My setup at home is perhaps a little… unconventional. I run Windows 8 (well, technically I’m on Windows 8.1, but I’m in denial about the whole thing) on my gaming PC dead in front and a 2010 MacBook Pro on a Twelvesouth Hi-Rise stand to the left. I use a Filco clicky keyboard, a boring Logitech mouse and a Dell 24-inch monitor.
It looks like this:
For anyone who’s run two systems side by side, you might think there’s a hidden KVM switch lurking somewhere in the shadows. A handy little switcher box so I can easily flip between screens & operating systems.
Well, the sad truth of it is that that I have never bothered. I’ve just basically made do with what I have, and that’s always involved manually switching around DVI and USB cables like a jerk.
Until about two weeks ago when I discovered Synergy.
Synergy is a keyboard-and-mouse sharing application that you can install across your Windows boxes, your Macs and even your Linux boxes, and provides multi-monitor-like functionality. That is, you move your mouse to the edge of your PC screen, and then it jumps all the way across to your Mac without missing a beat. Your keyboard switches instantly to the new computer as well.
Here’s a quick video I made to show you what I mean.
Pretty wild, right?
Synergy is free, and an open-source project that takes donations as well as a premium version. The premium version is a pay-what-you-want edition, and provides a few extra niceties like drop-and-drop file transfer & clipboard sharing. I haven’t bothered upgrading yet, but I’m getting so much use out of it I think the developers deserve a little sumpin’ sumpin’.
The idea is that you set up the computer with your keyboard and mouse plugged in as the server, and the other machines as clients. The simplest way to set up a server is to have a static IP, and then have your client machines connect to that IP. That’s how I did it, anyway.
Why is my PC called Hector Salamanca? Well, there’s probably a nerdy Breaking Bad joke in that somewhere.
Once your server is up and running, you have to specify each outside client and how they’re going to sit in configuration on the server. This is the most fiddly bit of the set up process but also allows you to specify exactly where your machines sit relative to one another.
Here’s what it looks like on my client Mac:
Once it’s all ready to go, it can simply start up at login and run in the background, which means you’ll probably never have to look at it again.
So, does it work as advertised?
Well, for the most part, yes.
I must confess; it wasn’t all flowers and sunshine at first. I had to do a little fiddling with my Alt/Ctrl/Command key configuration to get it exactly the way I wanted, and I still can’t seem to find a way to middle-click on the client Mac, which is pretty annoying for a compulsive middle-click Chrome-tab opener/closer like myself. Sadly, forums seem to suggest this is a long-standing issue.
However, apart from those little niggles, I really can’t complain. I’ve found myself with a second screen for the first time in ages, which also happens to be a completely independent computer. I’ll also put in a plug for Dropbox (as if you don’t have it already), which is very sweet in this situation, and makes sharing files across the two computers trivial.