In my home office, I’ve long had a problem with too many computers and too many peripherals – monitors, keyboards, mice – everywhere! I’ve been using KVMs for a while to move between the many computers, but since I do work from home, I really need my work laptop visible at all times. I’ve gotten around this in the past by connecting another monitor to the laptop to keep it visible and keeping the laptop screen itself active when I switch to another system. This gets frustrating because while I can see the laptop, I still have to manually switch over to it in order to interact with it. Then, I lose immediate interaction with a server or desktop that I may using. Remote desktops have helped somewhat, but it wasn’t until I finally installed a FREE app called Synergy that I reached my home office nirvana…
The author’s description of the product says it best, “Synergy lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware. It’s intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own monitor(s).”
Synergy supports the following OS’ as posted on their website:
- Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me (the Windows 95 family)
- Microsoft Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP (the Windows NT family)
- Mac OS X 10.2 or higher
- X Windows version 11 revision 4 or up
- XTEST extension
(use “xdpyinfo | grep XTEST” to check for XTEST)
Just visit the Synergy website and download the app to get started. The help is a little cryptic, but will get you through it.
You need to decide which system’s keyboard and mouse you want to use for everything and install Synergy on that first. The install is very small and occurs quickly. I have set up a 3 system network as of now. My “server” is an XP desktop located in the center of the setup; to the right of that I have an XP laptop; to the left of center, I have a Windows Vista (Business) laptop. All three are harmoniously sharing the keyboard and laptop. This is really nice!
Once the app is installed, you need to go through the programs interface to specify a name for the primary system that will share its resources. Synergy employs the term, “server” for this designation. Next, you will want to provide a name/alias for each system that will be used in this k/m sharing environment; for example, “Desktop” and “Laptop”. You must specify a physical relationship between the systems using Synergy’s interface and this is pretty simple. Basically, you must tell it that when you move the mouse off the right side of “Desktop”‘s screen, the next machine in line is, “Laptop”. You also need to build the reverse relationship. You can also get crafty and use top and bottom in addition to left and right.
Once you’ve set these relationships up, install synergy on the next system in line. Run through the setup and use the GUI to specify the name of the ‘server’ whose resources you would like to share. You can test connectivity and then start it up. You need to “Start” synergy on each machine that is going to participate, so you will have a running application. So far, no problems yet.
I did have to do some basic networking tooling to get Synergy to work between my desktop and laptops. I had to deal with a Windows Defender complaint and also had to add a host file entry on my XP laptop, but that probably won’t apply to everyone. Additionally, I had to add the synergys.exe appication, as well as port 24800 to the Windows Firewall list of allowable ports. Just know that between the help file, some common sense, and some experimentation, you can get this work. And when you do, I’m fairly certain you are going to be extremely happy to lighten to number of input devices you need on your desk. It literally is as easy as moving the mouse off the screen to move control between devices. Enjoy!