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Using Synergy and Barrier on Linux, Windows, and macOS

Updated: 30-May-2019

The proprietary Synergy (https://symless.com/synergy) and the Open Source version, Barrier (https://github.com/debauchee/barrier/releases) are magical, cross-platform applications that allow you to use the keyboard and mouse from one of your computers, to control and interact with the desktops of other computers on the same Ethernet or WiFi network. You can even copy and paste clipboard contents between them.

Our article updates Matt Cutts' 2007 blog post described "How to configure Synergy in six steps." (https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-configure-synergy-in-six-steps) It provides information and illustrates setting up the application on two Linux computers, using it's integrated graphical setup. Although our instructions show the setup for just two Linux computers, with the current releases of Barrier and Synergy, you can setup and control up to 14 client computers running a mix of Linux, Windows and macOS operating systems -- all from a single server computer. The current release for Synergy is 1.10.2. The current release for Barrier is 2.2.0 for Linux and 2.1.0 for Windows and macOS machines. As you might expectfor two applications with same origins, the setup is identical for both Synergy 1 and Barrier 2 so we'll show only the Barrier screens here.

Synergy In Action
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Configuring Synergy 1 and Barrier 2

With the software's graphical, drag and drop setup, you can be controlling multiple Linux, Windows, and macOS computers in seconds. In our example, the keyboard and mouse are connected directly to a Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu MATE, so we will be using them to control both this Linux computer, and an older HP G60 computer, also running Ubuntu MATE. The controlling computer is considered by Barrier to be the "server" but we don't need to worry about that terminology, since the setup doesn't require that you know that at all. Here are the steps:

Installing and starting Barrier on Linux

  1. To install Barrier, open your favorite Linux distribution's software repositories, package manager, software center, application library, add/remove programs, or whatever it has for getting new software. Search for "barrier." Check the version that is available. If it's earlier than 2.1.0, then you might try either the Snap package or the Flatpack package. Both are available.
  2. Next, determine where your computers are (or will be) located. In my case, I have my XPS 13 laptop sitting in the center of my desk. I have my G60 computer on the right side of the desk. My keyboard and mouse are in a keyboard tray between the two, and are connected directly to the Dell XPS 13. Although I also have a Windows 10 computer to the left and the monitor for a Macbook Air on the wall above the Dell, we won't consider them for purposes of these instructions. Once you have Barrier installed on all computers, the configuration steps are the same as for the HP G60 described here.
  3. Open the Barrier application on each computer. For most Linux distributions, Barrier is located in Applications or Menu > Accessories > Barrier.
  4. On my Dell (the controlling computer) in the Barrier dialog box after the Welcome screen, I selected the Server check box, and click the Configure Server button.
    Barrier on the Server
  5. On the configuration screen, double-click the computer in the center of the screen and enter your computer name as the Screen Name. When I installed Ubuntu MATE on my Dell, I named the computer "xps13" so that is what I entered. Click OK to save the settings.
    Barrier Server Configuration
  6. Drag the monitor icon from the upper right onto one of the 14 vacant squares. Since my HP G60 is on the right, I dropped the icon to the right of the XPS13's icon. I double-clicked on the "Unnamed" icon that was just created. When I installed Ubuntu MATE, I named the computer "G60-230US", so that's the name I used for it's Screen Name. Click OK to save the settings.
    Barrier Graphical Setup
  7. Click OK when you have completed the setup, then click Start to start Barrier on the XPS13 computer.
  8. To set up the G60, we need the IP address from the XPS13 computer. To display the IP address, click the Network Manager icon in the Ubuntu MATE notification area and select Connection Information.
  9. Now, on the G60, in the Barrier dialog box, check the Client box and enter the IP address of the XPS13 as the Server IP:
    Barriery on Client
  10. Click the Start button, wait a second or two, and the two computers are connected. To test it, move the mouse to the right edge of the XPS13 screen and beyond. It appears on the G60 screen on the right! Now when you type on the keyboard, your text will appear on the computer where the mouse is located.
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A brief history of the cross-platform and software-only alternatives to expensive and limiting KVM switch hardware.

In the beginning (late 1996) there was CosmoSynergy, created by Richard Lee and Adam Feder at Cosmo Software, Inc. Then the project moved to a new phase and became Synergy from a CosmoSynergy contributor Chris Schoeneman. Later, to make initial configuration easier, graphical setup utilities were developed such as QSynergy (https://sourceforge.net/projects/qsynergy/) and QuickSynergy (https://sourceforge.net/projects/quicksynergy/). With the release of Synergy 1.4.2 came a merging of three projects, QSynergy, Synergy+ (https://sourceforge.net/projects/synergy-plus/) and Free Synergy (https://sourceforge.net/projects/synergy-stable-builds/) itself. In 2011, Nick Bolton founded Symless and took the product into paid, proprietary format. The free Open Source Barrier was forked from Symless's last open source version, Synergy 1.9.

Looking for more information on Synergy?

You can listen to our podcast episode 130 for an interview with one of the Synergy project owners, Nick Bolton, on the release of Synergy 1.4.2 for Linux.

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