Enterprise Software

Use Synergy for smarter desktop sharing

VNC is great for remote desktops when the VNC server is actually in another location. But when you are desktop sharing between machines sitting on the same desk, there is a smarter way to do things -- Synergy, a software KVM switch.

Synergy has been around for a long time; it's been forked, abandoned and reunited. Fair to say that it's done the lot in that regard.

The reason why I'm using Synergy over other, newer software KVMs like Input Director is simple —- Synergy is cross-platform. This allows me to jump between OS X, Windows and Linux screens to my heart's content.

Set-up is as easy as heading to the Synergy's download page and grabbing your system's download, or using your OS package manager where appropriate.

Once that is completed, Synergy's configuration file needs to be created and customised on the machine to which the master keyboard and mouse are connected; this machine will be the Synergy server.

Windows users get the benefit of a GUI, which is far from the prettiest interface ever created, but it gets the job done.

Mac OS X users can use a third-party GUI, or join Linux users in having to write the configuration file by hand.

The file itself is quite straightforward. Here's the one I used to link a Linux server to a Windows client:

#suggest using hostnames for screen names

section: screens




section: aliases


#add ip here


#add ip here


#configuration of screen placements

section: links


right = WinTest-PC


left = notubuntu


A configuration like this one should get you up and running. There are more options available, such as the one you can see in the above picture where modifier keys can be rebound —- an important feature for Mac OS X users.

If you cannot get the client and server to communicate, be sure to check that your server machine's firewall has port 24800 open to avoid scratching one's head for a few minutes. I'd also recommend that you use the machine's proper hostnames in the configuration file rather than rely on aliases. If that fails, you can always look at the logs in Windows by right-clicking the icon in the systray and choosing "Show Log". On OS X and Linux, you can tell Synergy to log to a file with the -l switch, or use -f to have it stay in the foreground. Having the first run of Synergy running in the foreground is a good way to diagnose problems.

One feature I have not mentioned yet but quite like is the clipboard-sharing feature, which is handy when testing web pages for cross-platform compatibility.

Once you have a set-up you are happy with, you can autostart Synergy to never touch a client's keyboard or mouse again nor reach out to hit a physical KVM switch.

Do you use Synergy on your local network or do you use other solution?

About Chris Duckett

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

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