Use Multiple Desktops with Synergy

Somebody at SXSW told me about this but I totally forget who it was now. Whoever you are, thank you!

Synergy lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems without special hardware. It's intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own display.”

To the left of me is my Mac, to the right of me is my Windows 98 machine and in front of me is my Windows XP machine. Now I can just move my mouse cursor over to the other machines like I had multiple desktops. I can copy and paste URL's. This is super-handy for doing cross-platform testing. This thing even supports Linux but I usually just ssh into that machine. It's only about a megabyte in size. It's just fun to play with! My only peeve is (of course) the usability of the application. Assigning screens and setting up the clients could certainly be more intuitive but it still only took a couple minutes to set things up.

This is one of those utilities that I'd pay for. What a bonus that it's free!

Published March 22, 2006 · Updated September 14, 2006
Categorized as Other
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Nathan Logan said on March 22, 2006

A good friend of mine uses that software, and even though I had already read about it, it was pretty amazing to actually see it work. I'm blown away by how fluid it is - it's as smooth as if it was one machine with two monitors.

I'm glad you found it and are promoting it.

Taylor Hughes said on March 22, 2006

I've been using Synergy for about 6 months now; it's absolutely amazing. Getting the clients set up wasn't exactly easy, but now that it's working I can't live without it. I even set up a little Automator task to get it started when I start the Mac.

For some reason, though, using my Mac as the host, I lose numpad functionality when I switch over to Windows. And occasionally clipboard functionality isn't always 100%.

Seems like a little more Mac development is needed, but it's still a mind-blowing tool.

Jeff L said on March 22, 2006

Yeah, it's definitely good stuff! I just wrote about it a few days ago as well.

Karl Swedberg said on March 22, 2006

I'm in love with Synergy! I've been using it ever since last June when I brought home my first iMac, which now competes for (physical) desktop space with my aging Dell laptop.

Synergy is like magic. Even my non-geek friends are blown away by it when I show them how I can seamlessly go back and forth between the two machines.

Pat Allan said on March 23, 2006

The thing I find absolutely brilliant about Synergy is the shared clipboard - cutting something from one machine, and pasting it on another.

Shared keyboard and mouse is great, Shared clipboard takes it to a whole 'nother level.

Grant Palin said on March 23, 2006

I've read about Synergy before, it sounds like a useful product. I haven't used it since I only have one computer. But if I ever have multiple computers side by side, I'll have to remember this software.

Just curious, how is it that the mouse and keyboard can go from one computer to another? I assume they would be hooked up to one computer, then the software does something to allow transfer of control. Over a network maybe? Anyone know?

Pat Allan said on March 23, 2006

Grant - one computer functions as a server, the rest as clients, connecting over the network.

It essentially maps the desktops together - move the cursor off the edge of one screen, it appears on the next.

said on March 23, 2006

Yup I love synergy - just started using it again recently... I have to agree with the setup. Although I had previously used synergy it took me a while to mess around with the screen positions before i got it right!

My only other peeve, is that if you hit save on something intensive, you then have to wait before it will let you cross screens with the mouse.

Ron Lusk said on March 23, 2006

I use Synergy on a dual-head Linux machine and my Win2k PC. On occasion, I'll have a laptop above the right-hand of the twin heads, and another to the right of the Windows box. (See my blog entry and the photo with it (way too big, I'm afraid)).

  • With dual-heads (on Linux, at least), you have to start synergys (the server component) from the screen you want to navigate from: in the photo, I start Synergy on the right-hand screen; going off the top of that screen gets to a laptop perched on the PC system box; to the right goes to the Win2k machine (with the Pipes screensaver); to the right off the Win PC goes to another laptop (not in the photo either). Strange things happened when I started synergys from the left-hand screen.
  • I've installed the Synergy client as a Windows service. This way, I can use <kbd>Ctrl-Alt-Pause</kbd> on the Linux keyboard and it is mapped to <kbd>Ctrl-Alt-Delete</kbd>, allowing me to log in and to lock the Win workstation. You can't do this unless Synergy is running as a service.
  • Yes, once in a while something hangs up, and either the Synergy server or the Win client dies. Given the ease of use, I can live with it.
Jeff J. Snider said on March 23, 2006

My father-in-law emailed me about this a few months ago, but I never got around to installing it. I sure am I got around to it today. It is amazing, and I love it. I ran into a few issues when I was getting it set up, but this tutorial really helped a lot.

Richard said on March 23, 2006

I installed it today on the strngth of this post, and I love it! I've been looking for a solution like this for a while. Thanks!

Tyler Brownell said on March 28, 2006

Awesome. I'll have to try this out.

Hans Leyten said on March 30, 2006

SynergyKM is a little Mac program that provides a GUI for connecting. It makes Synergy fairly easy to ease.

Check it out here

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.