There was a time when a single monitor was all that was available. There were no consumer supported dual-head video cards and using multiple monitors wasn’t even considered a necessity… Never mind an option. Remember the amount of maximum RAM your typical computer used and the processors back in the mid to late 90’s? Multitasking was more an exercise in patience and time management, not swapping back and forth from one application to another.
Then, slowly, things changed. Hyper-threading processors and motherboards supporting higher bandwidth and faster and cheaper RAM all meant you could do more and with less downtime. Like switching from one application to another.
There was a problem then of course, which quickly became evident. With the faster processors, programs became more complex and bigger monitors were needed to allow for more workspace. Resolutions typical of the 15” or 17” jumped from 640×480 to 800×600. Add a video card and a 19” and you were running at 1024×768. Then came the 21”!
Back when you needed to get an AGP and a comparable PCI card to support dual monitors, these days, ‘Dualing’ is as easy as buying a consumer dual-head video card and plugging in two monitors. Done!
A multi-monitor workspace has become the mainstream if you’re working with multiple applications at once or working over a network.
What about a multi-computer environment?
Say you have more than one computer and you want to work on both? Well it used to be that your only option was a KVM switch. Yup, a Keyboard, Video and Mouse box that shared all three of the peripherals with two or more computers. Want to work on computer ‘Y’, switch the KVM over to computer ‘Y’ and the keyboard, monitor and mouse all switched over to that computer. Want to work on computer ‘Z’? Switch the KVM to computer ‘Z’. It wasn’t elegant but it was functional. You couldn’t, of course, share documents or applications or copy and paste from computer ‘Y’ to ‘Z’ but it wasn’t about that, really.
That was then… This is now.
Let’s merge the KVM and the dual-head video card into a TCP/IP KVM and make it a program. This program will allow you to share one keyboard and one mouse between as many computers as you want, and they all have their own monitors. Single, dual, triple, quad… What have you.
Yes, there are several option these days for such a program, but I’m going to focus on one that is cross platform compatible (for all you Mac and Linux lovers), free and open-source!
It’s called Synergy.
Synergy allows you to do is take your multi-computer environment and connect them together to a host computers mouse and keyboard (KM). Your mouse is then free to move across the screen to the other computer screens and your single keyboard is available to all of them.
What is ideal here is the fact that, even if you do use a dual-head video card on your computers (and say you have three which would effectively give you six monitors), Synergy can connect them all. Which is great! It’s one thing to have, say, dual-head triple-SLI on one computer and have six monitors setup, it is another thing completely to have three dual-head computers with two monitors each. What’s the difference? Well, it’s the difference between three computers and one.
So how do you know if it’s for you?
Do you have a desktop and a laptop? Well Synergy can connect your laptop monitor to the desktop and have the two computers independent from each other, share the KM of your desktop. No more swinging back and forth between each mouse and each keyboard.
Do you work on a Mac or run Linux on one computer and have Windows on another? No problem, Synergy works on all three and can share the KM between them all.
So that’s the Upside. The Downside-
Although you can copy and paste text data from one computer to another, you can’t drag and drop files or span windows or programs.Some other programs allow for this functionality, but, they aren’t free.
The last update was in 2006 and there are still a few bugs.
Although the author still posts on their forums from time to time and has hopes for adding new features, it is apparent that the program has hit the wall and any future updates or expanded functionality might likely never see the light of day. However there is an upside to this Downside.
Synergy is open source. So should you be capable and see fit to make changes or add functionality, you’re free to do so.
Synergy has become an essential addition to my workspace. All my computers are tied together (desktop, server and laptop ((five monitors)) and I don’t think I could go on without it now. My entire workspace is built around the added functionality that Synergy allows and should the developer ever decide to pick it back up and release a new version, believe me, I’ll be first in line!
Get Your Monitors On!