One Mouse. One Keyboard. Multiple Computers. Synergy.

There are computers everywhere I go.  My laptop goes with me nearly everywhere.  There are other computers at home, at my office and even in my garage.

What that means is I’m using multiple keyboards and multiple pointing devices on a regular basis.  This results in desktops (the physical kind) crowded with monitors, mice and keyboards or laptops.

Synergy is a cross-platform utility that uses the local network (no cloud needed) to connect different computers to one keyboard and one mouse.  Synergy can be set to use encrypted connections, or can be run without encryption if you want.

It doesn’t matter what OS the computers are running.  Right now I’m typing on a computer running Ubuntu 14.04 and I can move my mouse over to my MacBook Pro to my right and manage it as if this keyboard and mouse were physically connected to it.

Synergy (synergy-project.org) really works.

At work I use an iMac running Windows 8.1 to run AutoCAD and Revit.  That machine has two external displays attached to it, one Monoprice  2560×1440 IPS-glass display, and a 1080p Dell monitor. My MacBook Pro sits on the desk to the left and has a 1080p external display attached to it.  I have Synergy running in server mode on the iMac (in Windows), and Synergy running in client mode on the MacBook.  I work on both machines using one Logitech G510 gaming keyboard and a G600 gaming mouse.  It is seamless and smooth.  Every day, all day long.

At home I have this old ASUS laptop running Ubuntu 14.04LTS on a table in my basement.  It’s hooked up to a cheap Westinghouse 1080p TV via VGA as an extra monitor.  I run Synergy in server mode on it.  I put the MacBook on the table, start Synergy in client mode and boom.  I’m in business.

I can copy and paste between machines, which comes in handy on occasion.  The main beauty of this system is it allows me to dedicate processing power to discrete tasks by running multiple computers from one place rather than multitasking on one processor in multiple windows.

As with anything there are limitations.  Synergy does not give you magical powers.

You can’t move a window from your Windows monitor to your Apple monitor.

Sometimes, like when AutoCAD is plotting to a PDF, the server machine’s processor is so busy on one task that the mouse hesitates to move over to the other machine.  If I keep trying, though, in a few seconds it’ll move and then I can go on with what I wanted to do on the second machine while the first one is busy.

Synergy works most smoothly with a wired Ethernet connection.  It will work just fine with on WiFi, but on a really busy network you will notice occasional hesitations in mouse movements, especially when moving your cursor from one machine to another.  I recommend hard-wired Ethernet when possible anyway.  It’s faster and more robust, and less prone to other issues as well, but that’s another story.

If you have any skill at setting up software, and if you use multiple machines at once, you owe it to yourself to give Synergy a try.  I’ve been using it for a few years now, and I’m pretty sure I am hooked for life.

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First Law of Troubleshooting: Assume Nothing

I work with some of my best friends. 

I recently had to help in troubleshooting a system that one of them designed.  That’s when I was reminded of this rule about solving problems involving technical systems.

Everything pointed to what appeared to be an error on my friend’s part.  This seemed so out of character that I at first dismissed the possibility outright.  The more I looked at the way the system was put together, though, the more it seemed my buddy had indeed made a mistake.

The mistake, however, turned out to be mine.

My friend had used a female RJ45 pigtail to facilitate getting his design installed.  What he had on hand was a crossover pigtail.  When I worked through the circuitry hunting for the cause of the problem we were having, I assumed it was a 100BASE-T crossover.  Oranges and Greens swapped.

My friend wasn’t around to consult, so we pushed forward.  After hours of difficulty, another friend (who just happens to also be my employer) showed up on the site and was able to see past my assumption. 

The crossover pigtails were 1000BASE-T (or Gigabit T568B), not 100BASE-T.  All eight conductors swapped.  The difference was the problem.  When I metered the pigtail out, I stopped when my assumption was validated.  I missed my chance to find the problem.  That’s when my assumption became a problem.

We all know what happens when we assume, right? Of course you do.

We waste a lot of time.

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