"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." (Robert A. Heinlein)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Synergy: how to make comfortable your netbook at home

Netbooks are, in my opinion, one of the most important innovations in mobile computing: they represent an unique mix of low price, flexibility and mobility. On the other hand netbooks lack a little on the ergonomic side. Netbook's small keyboards and mousepad aren't the most comfortable things to use, often they they are even less comfortable when your netbook is placed on the desk near your desktop computer.

A software solution to a hardware problem

External mouse and keyboard can, of course, be plugged to your netbook but this would mean having to deal with hardware switches, cables or, in case of wireless devices, Bluetooth configurations every time you switch between your desktop and your netbook computer.
Here comes Synergy: a simple utility that lets you use your desktop computer's mouse and keyboard to control your netbook without the need of any extra hardware but a network connection, in the most intuitive way by simply moving your mouse pointer off one side of the screen like you were using a single computer with two displays.

Installation and configuration

Installing Synergy had been quite simple: I downloaded the .deb installation file from Synergy download page and installed it both on the EEEPC and my desktop computer (Sempron2400).
dpkg --install synergy-plus-1.3.4-Linux-i686.deb
Linux version of Synergy comes without a graphic user interface so a little configuration file has to be prepared to run it on the desktop computer. Third party configuration programs exists but even manually preparing the configuration file is not difficult. Synergy configuration file is a plain text file subdivided in sections: the screens section define the names of the machines to be connected while the links section defines the screens relative position. Here is my configuration file:
section: screens
section: links
      down(75,100) = eeepc900(0,50)
      up(0,50) = sempron2400(75,100)
Two screens are defined (EEEPC900 and Sempron2400) and the EEEPC screen is placed under the right corner of my desktop monitor. That roughly reflects how I usually place it on my desk.
Eventually I executed Synergy first the server program on the desktop computer
synergys -f --config synergy.conf
and then the client on the EEEPC
synergyc -f

Synergy is a little great piece of software. Once it has been properly configured it works smoothly, switching between the two screens is very natural,like having only one computer with a dual monitor. It even works after waking up client machine from stand-by. Last but not least Synergy is multi platform: Windows and Mac OsX versions are also available for download so a seamless use of computers with different operating systems is also possible (I tried the Windows version and it works as good as the Linux one).