Mar 9, 2008

Synergy lives up to its name - a software KVM

Grokking a software KVM requires you know that with a normal KVM you can share a single Keyboard, Video monitor and Mouse among multiple computers (I did not make up this acroynm so don't blame me). With a normal KVM you buy a box and attach all the cabling and that's it. Very useful in a server room or anywhere desktop space is limited. If you have to constantly use both computers it's a little bit of a pain as you have to hit a switch or a keyboard sequence to switch back and forth and you can't look at what's on both screens at once.

If you have two monitors what you really want is a software (or virtual) KVM. (Ok really it's just a KM because you aren't sharing the V) . A virtual KM lets you share a keyboard and mouse between two computers. It does this little trick with NO HARDWARE. You switch computers by moving your mouse from one monitor to the other. The first time you do this it feels like magic. You can even copy and paste between the two computers. This is much cooler than it may sound (well depending on how big a geek you are and how many computers you have). Oh and did I mention the software is free.
I have a Mac at home and I use a PC laptop at work. I wanted to work at home (hey I'm a programmer what can I say) but I'm spoiled by the 20" monitor at work. I now have a large monitor for home, however the little home desk was feeling pretty cramped with a laptop dock, two monitors, two keyboards and two mice. The wife was not happy.
Enter the virtual KM. I installed SynergyKM on my Mac and it appears as a new system preference. I installed the .exe for Synergy on Windows and a few clicks and I was set. Now the laptop dock sits way off to the left on the filing cabinet and the single keyboard and mouse are centered between two larger monitors. Switching between computers requires nothing but sliding the mouse
to the left until it goes onto my PC monitor. I slide it to the right and I'm back operating my Mac. Now the wife still isn't happy but I can't understand why, having three monitors spanning the width of the bedroom looks pretty awesome if you ask me. Maybe if I switch to that hunk-a-day screen saver she'll come around.
The only special information you need to get the software working is the host name for each computer. There are multiple ways to find this, one is to use the terminal window on a Mac and a DOS prompt on Windows and type hostname and hit enter. Once you have the names of each computer follow the directions that come with the software. It really is that easy. The only hiccup I had was my firewall on the Mac was blocking the port. But the software even told me that it was happening. I just went to the Sharing system preference, clicked on the Firewall tab, clicked New and allowed port 24800.
I'm using Synergy as I write this blog. I took both screenshots on each computer and then edited this blog on both computers at the same time and uploaded the pictures from the local drive.
I've also used various remote desktop software packages (VNC, Timbuktu, Remote Desktop etc) and they can also be great but since I had the extra monitor and the monitor is a thin flat panel and sits at the back of the desk this solution is perfect for me. I imagine it will work for a lot of other people too, both at the office and home. In fact when I get to the office, I'm going to install it on my other PC and ditch a keyboard and mouse from that desk (even though it's much larger it's very convenient to just use one keyboard and mouse. The only thing I don't understand is how this technology has flown under my radar for a couple of years. I guess when you give software away for free you don't spend a whole bunch of money to promote it. That or I should start paying more attention.

About Me

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Tod Gentille (@todgentille) is now a Curriculum Director for Pluralsight. He's been programming professionally since well before you were born and was a software consultant for most of his career. He's also a father, husband, drummer, and windsurfer. He wants to be a guitar player but he just hasn't got the chops for it.