I know I have several times added it to my “Mental List Of Apps To Try”, but somewhere along the way I forgot about it. Last weekend Jered was over at my house for dinner and he brought it up again, and this time I installed it.
To make a long story short: I should have been playing with Synergy a long time ago!
For those who like to read a little bit more than that, continue, because I have a writeup.
What the heck is Synergy for?
I remember back when I first used the Opera browser (back around 1999-ish). It had a feature that was front-and-center that I’d never seen before, and frankly I didn’t know why anyone would want to use it.
It was tabbed browsing. However, after only a day or two of use, I realized that this was the best browser feature I didn’t know I needed! After that, any browser that WASN’T tabbed felt broken and limited to me (which meant pretty much every other browser available back then felt broken and limited to me).
Synergy, as you may already have guessed, is one of those applications. It’s a great piece of seamless functionality that I never knew I needed until I started using it just the other day.
I do most of my computing on my desktop machine, which is a Slackware box. However, I’ve been doing a lot of work with and writing about Ubuntu lately, and that’s on my laptop. My current setup has my laptop on a TV tray next to my desk in the room of our house my lovely wife and I use as our office. My desk has limited surface area, hence the TV tray. Because I’m constantly doing things on both machines, I’m always switching between my regular keyboard for my desktop machine and my laptop’s keyboard, and likewise with the two mice.
Synergy eliminates that switching. With Synergy installed, if I need to do something on my laptop, I merely move my mouse all the way to the left of my screen on my desktop machine, and it magically appears on my laptop’s screen. While over there, the keyboard only types to the laptop as well, and, as I discovered just today, even the clipboard works for pasting information back and forth between the two machines!
In short, it makes my laptop an extension of my desktop machine.
Get it. Set it up.
On my laptop, which is running Ubuntu 9.04 (sorry guys, I refuse to use the goofy names they come up with for each fricking Ubuntu release. Sue me.), I installed this like I install almost everything there these days. I opened up a terminal window and typed:
sudo apt-get install synergy
On my desktop machine, which is currently running a bastardized rendition of Slackware 12.1, I downloaded the source from Synergy website and extracted the
synergy-1.3.1.tar.gz file locally and opened a terminal in that directory. From there it was the usual process of building an application from source.
I found this, which was helpful in getting things started.
I then created a config file for Synergy,
/etc/synergy.conf. In it, I designated the two machines where Synergy would be running. “Vectra” is the hostname of my Ubuntu laptop, and “Azalin” is the hostname of my Slackware desktop machine. Here’s the text of
/etc/synergy.conf as I have it set up:
right = azalin
left = vectra
The next thing I did was to have Synergy start up automatically on both machines, with my desktop (“Azalin”) as the server and my laptop (“Vectra”) as the client.
On my desktop machine, I added the following line to my
synergys --daemon -f --config /etc/synergy.conf &
This starts up the server-side of Synergy and tells it to run as a daemon (in background), referencing my config file for it.
Then, on my laptop, I added this line to my
/~/.config/openbox/autostart.sh file, so as to start up the client side of Synergy there:
(sleep 2 && synergyc -f 192.168.1.100) &
What that setup does
The way I have that set up, as I described in the previous section, causes my mouse to flow seamlessly from my screen for my desktop computer (“Azalin”) to the screen of my laptop computer (“Vectra”), simply by moving my mouse cursor all the way to the left side of my desktop screen. It disappears from my desktop machine and reappears on the right-hand side of my laptop’s screen.
While it’s over there, my keyboard acts like it’s attached to my laptop too, and I can even highlight things, copy them, go back to my desktop machine, and paste them from the clipboard in this way.
As a matter of fact, while writing the previous section of this post, that’s precisely what I did to get the line I inserted into my
While Synergy doesn’t eliminate the need for multiple screens, in the keyboard and mouse respect, it can take the place of a KVM switch. I’ve found it particularly useful when I’m working on multiple things at once on both machines… I don’t have to switch keyboards or mice when going back and forth… all I do is move my mouse cursor all the way over to the left-hand side of my screen and turn my head a little to look at the other screen.
Synergy is one of the best applications I didn’t know I needed. If you work on multiple machines — particularly a laptop in conjunction with your desktop machine — Synergy is an easy setup and an elegant solution to efficiency in multitasking. Even better, it works on Windows, Linux AND Mac OS… though to be fair, I have only tested it in Linux.
I did, however, feel that this was too much fun to keep to myself, so I thought I’d share it with anyone else who happens to be reading my blog lately. Hope you find it useful!