08 Nov 2007 In Praise of Synergy
lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware
We’re working on a Rails app at Shine that we need to test on both Internet Explorer 6 and 7. Furthermore, developing Rails kind of sucks on Windows (which is another story I promise that I’ll go into some other time), so I develop on a Mac. So I actually have 3 PCs on my desk – my laptop (which runs IE 6 and contains all my mail), an iMac, and another PC that runs IE 7. Running them all from different keyboards and mice would be a nightmare. So I hooked ’em all together using Synergy.
Now I know that I could run Parallels to get IE 7 running on the Mac, but the IE 7 PC wasn’t being used so I figured I’d just grab that – I really couldn’t be bothered setting up Parallels and on some Macs it can even be kind of slow. I also know that it’s even possible to run IE 6 and 7 on the same machine, but again, given that I had a spare box, I couldn’t be bothered doing that either. And once again, why should I be bothered when I can just hook ’em up using Synergy?
I first experienced the magic of Synergy thanks to Matt. He was running it across a Macbook Pro and a desktop PC. And I had that weird moment everybody gets when they see Synergy in action for the first time: did that guy just move his mouse pointer from one machine to the other? Did text typed into his Macbook keyboard just appear on that Windows box? What’s going on?
You gasp, you search for the hidden cables…but there are none: Synergy works across your local network. Latency is hardly ever an issue. Heck, my laptop’s wireless and it works well most of the time via that. Sometimes it can be a bit annoying if the network drops for a second, but the vast majority of the time it just works. Just a little bit of configuration when you set it all up, and then off you go.
And the best thing about Synergy? It’s free. There hasn’t been a new release since April 2006, but who cares? It works. It’s one of those weird apps (kind of like PuTTY) that is free and hasn’t changed much lately, but I still use it every day.
Then there’s the pixels: lots of pixels. If you’re a pixel junkie like me, the more screen space you have, the happier you are. And Synergy lets you take your pixel habit way beyond the standard dual-head graphics card. Three machines and monitors on your desk? With Synergy they all become one big pseudo-desktop. Not only does it make for easy testing between multiple platforms and browsers; now I can browse the web on one machine and check my mail on the other whilst developing on the Mac. Cutting and pasting between machines is generally limited to text only, but it still makes for a pretty cool setup.
Finally, if you’ve got machines with dual-head cards and multiple monitors, you can use those too. My current record is 4 monitors – 3 machines, one running dual-head – until one of the monitors was confiscated to give to somebody else (admittedly they were far more deserving than me). In theory you probably have at least 10 – although at that stage people might start to look at you funny. But who cares what other people think when you’re staring at pixel nirvana? (although sensory overload may become an issue :).
So if you need to test across multiple platforms and/or you’ve got spare machines and monitors sitting around, harness the power and the pixels: Try Synergy. You won’t be sorry.