Ever since I left university and started in my first job, I have always used multiple machines simultaneously. I have always had a need to having processes/tasks running that I can visually monitor while working on other things. I also have a complete hatred for drowning in Alt-Tab-ness. That feeling you get when you have so many windows open, Alt-Tab-ing through them all can be a nightmare. So I have Email and test environments up on one computer and my development environments and shells up on another. It just works for me.
The result of this way of working, is that you end up wit a collection of keyboards and mice on your desk... "What about KVM's?" I hear you cry.... Well, they do work, but they are not cheap and sometimes switching backwards and forwards between 2 machines can be a pain, so multiple keyboards have there uses, but for the bulk of the time a KVM will work, until the KVM fails... However, the suitability of KVM's and my struggles at using single machines is not what this blog is about. It is about a rather nifty piece of software I found while trying to investigate how I could use my Apple bluetooth keyboard and Magic Pad with my Ubuntu Linux laptop (another reason I was not looking at KVM's :-P)
It seems that they will both connect to my laptop and function brilliantly, however, disconnecting the bluetooth connection from my MacMini than establishing the connection on my laptop and vice-versa is stupidly clunky and not practical. So I started searching for ways to "share bluetooth keyboards and mice across multiple computers" and found a few solutions that seemed to suggest they would do the job, but all failed, either because they just did not work or they would not work on multiple platforms, but then I found Synergy (http://synergy-foss.org/ï»¿)
To quote their website:
Synergy lets you easily share your mouse and keyboard between multiple computers on your desk.
- Supported on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
- Simply move your mouse to any computer and start typing.
- Copy and paste between all of your computers.
- Encryption keeps sensitive data safe on public networks.
- Save space on your desktop by using one keyboard and mouse.
- All you need is a network connection (no extra cables).
- Synergy is free and open source, and always will be!
I installed Synergy 1.4.12 on my Mac and configured it as the server (as it is the Apple keyboard and Magic Pad I want to share) and then installed the Ubuntu version from the repository, but it would not connect! :( Not to be put off, I downloaded the .deb file from the Synergy website and tried installing that. I chose to ignore the warning that Ubuntu gave me that the package was poorly built. Once launched, I pointed it at the server and wow, I can now move my pointer from one computer to the other without any key presses or buttons on a KVM being pressed, it just works seamlessly.
Bonus Feature: For years I have used Dropbox or a network shared file to get round the inability to copy and paste from one machine to the other, say from a browser with the missing command to the machine that has the ssh connection. I have even resorted to VNC or RDP to get round the problem. All of which are slow. However, Synergy has the ability to syncronise the clipboads, so I can now copy a bit of text from one machine to another very easily. (I know this is 3rd on the list of features above, but I suppose I didn't believe it lol.)
The only irritant I have found so far is to do with 2 key presses that do not work. The first is the @ symbol which is Shift+2 on my Mac keyboard but results in the Ω symbol appearing on my linux machine. I can however, copy and paste this from my Mac to the linux machine thanks to the Bonus Feature or I can reach across to my laptop and hit the @ key. The second is more of a Mac keyboard issue than a Synergy issue and that is the # symbold with is Option+3 and as that keyp press translates to Alt+3 under linux, there is not way to print the # symbol without copying and pasting or once again, reaching over to my laptop and hitting the appropiate ke directly.
I still have 2 keyboards (technically 3 as I have an extenal one on the laptop), for those time when one of the machines is locked out performing an intensive task, but even with the 2 key press irritants this past week has been amazing and I would recomend that if you are like me, that you head over to there website and download it.