Ivor O’Connor

April 4, 2009

Switching Computers Via A Keystroke

Filed under: Synergy — Tags: , , — ioconnor @ 2:13 pm

I use Synergy to run multiple computers all with one mouse and keyboard. It is free and works with all operating systems. The monitors are set next to each other so they look like one computer. In other words when the mouse moves off the edge of one monitor it shows up on the edge of the next monitor as if it were one screen. Even though the monitors are attached to separate computers. Using low cost laptops stacked on each other, separated with bottle tops for cooling purposes, attached to large monitors keeps the noise and electricity bill way down. Attaching all laptops and monitors to a power strip going through a Kill A Watt allows me to see just how efficient this is.  And it’s nice to hear the birds and  the frog outside. (The frog just recently moved here. It probably noticed me fighting off the bugs yesterday and decided he’d be a welcomed neighbor.)

Anyways back to the subject. With many monitors some tweaks became necessary. The first was a huge keypad something like this. You can buy them at Frys. Mine is probably 2’x1’6″.

Still dragging a mouse across lots of screen realestate requires maximizing the speed and acceleration of the mouse. Picking up and resetting the mouse is an annoyance. So you’ll need a sensitive mouse like the Logitech G9. The Logitech G9 has lasted many years without fail despite liquids, drops, and rough treatment. Logitech has newer mice. In fact looking at their website I see the original G9s are no longer even sold. Their new G9s look extreme… Before I bought the G9s I had gone through several microsoft laser mice. M$ mice work fine until dropped or aged. Then they quit working. I think M$ programmed the mice to obsolete themselves. However the G9s keep on working and working. We should get their engineers to work for the car industry!

Now you’ll find if you sneeze at the wrong time you will have lost your cursor. It may have moved a screen or two away and locating it is difficult. Synergy has a feature that prevents the mouse from crossing screens for a split second. You specify what the split second is under options. I have mine set up for 250ms. Seems to be about right.
UPDATE 2009.05.23: I no longer use this feature in favor of using the function keys mentioned below.

Still this is not enough. When you want to quickly turn off the music to take a phone call you can never do it. You’ve got to find the cursor and move it to the correct screen and then slow down and click something. Unless you have nerves of steel this process takes an excrutiatingly long time. The solution is to assign each computer a keystroke. So if you press that key your mouse and keyboard move to that computer. I’ve set F1, F2, F3, F4, etc., for jumping to the desired screen. So  to pause pandora I simply walk to the keyboard, press F1 followed by the space bar. No more music! (Assuming pandora is in the foreground.) After using this technique to quickly turn off Pandora it became a habit and now I use function keys to jump between screens. I still occasionally fall back on the mouse but when I’ve got my work hat on I use the keyboard.

UPDATE 2009.05.23: Most of the special mouse keys don’t work while on client computers. This may be fixable in the configuration files if needed.

UPDATE 2009.05.23: In the past I’ve gone to extreme lengths to keep the clients going on some of the linux machines. However this feature is built in. Simply use the “–restart” option like this:
synergyc –daemon –restart ip-addess-or-host-name-of-synergy-server
Under Ubuntu 9.04 choose “System->Preferences->Startup Applications” click “Add” on the right and enter Name:”Synergyc”, Command: “/usr/bin/synergyc –daemon –restart x”, Comment: “Automatically start and connect synergy”. Test the command out before putting it into startup.

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