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Sharing my mouse and keyboard on multiple machines

Whenever I want to do some paid work I have to do this on my laptop. I have a nice (well,┬ásometimes we argue) 17″ laptop with a screen resolution of 1440*900 which is fast enough to run all the software I need (although Vim does play up at times…). The reason I have to use my laptop for this is because it has a VPN client configured, network drive mappings and some other stuff related to my job.

I unfortunately only have 1 decent workplace at home to comfortably work at and it’s occupied by my desktop PC, its keyboard, mouse and a Full-HD 24″ monitor. Sure, I can get work done from the couch and there’s also a small table in the living room, but both aren’t really comfortable spots to work for a longer time. Besides, working at a Full-HD resolution gives me more space to work with than when I’m on a 1440*900 resolution. So my aim was to find a solution on how to share my mouse and keyboard on multiple machines.

Since my 24″ monitor had a spare HDMI input and my laptop has a HDMI output I wanted to connect my laptop to the 24″ monitor through HDMI. VGA and DVI weren’t an option for me since those were already occupied (VGA by my Xbox 360, DVI by my desktop PC). The added benefit from using HDMI would be having the sound from my laptop through the┬áspeakers of my 24″ monitor.

After searching for a couple of hours I couldn’t find any nice hardware solution. Sure, KVM cables with 2 USB connectors for your mouse and keyboard are available, but also come with VGA connections which, as far as I’ve been told, have to be used for it to function. Other dedicated hardware for sharing 1 USB device with 2 or 4 computers also exist, but meant I had to buy 2 of them.

Having wasted a couple of hours I finally gave up on it. A couple of days later I remembered a software solution existed as well. Within a couple of minutes on Google I found what I was searching for: a project called Synergy. Synergy is a very nice piece of software, which you can get for free, is open-source (GPL) and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OSX.

Basically you’ll install Synergy on all systems you want to use your keyboard and mouse on (yes, systems, it supports multiple systems!). You run a server instance on the system which has the keyboard and mouse connected you want to use. The other systems simply run a client instance. When connected you can move from one computer to the other by simply moving the mouse to the other computer. Added benefit is that if you copy something to your clipboard on PC 1 and move the mouse to PC 2 the clipboard its content is available on that system as well!

My only complaint with it is that the initial setup was a bit confusing. It does have a graphical user interface but if you’re not used to the software it’s hard to figure out how to configure it. Another more annoying issue I’ve run into was that at some time Synergy (or my OS) switched keyboard language which couldn’t be changed. Only solution for that was to reconnect the client.

Aside from that I’m very happy with this solution. I can now do my paid work behind my 24″ monitor using the keyboard and mouse that are connected to my desktop PC. So all I have to do now is connect my laptop to my monitor through HDMI, start the Synergy server and client and change the display input on my monitor to see my laptop’s desktop.

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