Slider Keyboard Armchair Awesomesauce!

Does your desk look like the prototype to Tank’s Matrix Command Center? With all those screens, keyboards, and pointing devices (mice), even the most seasoned Uber Nerds can can lose track and enter that killall command into the wrong machine. Rather command the entire mini-lab from your arm chair like a boss while picturing yourself as Captain Picard on the bridge of NCC-1701 D, with a slightly more fantastic hairline?

Remember, we already live in the future, this will be easy. If just one computer, skip ahead to step 6 and miss out on the geeky awesome.

Step 1: Link all those screen in to a single input source. Time to get your FOSS on; head over to Synergy-FOSS.org and download the application to the collective desktop machines, PC, Mac, and Linux supported.

Step 2: Choose which setup you want to be the control center for the other, this is the system that will become your input server, so pick the one with the fancy gaming mouse and light-up water-proof, nuclear powered keyboard.

Step 3: On your control center system / input server open Synergy and select server setup. Now hit the Configure Server button and map out your personal computer eco-system. Here is mine:

This is also where you will need to nickname all you systems for placement. Do not worry if you have trouble with your first setup, you can stop the server anytime, adjust this, and once you start the server again, it will pick up the client systems.

When you start the server, it will show you the servers local IP Address, you’ll want this for the next step.

Step 4: Now start synergy on your other systems in Client mode, remembering what everything was named in the setup. If your nickname was not the same as you system’s network ID, enter the new nickname. Enter the IP Address for the server you saw in the last step, and start the Synergy. Repeat for the rest of the your systems.

Step 5: Make sure that your cursor is now able to travel from screen to screen across the different desktops.
BONUS – Your clipboard is now cross-platform, try to copy from one desktop and paste into another. Leave me a reply if this doesn’t work for you.

UPDATE: Tested on Mac OSX 10.8; When starting the Synergy server on OSX an error like “Enable access for assistive devices..” would shut down the server. To fix this, open up the terminal and enter the following:

sudo touch /private/var/db/.AccessibilityAPIEnabled

Restart the server and all clients, this worked for me, leave a comment if you run into anything other issue, please include your OS and describe your awesomesause setup.

Ready for armchair action?

This part is PC and Linux only, and requires an android device. Sorry Apple lovers, I’m sure there is secret sauce for you too.

Step 6: Google time, find your android device, I am using my old phone, which runs Android 2.2.2, but more importantly has a snazy sliding full keypad. Login to Google Play and head to the VirtualControl app page.

Step 7: Nearly there, once the app is installed you can search for computers on the network. Remember your server IP? It’s still up on Synergy if you forgot.
Now select the server you were using before, and you will be given an option to send it the VirtualContolPanel.

Step 8: VirtualControl will instruct you to go to a local network address from the sever computer and download the VirtualControlPanel directly from your phone… do that.

Step 9: Decompress/ UnZip the file some where you can get to it, and run the executable, once up and running you are setup.

Step 10: Hit the goback button on your android device. Select your server again, and do not download this time.

There you are a track-pad, and keyboard you can use from anywhere, and it will travel across all your screens with clipboard support.

Engage.

Get Your FOSS On

FOSS is an acronym for Free Open Source Software. When designing in a FOSS friendly environment we use tools that have the same functions as the Industry Standards, such as the Adobe Creative Suite of products, but do not require the the licensing and massive financial investment for legal commercial use.

I was strongly pushed in this direction after a still unknown error bricked my Windows loaded power laptop, rendering it completely unusable. I already had Ubuntu 64bit installed on my AMD 64 media server, and Xubuntu 32bit was on my little ASUS Eee PC netbook. Without the power of me fancy dual Sli sporting laptop, I was in the market for viable alternatives.

Most of the software I needed was already installed, but had been used very often, including the Gimp and Inkscape. Knowing there must be many options my search started in the Ubuntu Software Center, but quickly moved to one of my new favorite websites AlternativeTo, which compares similar software paid and free for major platforms including Linux, mobile, and web apps. The best thing about free, is that I was able to install all the software that peaked my interests, and keep what worked for me. I hope to get further in depth with the choices in a later article.

After daily use of the Adobe Suite, mostly Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver, I was fairly sure I had no chance of getting anything to work on my low power machines. I admit I had trouble at first, while I was still enthralled with the unity interface in Ubuntu 11.x which was not the snappiest interface available. Thankfully recent improvements to unity 12.04 and 12.10, and the use of XFCE, Xubuntu during my design sessions. it feels like I have a Windows machine with 3 times the power I’m using.

Currently I have replaced Photoshop with the Gimp, Illustrator with Inkscape, Dreamweaver with Aptana Studio, and Premiere with Open Shot. All the FOSS software runs with less resources than it’s commercially available alternative, and it’s all free and legal!