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Synergy – free mouse/keyboard sharing across operating systems

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

-Arthur Clarke

I love technology.  I especially love discovering and using technology that makes me more productive.  I’m writing about a piece of software called Synergy that allows you to use one mouse and keyboard to control multiple computers, each of which may be running different operating systems.  In my case, my primary display is for my Mac, and a secondary display off to the right is connected to a Windows PC.  Previously, any time I needed to use the Windows machine I had to unplug the USB cable powering the keyboard/mouse combo and physically plug it into the windows machine.  (Alternatively I could have bought an extra keyboard and mouse and had to juggle with the physical hardware.) If I needed to transfer text (e.g. a sourcecode snippet) from one machine to the other, I would have to resort to shuttling files or e-mailing it to myself.

By using Synergy, the mouse no longer stops at the right edge of my Mac display.  Instead, the cursor continues to move to the right, onto the Windows desktop.  Suddenly both your mouse and keyboard control the PC.  If you copy text from a file on Windows and revert to controlling the Mac by moving the cursor back to the left, the text is in your Mac clipboard.

That’s not to say that Synergy is perfect.  The main problem is that certain key combinations on the Windows side do not transfer correctly.  For instance, Ctrl + Alt + Delete is pretty necessary in Windows land, but pressing those keys does not trigger the corresponding action.  The Synergy FAQ page has this issue at the very top, but none of the workarounds work for me.  I’ve noticed the following keys do not get sent over correctly:

Key combo Description
Ctrl Alt Delete Bring up task manager
Print screen Take a screen shot of desktop
Windows + Any other key (Windows L = Lock, Windows D = show desktop/hide all windows)

Other limitations I’ve seen are as follows:

  • Pasting is limited to plain text (e.g. you can’t copy an image from one computer to the other).
  • You can’t drag and drop files between the screens (this would be awesome); instead best workaround I can find is to have a networked folder accessible to both computers and use it as a dropbox to ferry around files.  It’s a bit kludgy but it works.

Each computer will need to install the software and be accessible on the same network.  The computer into which the mouse and keyboard are plugged should be the Server.  Each of the computers that you wish to control via the mouse and keyboard need to be running the Client software and connect to the server, and the server needs a configuration file which tells it how the screens are physically located (which computer is to the left of which, which is above, etc.)

Finally, there’s a bit of work you need to do to get it to work on windows vista/ 7 – see here for the details.

This is a really great piece of free software, and it allows me to do my job more effectively.  I hope you find it useful as well.

  1. Kevin
    January 9, 2011 at 5:20 am

    I tried it but the configuration was so tedious and complicated, I switched to MaxiVista that also allows me to borrow the screen of the second PC if I want more desktop space.

  1. November 11, 2010 at 11:07 am

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