Breaking Code

September 8, 2010

A dual screen hack: x2vnc

Filed under: Just for fun — Tags: , , , , — Mario Vilas @ 6:30 pm

Today I just had to use two laptop computers simultaneously, and switching back and forth was driving me insane. Then I remembered an old trick I used to pull back at my old job: the dual screen hack.

Most of you probably know it already, but just in case, here goes the explanation. You can connect two computers and simulate what would happen if you had two monitors instead: when the mouse leaves the screen in one computer, it “enters” the other computer on the opposite side of the screen. For example, if you have two laptops on your table and you move the mouse to the right, after reaching the border of the screen you see it coming out on the left side of the other computer. :)

The magic is done by using a remote desktop protocol like VNC, which lets you send keystrokes and mouse events, but discarding the framebuffer updates. That is, a program that connects to the remote desktop, but instead of showing you the remote screen, it monitors mouse movements locally and when the mouse reaches the screen limits, it captures the mouse and starts sending mouse events to the remote system. Similarly, when the mouse reaches the opposite limit on the remote system, it stops capturing the mouse so you can use it on the local system.

Since I use Linux my choice was x2vnc, the Linux cousin of the more famous Win2VNC, also by the same author. But unlike Win2VNC which is now actively maintained at SourceForge, x2vnc seems to have been abandoned.

x2vnc supports SSH tunneling, which is just perfect since VNC is a plaintext-only protocol and insecure by design. However there’s no easy way to tell x2vnc to which port to connect or which username to login as – it defaults always to the current local user and port 22.

I also had a problem with my other laptop, which had Windows 7. When the mouse cursor leaves the screen, it is “parked” to a corner of the screen so it doesn’t show (it’d be confusing to see two mouse cursors as you wouldn’t know which one is active). But the corner chosen by x2vnc is always the lower right corner, causing Windows 7 to hide all active windows… very annoying.

So I did what any other geek would do in my situation – branch it! :D

The patched code is now at Google Code. The new command line switches I added were:

-sshuser: Log in to the SSH tunnel using the given username.

-sshport: Connect to the given TCP port number instead of the SSH default (22).

-restingx and -restingy: Tell x2vnc where to park the mouse cursor. A value of 0 means left or top, a value of -1 means right or bottom. Then for example, -restingx 0 -restingy -1 means the top right corner of the screen.

Currently there’s only the source code but if I have the time I’ll upload a precompiled Debian package as well. Enjoy! :)

Download

Source code: http://code.google.com/p/x2vnc/source/checkout

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