Create a Windows, Mac, Linux Super Computer Using Synergy

This tutorial will show you how to use Synergy to Control Multiple Computers with One Keyboard and Mouse

synergy11 Create a Windows, Mac, Linux Super Computer Using Synergy

OVERVIEW: You will learn how to use Synergy, a free software application to control multiple computers with one keyboard and mouse. These computers can all be running different operating systems.

What Is Synergy?

Synergy is an open source software application used for sharing a single keyboard and mouse between multiple computers. One user can control several computers in the same physical area, with a monitor connected to each. The “server” software runs on the computer with the keyboard and mouse connected and the “client” software runs on the computers that are being controlled. Synergy can run on all of the popular operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX) at the same time. This means that you can move your cursor from your Windows desktop to control a Mac, and a Linux machine without batting an eye.


Why I Use Synergy

I constantly need to use and document applications in Windows, Mac, and Linux environments. This requires me to have at least one machine set up running each of those operating systems. I currently have three laptops on the desk in my office running each of those systems. Synergy allows me to line them up next to each other and use my mouse to bounce back and forth between them as if I was using a single, very diverse computer. The best part of it is that there is a common clipboard that allows me to copy pictures and text from any machine and paste it on any other machine, as if I was pasting from MS Word to PowerPoint on the same computer. (Regardless of which operating systems.) I could also see this being powerful for someone running a computer room at a data center.

Getting Synergy on your Computers

If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming that this sound kind of interesting to you. Well, enough sales, let’s see how to make it happen. Start off by downloading and installing the software on all of your machines. FYI – there are a few different variations of the Synergy software/project available, but they all play fairly well together, so just pick one that you’re happy with.

Windows: Synergy, Synergy-Plus, Synergy KM, Quick Synergy

Mac: Synergy, Synergy-Plus, Synergy KM, Quick Synergy

Linux: Go to your distribution’s Applications installer, then search for and install Synergy and Quick Synergy. (Synergy is the service and Quick Synergy is the GUI that let’s you configure the service.)

The steps differ slightly based on the specific software installed on each operating system, but the concepts are the same. I will include links for each application’s specific instructions below.

Configuring Synergy

Once you have the software installed on all of your machines, you are ready to begin configuring your systems. The biggest decision is which computer will have the keyboard and mouse physically connected. This will probably be based on some sort of unique personal preferences. The computer with the keyboard and mouse physically connected will be the “Server”.

synergy server config1 Create a Windows, Mac, Linux Super Computer Using Synergy

Before you go any further, find the Internal IP Address and Computer Name of all of the machines that you are going to control.

Configuring the Server (Computer sharing its keyboard and mouse)

You need to tell the server which computers it is going to be controlling and where they will be physically located (to the left, right, above, diagonally above, etc.).

Enter the computer names of each machine and place them where they belong. As you can see in the image below, I have three computers set up, with “christopher” in the center, “Laptop” on the left, and “cm-mac” on the right.

synergy computer layout1 Create a Windows, Mac, Linux Super Computer Using Synergy

The interface will look slightly different on each OS, but they are conceptually alike.

Configuring the Clients (Computers “borrowing” the Server’s keyboard)

Now that your server knows about the other clients and where they are located, you need to tell the clients to allow the server to take control of them.

Select the Use Another Computer’s Keyboard and Mouse option on the client machine. Then, add in the Server’s Internal IP Address. If you set a password on the Server, enter it on each client machine. (Use the Advanced button below.)

synergy client configuration1 Create a Windows, Mac, Linux Super Computer Using Synergy

Once you have your client(s) configured, click the Start button to give control to the Server’s keyboard and mouse. That’s it! Now, just move your cursor across the edge of your monitor onto the next machine. The cursor will instantly start to move on the client machine and anything that you type will be happening on the client machine. If you want, you can select and copy text on that machine and then move your cursor to one of the other machines and paste it in seamlessly. Pretty cool and simple, right?

See Synergy in Action

The following video shows how to configure Synergy to share a keyboard across Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. It also shows you a simple example of what you can do once you have everything set up.

Alternatives

There are of course a several available options for working with multiple operating systems. I actually do use a few of them when the situation lends itself, but none of them give you the most power and features of each OS all at the same time. Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives and their pros and cons.

OptionDescriptionToolsProsCons
VNCVirutal Network Computing- Use VNC to remotely connect to and control other computers (typically not in the same physical location).Chicken of the VNC, RealVNC, Remote Desktop Protocol, TightVNC, UltraVNC, Virtual private network, X Window System, X11vnc,  Comparison of remote desktop softwareCan connect from anywhere in the world.
Uses very little resources on either machine.
Can’t copy and paste between machines.
Multiple computers share one monitor’s space.
Can be a “glitchy” user experience.
Virtual MachineThis creates additional “virtual” computers on a computer so that multiple computers and operating systems can run on the same machine.Parallels, VMware Fusion, VirtualBox, Windows Virtual PCYou only need to have one machine.
Cheap and space efficient.
Puts a HEAVY bourdon on your computer.
Physical and Virtual systems run slow.
Two machines sharing one monitor’s space.
Takes up a lot of one machine’s hard drive.
Dual Boot/Multi BootPartition the hard drive on one computer so that multiple operating systems can be installed. When the machine is started, you can select which operating system to “boot”.Boot Camp (Mac), Dual BootRuns at the machine’s full speed.Can’t work simultaneously on multiple OS’s.
Too much time watching the rebooting screens.
Takes up a lot of one machine’s hard drive.

What are your thoughts?

What do you do when you need to work on multiple machines and operating systems? Please let me know in the comments. If you have a cool solution, I would love to feature it in a future article.

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  • Purvez

    Christopher Thanks very much for the great post. Very well laid out and explained. Please can you tell me whether Synergy will support multiple monitors per computer? I have 3 laptops (2 x Ubuntu + 1 x Windows) and they all have an extra monitor each (so 6 screens). Could I set up Synergy as 1 server + 2 clients and will it recognise that the edges of the ‘double’ screens? Have you tried this all?
    All advice gratefully received.

    Purvez

    • http://www.vitamincm.com Christopher Masiello

      Purvez,

      Yes, you can have multiple monitors on one or more of the machines in your setup. The tool allows you to say if the monitors are next to each other or top and bottom or a combination.

      Hope this was helpful.
      Chris

  • Steffi

    I tried Synergy on an iMac and a Windows7 machine, but found that the keyboard sharing only worked for two keystrokes then dropped. Uninstalled it all and tried to install SynergyKM but couldn’t find it for the Windows machine. So far, it’s not working out great. Have you run into something like this before?

    • http://www.vitamincm.com Christopher Masiello

      @Steffi – Yeah, it’s kinda flakey at times.