesn't mention, (and I am going to assume, since I am leaving the ofice for 2 days and can't work on this), is that you PROBABLY need internet access for both computers, correct? It's not mentioned anywhere on the installation instructions on CNET, or anywhere else. We'll see in 2 days when I get back.

  John Pierre [05.10.09 10:51 AM]

I have been trying to get synergy to work ever since I installed windows7 and this morning 10.5.09 I finally was successful. Oddly enough it was my 13 year old son that helped me. The configuration was a pain at first, but he had some good suggestions and that helped. I have two screens on each computer, and feared that it would cause a problem but once it was up and running configuring the second screens was easy. I disabled the second screen on each computer before starting the program and added them afterwards. Two, the links are very important. You must have one link for each computer. x is right of y, and right is left of x. These are two distinct link. If you have one link the mouse will not find the second screen or will not move back to the first screen. Also my tv program will not work on the server, along with the program, but it works well with the program on the client computer.

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