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Synergy between different operating systems

synergy

At LeaseWeb, developers like to work on Linux, business people like to work on Apple, but almost everybody runs Windows. One of the reasons it is hard to work without Windows is that our calendar and email system only works well under Windows (it is Microsoft Outlook). I have seen several ways to work around this problem. One is to have multiple computers at the office, one running Windows that can be used as an email and calendar system and another Linux or Apple computer to do the actual work on. Multiple computers means multiple screens, which is also a big plus, but it also means multiple mice and keyboards. And that is something less convenient.

Well, there is an App for that… And it is free and open source! It has the appropriate name “Synergy” and makes your Linux/OSX and Windows play along very well. Download it here. One of your computers becomes the “Server” and the other(s) become the client(s). The server has a keyboard and mouse and if you move the cursor off the screen it automatically appears on the other computers screen and you can continue working with the same mouse and keyboard. The clipboard is conveniently shared as well. The computers use the network to communicate. There is only one very big problem with this nice software and that is that its security is very weak (non-existent). The Synergy wiki says:

“Synergy does not do any authentication or encryption. Any computer can connect to the synergy server if it provides a screen name known to the server, and all data is transferred between the server and the clients unencrypted which means that anyone can, say, extract the key presses used to type a password. Therefore, synergy should not be used on untrusted networks.” – source: http://synergy-foss.org/wiki/Security

So if you use Synergy over the wireless network and you type important passwords, the wireless network encryption is the only thing keeping hackers (hiding in a mini-van in your street) from retrieving those passwords. If you use a cabled network the security risk might a little bit lower. Fortunately you can make it secure, as described in the same wiki, by adding a SSH tunnel for TCP port¬†28400 from the client to the server. For Windows you can use the Bitvise Tunnelier software or MyEnTunnel (which is a front-end for the less user-friendly PuTTY applicaton) and for OSX you can use the SSH Tunnel Manager. To make this work you have to enable SSH logins on the machine that acts as your Synergy server. If you want to install an SSH server on Linux you can install the “openssh-server” package. On OSX you can find the OpenSSH server under sharing and on Windows you can install the user friendly Bitvise WinSSHD or FreeSSHd.

Conclusion: Synergy… It is a cool tool, but use it responsibly!

2 Responses to “Synergy between different operating systems”

  • grant tailor:

    why use that when “virtualbox.org” exists???
    much better than using synergy hands down

  • Maurits van der Schee (Innovation Engineer):

    @Grant: that is an awesome tool indeed, thank you for mentioning it!

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