Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Keyboard and Mouse sharing with Synergy

Synergy is a neat tool used to share a keyboard and mouse over the network between multiple computers that each have their own display. I used this for a while a few years ago with two Windows XP machines but now I have it setup with my Windows XP desktop and my OS X laptop. Synergy is an open source project and has a GUI version for Windows with more basis versions available for Macs and Linux. There is another project called SynergyKM that provides a GUI for Macs. Here's how it works:

One computer is the designated server. This is the one that shares its keyboard and mouse with the others. I have my Windows machine setup as the server. On Windows, installation is pretty basic and then once Synergy is fired up, it opens a configuration window. From this window you can choose either to share another computer's keyboard and mouse or you can configure this computer as a server. The key thing to setup is where each display is located. You have to tell the server where each display is relative to the others you will be connected to. For example, in my setup, when I move the mouse to the left edge of the screen on my Windows computer, the mouse jumps over to the right edge of the screen on my Mac and vice versa. When I had initially set it up, I only told the server that my Mac was to the left of my Windows computer. Going from my Windows computer to my Mac worked, but then I couldn't get back to my Windows computer. Make sure you tell it where each display is relative to the one's next to it.

Synergy can be configured to start with Windows or upon login. there are also some other tweakable options governing how long the curser has to be at the edge of the screen before it jumps to the next computer. You'll have to play around with it to figure out what works the best for you. Once the server is running, Synergy will reside in the system tray.

As for setup on my Mac, SynergyKM installs as a preference pane in System Preferences. Since I'm sharing another computer's keyboard and mouse instead of sharing mine, setup really is as simple as specifying the IP address of the server. If you wanted to use your Mac as a server its actually a bit easier than the setup was on Windows because SynergyKM shows an image for each screen and you can drag them around into their proper positions. There is also an option to put a Synergy icon in the menubar for quick access to turn it on and off. You can also save multiple location profiles for if you have a different setup at home and at work.

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