Synergy; one keyboard (and mouse) to rule them all.

Workspace 19 October 2010This is my workspace as of September 2010, notice anything different? Especially compare to the workspace photo from February. No, not the mess. look again.

There’s only one set of keyboard and mouse.

I’m one of those people who have multiple computers next to each other. It’s a sad fact that I just can’t make it on mac alone. I’m addicted to MMO and most MMO games I played don’t support mac, hence my predicament. I always hate having two keyboards on my desk, it seems such a waste of space. I have used KVM before, one which I called my pet tentacles, with so many wires going in and out, and obvious lag in switching, it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

So entered Synergy, a software that let you share keyboard and mouse through LAN connection. No extra hardware needed, all you have to do is installing software (free, opensource) on each computer, set one as a server and the rest as clients, and you’re done, in theory.

In practice, it’s a bit harder than that, just a bit, since the software is still under development. It’s stable enough, but not without problems.

Problem #1 — Mac version doesn’t have GUI.
Synergy 1.3.4 mac, the stable version, doesn’t have GUI (graphical user interface), you have to do everything via terminal, command line, omgsudowtf. Don’t ask me, I don’t touch that thing with ten feet pole unless I really have to.
Solution: SynergyKM. It’s basically just a GUI wrapper for Synergy, I’m a bit perplexed as to why this is not a part of Synergy itself, but I’m not privy to opensource politics. You can use this instead of Synergy, unless you’re adventurous.

problem #2 — LAN network doesn’t see/recognize mac computer name.
Google results showed that it wasn’t just my crappy setup, there’s other people who had this problem also.
Solution: You can use local IP address instead, no biggie, just annoying.

Problem #3 — Mouse doesn’t work in pc games.
A known problem that hopefully will be fixed in future update. I set Mac as a server and PC as a client, which works well except how mouse behaves in PC games, the sensitivity seems to be off and resulting in camera angle swirling around uncontrollably.
Solution: Plug in extra mouse to PC to use with PC game. Cumbersome but just think of it as another controller perhaps?

Problem #4 — Mouse and keyboard doesn’t work with UAC in windows 7.
UAC, a.k.a that annoying admin popup, would stop Synergy client from working and nothing you can do except plugging in mouse/keyboard. A very serious problem that they should really fix, it makes Synergy basically unusable in everyday use.
Solution: Use beta version 1.4.1 seems to fix the problem.

Problem #5 — Scroll lock? What’s scroll lock??
This is either an obvious oversight or an intentional middle finger to mac user. Synergy uses scroll lock button to lock cursor to the current screen. And, get this, mac keyboard doesn’t have scroll lock.
Solution: None that I know of, onscreen keyboard doesn’t seem to work. I’d suggest Synergy comes with full keymapping feature, but I don’t know how feasible that is.

Extra annoyance #1 — When cursor goes over to client computer, the cursor on server computer will be reset to the middle of the screen. I leaned that this is a bug, not a feature, and hopefully will be fixed in future update.

Extra annoyance #2 — You lost the active screen corner shortcut. I normally set up bottom right corner as an expośe shortcut to desktop, and I found myself using it out of habit and wonder why it didn’t work. No big deal but I kinda missed it.

** A special note on Wacom tablet;
No, it doesn’t work with Synergy, at least not the pen mode, nor do I think it should. Best way to deal with Wacom tablet under Synergy setup is to remap the tablet area, set it as portion instead of full, with -10 or -5 pixel off the edge on any side that your Synergy mouse can go over, that way, when you use Wacom tablet, the cursor just won’t go over accidentally.

There’s a few other issues floating around, such as, some key doesn’t work or stops working after a while, modifier keys get stuck, resource hogging, etc. But I haven’t experienced those problems myself (yet?). After using this for about a week I’d say that, overall, it improves my workflow greatly and gaining more desk surface is always a plus.