Catherine Uses Synergy+

Posted by & filed under Apple, Catherine Uses..., Productivity, Usability.

Purpose:Two Computers, One Keyboard
Price:Free (Open source, GPL)
Platform:Mac OS X, Windows, Linux

How often do you find yourself in front of your two computers, forgetting which mouse belongs to which, transferring files via FTP or USB flash drive, moaning in agony as you save the contents of your clipboard on one computer to a file in order to transfer it to the other? Exactly: all the time!

Well, no more!

Thanks to the magic of Synergy, I’ve been safely controlling two computers with a single keyboard and mouse for the past six years. After three years without active development, a group of developers have taken it upon themselves to create a successor fork, Synergy+, where they have been patching bugs and adding new features since 2009.

So far, Synergy+ has improved upon the original by adding a new GUI, as well as HTML and image support to the clipboard. The latter is not yet supported on Mac OS X, but that’s on its way–they promise.

How is Synergy+ different from a KVM or A/B switch? Simple: it’s all software. Just install Synergy+ on all your computers, make sure they’re connected over the network, and away you go.

I use Synergy+ on a daily basis. My primary computer, a 15″ MacBook Pro, drives a 24″ monitor. To its left is a 22″ monitor, rotated vertically, and connected to my Windows XP box. To switch between computers, I just move my mouse pointer to the edge of the screen and onto the monitor next to it. Synergy transfers my keyboard and mouse inputs instantly to the other computer.

While I’ve kept my PC around solely to test site designs on Internet Explorer, I’ve recently discovered a new benefit to using Synergy. Rather than run a scattering of applications on each machine, I’ve divided up my tasks, using my Mac for development, running Photoshop, Firefox and TextMate, and relegating everything else–IRC, instant messaging, Twitter, downloads, and streaming–to my XP box. By limiting which computer handles which tasks, I can maintain shared control over two discrete workspaces: one where I only do work, and another where I’m only dealing with distractions. It’s worked out quite well, both for my productivity, as well as my CPU load.

If you find yourself needing some extra desktop space or more RAM, maybe you’re asking yourself the wrong question. What do you really want to be able to do? If the answer is “run more stuff in more space”, Synergy can be a great way to get some extra use out of that old computer you have sitting in your closet.

Download Synergy+.

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