A blast from the past. I just rediscovered the joys of Synergy. I used to use it over a decade ago while still a lecturer at University. I needed a tool, before I finally abandoned Windows for good, to enable me to effortlessly switch between my Linux workstation, Gentoo at the time, and the Windows workstation. I didn’t want an additional keyboard and mouse to confuse my already cluttered academic brain.

In comes Synergy. It allows multiple workstations to be controlled by a keyboard and mouse connected to one of the devices. The mouse will move from the edge of one monitor to the other. Focus follows mouse and the keyboard then inputs on the client. It’s still the same simple application that can run on Linux, Mac and Windows. There is even a client for Android in alpha dev stage, synergyandroid, so as I’m typing this my mouse can seamlessly move from Laptop, to workstation to Android tablet.

section: screens

section: links
left = AndroidTablet
right  = Laptop

left = Desktop

right = Desktop


section: aliases

The config file, /etc/synergy.conf is all too simple to configure for this basic setup. The workstation is the server, and the laptop and tablet the clients. If one or more of the clients are not available that edge of the window disappears seamlessly.

Byobu, another console window manager


We happened upon Byoby by accident while installing screen this afternoon. I quote from the project home.

It was originally designed to provide elegant enhancements to the otherwise functional, plain, practical GNU Screen, for the Ubuntu server distribution. Byobu now includes an enhanced profiles, convenient keybindings, configuration utilities, and toggle-able system status notifications for both the GNU Screen window manager and the more modern Tmux terminal multiplexer, and works on most Linux, BSD, and Mac distributions.

As with other window managers it is possible to create, destroy and move between windows.

What makes it rather unique is its use of the function keys. This might not seem like much, but it is actually very convenient to operate without obscure <CTRL> key combinations.

I’ve only been playing with it for a couple of minutes but it is a breeze to use. Notice also the time, very valuable and not usually considered in console, and some other system stats at the bottom right.

Back to dvtm

OK, so I’m back to DVTM. So far the only compelling reason I found to use TMUX in stead of DVTM was the ability to copy and paste from the terminal which DVTM didn’t allow. At least, so I though.

To copy and paste, from and xterm or the console, press and hold SHIFT and block whatever needs to be copied. Once again, to paste, hold SHIFT and press the middle button. Voila!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with TMUX though. I suspect had I started of with it that’s where my preference would’ve stayed. DVTM is just too familiar now.

Another ncurses window manager

I know others have reviewed it as well, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this one.

TMUX provides much of the same functionality as dvtm shown earlier, however, it has a number of features that peaked my interest.

It sports the usual multiple panes, and they are adjustable. However, it allows me to block copy text which dvtm does not allow me (at least on my installation) to do. Below is a useful bar showing the active window.

For me being able to block copy is the most useful difference between the two. If someone knows how to enable that on dvtm please let me know. Other than that both window managers are excellent.

Word processor in console

So far it’s been very easy. One of the big obstacles I have yet to overcome is the word processor. I haven’t even started to look at spreadsheets yet.

There are a number of candidates, most notably wordgrinder.

It doesn’t offer a lot in terms of word processing, but will be able to Italicize and underline your text. Not much more. It does however export to HTML and tex which is awesome. But no, no Microsoft or Openoffice support. Not even rich text formatting.

I looked at antiword and a couple of other programs, but so far, unless you’re willing to spend some time in tex or html you’re outta luck.

The big problem is collaborative work. Unfortunately, unlike my undergrad and postgrad studies, not everyone is willing to study what appears to be a programming language in order to edit documents.

So this is one of the major points where I got stuck with using the console, collaboration with my colleagues and clients. Most only understand MS Word, and fewer know of Openoffice and Libreoffice. Our office runs on Google drive, try explaining that to them…

So if you have any great tips on word processors, please share them, as I’d like to be able to move to the console completely, if only for a couple of days.

RSS feeds in the console

You’re probably like me, you read your news tidbits from RSS feeds. Everything from a potential item to be purchased from gumtree to local news.

I played with nrss and canto (both very good) but eventually settled on newsbeuter.

Posted in Linux

Instant messaging in the console

You’re all most likely familiar with pidgin. I jumped at the opportunity to go back to an old favourite. Before switching to *nix based systems in 1997 I enjoyed chatting with my on line friends on IRC. In later years I discovered pidgin. Now, using the console there is finch, pidgin for the console.

Not only can it connect you to gtalk, but with some cunning you will have skype in your console, no X required!

xvfb-run -n 0 -s “-screen 0 800x600x16″ /usr/bin/xterm &
export DISPLAY=:0

The above script has since been refined but you get the gist of it. Start skype in a virtual frame buffer containing a tiny X. Connect to it with pidgin-skype via dbus and voila, instant skype in the console…

The above is used on a daily basis on my virtual server hosted somewhere abroad.


Email in the console

As it turns out, the old favourites still exist.

Pine, alphine and mutt. They’re still around and kicking. But unfortunately, they’re handicapped by the same problems as before. Easy to configure does not help if it seems to be aimed at machines hosting your mail server.







I finally settled on cone. It is a mail client and news reader and is included in popular repositories for quick and easy deployment. You can see it in the top right. The interface is very simple, and best of all, adding mail accounts, unlike its counterparts, is a breeze.

Media player

As awesome as mplayer is, it’s not as useful for playing your favourite list of mp3s.

I’ve switched to using mocp even in X as it does everything I need. Music on console is tiny and powerful.

Wifi manager

If like me, you use a laptop very often it is helpful not to have to manually configure your connection with iwconfig.

wicd-curses is so far the best wifi manager I’ve come across. Sorry, not pic for this one as I’m working on my desktop at the moment.