Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Power User: Controlling multiple computers from one

Many of us have gotten used to having multiple monitors on your computer - simply drag your mouse off the edge of one screen and onto the other.  Administrators have for years been using "KVM" switches - Keyboard/Video/Mouse switches - to share keyboards and mice across computers.

However, the day finally arrived I have been dreading for years.  The little monitor I've had on my desktop for some 15 years finally died - and I no longer had an external monitor.  So, in searching for a solution that would allow me to use another computer across the network as a monitor, I came across a free, open-source utility called Synergy, that basically makes multiple computers behave like a single one with multiple monitors.  The most beautiful things about this software, are:
  • It works across platform - Windows, Mac and Linux
  • It supports clipboards - so I spent several hours today taking screen shots with Snag-It on a Windows machine, and pasting into Word on the Mac
  • It is fast and reliable
  • A simple setup dialog allows you to control the screen positions (e.g. dragging off the right edge of WIN001 goes to MAC005)
The machine you want to use the keyboard and mouse on, you set up as the server (check Server and then Start).  The others are clients.  You must add each machine by name to the server before you try to connect from it, this provides a bit of security for you.

The project is free and open source, but if you do end up using it, I highly recommend that you donate to support the software.

I did find a commercial utility that allows you to use another Windows PC as a monitor, but that to me seems wasteful - and I do not want more than one Windows machine at home.

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