A short while ago, a member of my extended family posted a picture of his work desk to Facebook. One comment made was along the lines of, "how do you control so many separate computers with only one mouse and keyboard?"
The answer came back that he uses a piece of software called Synergy, by Symless, as a kind of network keyboard and mouse switch. The difference with Synergy is that there are no keyboard shortcuts required and no physical switch. All you need to do to control a different computer is move your mouse to its screen. It's as simple as that.
That's great for IT developers, but where would it fit in to a post production workflow? In my studio, during the course of an average session, I can have three or four computers, across a variety of platforms, running simultaneously. My main Windows system runs Pro Tools, my MacBook Pro is running Video Slave 3 or Conformalizer, and my Windows Tablet is undertaking administrative duties such as email or video calls. I need to be able to quickly control all three, so usually resort to having to lean across in an uncomfortable manner, or have my tablet precariously balanced somewhere.
Watch my video to see how I get on using Synergy.
I didn't just find this handy for using my studio software - I found it handy with admin. In the course of an average week, I am working on many short-form projects charged by time, amongst other long-form projects, charged at a "project" rate. I have to keep track of how long I'm spending on each, so I can bill accurately and quickly. I do this by logging the Pro Tools session file names in my Google calendar as I'm working. To achieve this I used to have all my admin apps running on my main Pro Tools system. This had the unfortunate side effect of causing disruption to my work, from alerts popping up, to excessive system draw - Chrome is quite processor and GPU hungry. Now I can easily offload admin work to my tablet but without having to reach over to it, and not have it burden my main system or MacBook Pro.
I really like Synergy. In no time I got totally used to just moving my mouse to whichever screen I needed to control. It's one of those clever little apps that after a short time, you wonder how you ever did without it. If your network is a little "specialist" like mine, then you might need to manually configure it, which is the only downside I can find. Otherwise it is very intuitive to set up. When dragging and dropping or copying and pasting between operating systems, it's best to use the right-click functionality rather than the keyboard shortcuts, as these don't always translate. The "drag and drop" functionality can also be a little random, so it's best to instead use a shared storage solution than rely on this.
Synergy by Symless starts at $19 for the Basic version lifetime licence, rising to $29 for the Pro version which adds SSL encryption. At those prices it's already cheaper than a hardware switch, and a lot lot slicker!