Synergy vs ShareMouse

After doing a mini review of Synergy in one of my earlier articles, I was contacted by Bartels Media who make a competing product called ShareMouse. They gave me a free copy so I figured I’d give it a good shot and compare the two.
Please note, even though I was given a free copy of their software (nothing extra), I’ll still be as honest as I can!

Here’s the direct links to the homepage for each one.
I have been using Synergy 1.8 for years (since when it was open source). I’ve always hit bugs in it, usually pretty often and even some hard to reproduce ones that would irk me, but are difficult to reproduce and hard to document (note: I may also be *slightly* cursed.)
This post ended up being way longer than I thought it would. Skip to the bottom and read the conclusion if you’re too lazy to read it all 😛

My Testing Setup

I’m using two machines, a Windows PC with 2 monitors and a MacBook Pro with 2 monitors as well. Both are connected to my network via ethernet.
Software wise I’m testing Synergy 1.8, 2.0 beta and ShareMouse v4.0.36
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Setup

Synergy 1.8

Installing Synergy 1.8 is not horrible. You will need to configure one computer as the server and one as the client. To swap one from being the server and one being the client, you need to adjust the config on each machine.
Also: You can arrange your screens on a grid, putting each screen where they belong.
Using the AutoConfig option will make it go out searching for the one to connect to and off you go.
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Synergy 2.0 beta

Using the Synergy 2.0 Beta 4, I couldn’t get it to connect at first. When I did get it connected, there was no configuration options (eg. swapping alt/meta keys around). It wasn’t anywhere near beta status, closer to alpha.

ShareMouse

This impressed me. It picked up both my computers, showed me a cool picture of how my screens are laid out then asked me to move my mouse to the edge of the screen where my other screen was. It then just moved across to the other screen and was done.  This also works both ways, all the computers become servers *and* clients.
Arranging your screens in ShareMouse is pretty cool, you can drag and drop them like you would in your normal multi-monitor manager.
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Features

Both programs let you do the basics, copy/paste between machines, move your mouse and type on different computers, synchronised screen savers, security and more.
ShareMouse does offer a portable client, so when I’ve got a friends computer on my desk that I’m working on, I can just fire up the portable client and mouse over to it (with the exception that you can’t click on Windows UAC prompts, so I have to move over to hit the button for that).

Pricing

Both of them have complex arrangements in terms of cost.
Synergy 1.8 offers a Basic and Pro version, with Pro offering SSL Encryption.
The basic version is $19USD and the Pro is $29USD.
I originally bought Synergy in early 2014 for $10USD and since then I’ve had full access to the Pro version and all updates (up until Synergy 2.0)
Synergy 2.0 is in prerelease currently, but when it is released it will cost $49USD.
ShareMouse has 3 tiers: Free, Standard and Pro. You’re entitled to one years worth of updates, but you can pick options for up to 5 years maintenance.
The free and standard versions are limited to a maximum of 2 computers with only one monitor each. The Pro version allows up to 9 computers with 4 monitors.
The free version is essentially useless. You can use it for basic mouse/keyboard functions, but the other really important feature, Clipboard sharing, is only available in the Standard version.
Ideally, I’d like to see the features of the Standard version being free, with the Pro features being close to the price point of the Standard version. Paying for maintenance to get upgrades could get annoying, if you want to receive bug fixes, you will need to pay maintenance (as much as they say it’s not a subscription, if you want to stay up to date in terms of bug/security fixes, you will need to pay.)

Usage

Here’s a few of the things that usually trip up these sorts of programs:

Lag

When using Ethernet, I find that the lag on the client machine isn’t an issue. With Synergy 1.8 I would occasionally get the mouse stuttering around a bit when the client was under heavy CPU load, but it wasn’t bad enough to be an issue.  I haven’t seen any noticeable lag with ShareMouse.
I did find that ShareMouse would connect quicker and stay connected more reliably. Sometimes I’d get an issue with Synergy where it’d stutter slightly between screens.

Copy/Pasting

I found Synergy would choke up when copy/pasting some things, particularly things like rich text. Sometimes it would actually disconnect when I try to swap from one screen to the other (as it tries to sync the clipboard). It wasn’t often enough to be a real cause for concern, but happened nonetheless.
Synergy is supposed to also support file drag and drop between computers. I was never able to get it to work.
Copy/Pasting with ShareMouse has been flawless, you can copy text, images and files from one machine to the other super easy.
You can also drag and drop files from one computer to another. Speed wise I was getting about 60MiB/s from one machine to the other over Gigabit Ethernet (note, I haven’t done much testing speed wise to see if I can increase this at all, this was just from a plain ol’ drag and drop).
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Games and Switching Screens

Usually I run with my keyboard and mouse on my Windows machine that I use for playing games.  I’ve noticed that with both Synergy and ShareMouse, some games would fail to capture the mouse and my mouse would end up clicking on both the Mac and the Windows machine at the same time.
Synergy seems to be affected by this more than ShareMouse, however you can set a button to lock the mouse to one screen (by default, it’s Scroll Lock). So it made handling the issue super easy.
When I encountered an issue with ShareMouse like this, I would have to quit ShareMouse (there’s no pause button, you can set a button to hold down to stop it running off the edge, but it’s not a toggle like with Synergy).
One thing that affected both, was if you’re playing a game on the client machine (in this case, running the server on my Mac and the client on Windows), World of Warcraft would freak out and a tiny mouse movement would result in your character spinning around like crazy.  Odd bug, but never really bothered me since I’ve always used the PC as the server.

Random Little Bugs

This is probably the most important part. For an app that’s controlling one of the core parts of your computer (keyboard/mouse), it has to be near perfect. If it’s not clicking on the right things, or typing the right letters, it’s worthless.
Synergy 1.8.8 got to the point where it was pretty much free of the most annoying bugs. Typing/Clicking works everywhere beautifully, screens would swap back and forth properly and everything is nice.  The road to get there was painful however, I suffered through many bugs on the way there (and the developers would fix bugs, just very slowly).
Synergy 2.0 Beta 4 is practically worthless. It’s way to buggy to do *anything*.
ShareMouse is almost there in terms of bugs.
One bug I had with it was that if I clicked twice in different places, it would count it as a double click on the first spot I clicked (so when I’d be selecting a bunch of files, I’d go click click click cli- then suddenly all the files would open). Thankfully, there’s a tick box in the settings called “IOHID input simulation” which fixes the issue.
The developers got back to me pretty quickly with an answer to that question.
The only bug I’m experiencing now is that occasionally shift/cmd/option keys will get stuck down, usually if I’m holding a key when I swap from one screen to the other.  It happens maybe once or twice an hour and is kind of annoying. It doesn’t happen all the time and it’s hard to reproduce. Here’s hoping they’ll work it out eh?

Conclusion

Synergy 1.8 works pretty well and is cheap, however ShareMouse works a little bit better, is easier to use and has more features.
The big big decider between them though?  Price.
I paid $10USD for Synergy over 3 years ago and I can use as many computers with as many screens as I like.
With my setup with 2 computers and 4 screens I’d be required to get the ShareMouse Pro which is $49USD (or, with 3 years maintenance: $97.40USD)
If it wasn’t for the price, I’d pick ShareMouse hands down. Price factored in, it’s too close to tell.
If Synergy 2.0 actually gets bug free and implements everything they say they will, maybe they’ll be a real contender feature wise to ShareMouse?  For now, I’m going to stick with ShareMouse.

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