Remote access my home Mac

September 11, 2010

I’m often traveling on the road for business so I find it nice to have the ability to access my home computer for checking email, running applications, etc. In the past, I used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection to remotely connect to my Windows 7 desktop PC at home using my Windows XP (yeah, still using XP) work laptop. I preferred the RDC solution because it just seemed to work the best at scaling the screen of my desktop PC to my laptop’s resolution.

Now that I’ve retired my Windows 7 desktop PC in favor of a new iMac, I can’t use the Microsoft-based RDC method. So, I decided to do some Googling to find an equivalent method for my iMac.

It seems that Apple has Desktop Sharing which will work if you are using two Macs for a remote connection, but in my case I’ve got a Windows-based laptop that I want to connect with my iMac machine at home. Since the Mac OS X is based on UNIX it also has some Virtual Network Connection (VNC) capability for remote access, but I was a little nervous opening up my system to the general Internet public. Of course, I could use 3rd-party VNC software on my Mac, create shared-key passwords and use SSH tunnels to log into my Mac, but that seems like a big hassle compared to what I was using with Microsoft RDC.

So I decided to use a product called LogMeIn which allows me to easily connect to my iMac from any web browser on the Internet. LogMeIn has been around for a while and I’ve used it occasionally in the past, but I never really used it in earnest because Microsoft RDC seemed to work much better in my opinion.

To use LogMeIn, you sign up for an account on www.logmein.com which you will use to log into LogMeIn’s servers. You then download and install a small application on your Mac (or PC) which runs in the background listening for incoming connection requests. What’s nice, is that you don’t need to fiddle around with your home router to open up ports, etc. The LogMeIn installer handles all the necessary settings. So once installed on my Mac and activated, I can simply log into the LogMeIn servers using Firefox or Internet Explorer on my PC laptop and select my iMac machine to remotely connect to.

Once connected, I’m asked for my Mac’s login password, so once I’ve entered that I’m connected to my iMac at home. What I see is exactly what I would see if I was sitting in front of my iMac at home, all inside a web browser. I then have the option of having the software scale the screen to fit inside the web browser or have it display in full-screen resolution (which required me to scroll around the browser window to see all of my iMac’s screen).

With a relatively fast Internet connection (which most hotels have), I can run applications on my Mac reasonable well. There is definitely a delay in screen refreshing, but it is certainly usable. Using this method, I can check email using Apple Mail on my Mac, do my banking transactions from my home computer, and do some WebOS application development with the Eclipse IDE and Palm Emulator.

What’s really nice, is that the basic LogMeIn service is FREE! Yes, you can use this service free of charge. If you really like it, you can upgrade to the Pro version which allows you to do file transfers and a few other features. I’ve found the basic free service meets my occasional needs for remote access.  For file transfer I can always use the service provided by DropBox which has a 2 GB storage space limit for their free basic service.

So, I’d definitely recommend you check out LogMeIn if you want or need remote access to any computer while on the road. Note, that you aren’t limited to just one computer, as you can have multiple computers accessible from the LogMeIn servers.


Good image editing app for the Mac?

August 29, 2010

One of my favorite image editing apps is Paint.net,  a program that comes very close to matching the features of Adobe Photoshop. With Photoshop priced at $700 US, Paint.net is a steal since it’s free! Unfortunately, Paint.net is only Windows-Based, so there is no Mac equivalent.

I’ve explored running Paint.net using the app called CrossOver (which allows you to run Windows apps directly on the Mac), but it just wouldn’t install within CrossOver. Another alternative is to run Paint.net in a virualization environment (using VirtualBox, Parallels, or VM Fusion running the Windows OS), but that would just be a big hassle to setup, etc.

As such, I’ve been looking for something equivalent to Paint.net (or Photoshop) that I can use on my new iMac OS X. Unfotunately, I can’t seem to find anything that suits my needs. After Googling for such an image editor app, I came up with a short list of freeware and shareware apps. For my needs, I need to have the ability to use layers, have anti-aliased lines and text, and a few other advanced features. This requirement quickly eliminated most of the photo editing-based apps for the Mac.

The short list I went down included apps such as Pixel, Pixen, Cinepaint, GIMP, Seashore, Pinta, and Pixelmator. Nearly all of these apps had their flaws, as some couldn’t handle anti-aliasing of lines and text very well, while others just had a bad user interface. GIMP is a famous open source app that is recommended by many, but it runs under the X11 environment which gives it a very old user interface. I ended up narrowing my choices down to Pinta, Seashore, and Pixelmator.

Yesterday I worked with some basic image editing using Pinta and Seashore, and was disappointed in what I couldn’t do as they are limited compared to Paint.net. From what I can tell, the only real contender is Pixelmator, as it has lots of good features. The online help is really nice, as well as the very pretty user interface. Also, Pixelmator is a native Mac OS X application, which is a big bonus. The only bad thing I found during my testing, is that the app crashed on me twice which is a bad thing.

So for now, I’m planning to try using GIMP and/or Pixelmator for the next month. I have a feeling Pixelmator will win out, and I’ll then have to buy a copy once the demo period is over.


For Macs, it really does “Just Works”

August 26, 2010

For Apple’s Mac slogan of “it just works” it really does just works. For example, I bought the TrentNet Wireless Gaming Adapter yesterday and it came with a $20 rebate offer. So, I needed to jump through the usual hoops of filling out the rebate form, cutting the UPC symbol off the product’s box, and providing a copy of the receipt. With everything filled out, I of course needed to make a copy of the form and receipt in case it got lost in the mail.

To start, I used the HP Photosmart C4700 All-in-One Printer that I bought at the Apple store along with my iMac (which had a $100 rebate offer, that made it free) to scan the rebate form. I initiated the scanning using the convenient HP scanning app on my iMac. Once the rebate form was scanned, the app asked if I had any other items to scan (which I said yes), and I then scanned the receipt. Once I was done, I had two images scanned showing up as thumbnails in the HP scanning app. I then had the HP app print the images to a PDF file which was conveniently placed on my desktop screen. At first, I thought I would need to print each scanned item separately and then try to figure out how to combine them into a single PDF document (for my convenience), but the HP scanning app did that for me automatically.

Next, I needed to print the send and return address on an envelope to send off my rebate. Fortunately, I found a nifty free dashboard utility called EasyEnvelopes that did the job nicely.

I just copied the rebate center address from the web site where I got the rebate form, pasted it in the EasyEnvelopes send address box on the dashboard app, and printed the envelope label right on the envelope from my HP Laserjet printer.

Using my old Windows PC, I would need to do the following for the same procedure:

  1. Use my Canon LiE30 scanner to scan the rebate form and receipt into two separate images into my Paint.net application.
  2. Create a MS-Word document and paste both images in as two separate pages.
  3. Print the Word document as a PDF file using the printer driver app called PDF995 (commercial app).
  4. Open MS-Word again and type in the rebate send address.
  5. Highlight the send address in Word and select “Envelopes” to print out the envelope label to an envelope on my Laser Printer.

I could have probably tried to streamline this process, but I was never able to find a good, simple envelope printer app for my Windows PC. Also, I wasn’t able to find a simple app for scanning images as with my Mac. This is just an example of how easy it was for me to do this simple task on my iMac, and be more productive.

As for another example, I recently bought an Apple Remote for my iMac ($20) which I thought I’d try out when watching movies, etc. I removed the remote from the packaging and followed the instructions on how to pair it to my iMac (simply hold it 4 inches away from the screen and hold down a button). I then just clicked on the menu button and my iMac’s screen faded to black and up came the app called FrontRow, which looked similar to Windows Media Center on the PC.

So from here I could watch current movie trailers, videos that are stored on my iMac, listen to my music, etc. Again, this is a great example of “it just works”. I don’t have to navigate through popup dialog boxes, etc. to do what I want to do. This is a real productivity boost to me, and shows that Apple has given a lot of thought to user usability with their products.


Remotely connecting to your PC

October 15, 2009

remote_desktopOften I need to work from my kitchen table because I have to keep an eye on my young son or new Labrador puppy from wrecking the house. As such, I use my trusty Dell Latitude D610 laptop to remotely connect to my office desktop PC (located upstairs in my home). What that means, is that I’m controlling my desktop PC from my laptop running applications, etc. just as if I was sitting in front of my PC.

How I do this, is by using an application called Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) which is provided by Microsoft with their Windows XP Professional and Vista Professional OS. A small server is running on my desktop PC, and I can make a connection to it from any PC or laptop on my home network using RDC. Since my home network connection is pretty fast, I see very little response delay using this setup.

Unfortunately, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows 7 Home Premium both don’t have the Remote Desktop Server software to use the RDC feature. You will need to get the Professional version of either OS package to have the Remote Desktop Server software. As such, I decided to look into other similar alternatives, as I use the RDC feature quite heavily for my own personal use. Read the rest of this entry »


So what Firefox plugins do I use?

October 14, 2009

I created a posting on my DellMini blog yesterday that discusses how I configured my FireFox web browser to maximize the viewable page area. I basically used a series of FireFox addons to hide the main window caption title bar, hide the menu bar, and so forth. The most effective tip was to use the F11 function key to completely hide all interface controls temporarily and completely fill the screen with the viewable page (I just found this tip recently). These are great tips for Netbook owners, since the vertical resolution of their miniature laptops is usually 600 pixels.

Just in case you’re curious what I’ve got loaded with my FireFox installation, here’s my list of addons:

firefox_addons

Not too many plugins to slow down the opening of FireFox, but just enough to keep me browsing effectively.

Now, I’ve also looked at using Google’s Chrome web browser, because it is suppose to be lightweight and will startup faster than FireFox.It does indeed seem to startup and run faster than FireFox and has a very minimalistic appearance which I like. However, Chrome doesn’t seem to have the extensive number of addon plugins as does FireFox. A lot of the plugins that I have loaded currently in FireFox do not exist in Chrome. So, being a creature of habit I’ll probably stick with using FireFox since it has been working well for me over the last several years.


I Love WebOS Programming!

October 4, 2009

webosFor the last 8 or so years, I’ve been writing apps for the Microsoft Pocket PC (and subsequently the Microsoft Windows Mobile OS) devices. In the early days, I was making some substantial income selling these apps on the Internet, however, my software sales have gone down every passing year to where I’m making just enough to cover my minimal operating expenses. I don’t think you can even buy a new Pocket PC PDA these days, as most people favor using their smartphones with the same integrated features. So in my opinion, the Windows Mobile OS is a dying platform for application developers.

The popularity of the Apple iPhone has created an entirely new arena for application developers. The iPhone’s best feature is its applications, and owners are definitely buying these apps in large volumes. As such, I looked into the possibility of switching my development efforts from the WM OS to the iPhone. To do so, I would have to purchase an Apple Mac computer as well as an iPhone with AT&T service for testing. I would also need to learn Apple’s Objective-C programming language and the entire process for writing an iPhone app. This would require lots and lots of time and money on my part, something I didn’t want to invest at this time.

When the Google Android phone appeared on the market (through T-Mobile), I investigated programming for that platform since it was based on Java programming. Google provided a Windows-based emulator that seemed to work quite well, so I wouldn’t need to buy a new T-Mobile phone immediately for development and testing. As I began my research and investigating, I realized that programming for the Google phone was just too difficult. Google’s documentation was too sparse, and it required developers to dig around and experiment to figure out how to use advanced feature calls. I tried for a month to learn and develop some Google Android apps, but ultimately gave up because the learning curve was way too steep. In hindsight, I think the decision to not develop for the Android phone was a good one, since I don’t see these phones selling like the Apple iPhones.

A few months ago Palm reinvented themselves by releasing the Palm Pre phone which runs the new WebOS operating system. It is very much like the iPhone and Android phones, but all of its applications are based on javascript and web-page programming. So the Palm Pre basically acts as a small web server, displaying web pages and using javascript for function calls very much like a standard web page on the Internet. Since I am a web site developer (on the side), creating applications for the Palm Pre didn’t require a lot of education (as with the iPhone and Android OS).

I’ve been working with the WebOS for the last few months and I really love it (having a good Windows-based emulator is really helpful). I can very quickly create useful and nice looking apps, and I don’t have to drop down to the low-level C progamming language to do so. I just finished writing a electronic wallet app for the WebOS and I’m now writing a companion application for my Desktop Vista PC, and I’m just dreading it. After writing for the WebOS, having to go back to Microsoft Windows C-programming just seems archaic! Lots of mind numbing coding, abstract system function calls, etc. I feel like I’m back to the dark ages again. I know I can use some higher level programming languages for Windows (like .NET) but I don’t want to invest a lot of time learning those languages.

So, I’m planning to stop all Windows Mobile OS application development in favor of the Palm WebOS platform. It’s fresh new ground, and I’m hoping to duplicate the initial success I had with the Pocket PC platform with the WebOS. I’m also looking at getting a Palm Pre Pixi phone with Sprint Service when it comes out next month, so I’ve definitely decided to invest my time and money on this platform. Good luck to Palm and their reentry into the smartphone market!


Palm Pre WebOS Development Has Gone Public!

July 16, 2009

palm_preFor the last several months, only a select group of developers were allowed access to the Palm Pre SDK (early access program for developers). All that were accepted in the program had to sign non-disclosure agreements to keep what they were seeing in the beta SDK confidential. Fortunately, I was one of the select few who were accepted into the program about a month ago, so I have had some time working with their SDK. As of this morning, Palm has officially released the SDK to all developers publically, so anyone who wants to create Palm Pre apps can now do so.

Here’s a few comments I have regarding the Palm Pre SDK:

First, Palm was stating that a person with HTML, CSS, and Javascript experience could develop Palm Pre apps. The idea was that a person with web site developing skills could easily create Palm Pre apps. Being a person who has created web sites using HTML, CSS, and some Javascript, I thought I would fit into this category, however, that was not the case. I discovered that creating basic apps that mimic web-page operation is doable, but you do need extensive knowledge of the Javascript Document Object Model (DOM) to effectively use the Palm Pre’s widgets (buttons, lists, selectors, sliders, etc). If you don’t know DOM very well, then you’re in for an uphill battle (as with my case). So for those new Palm Pre owners who are expecting to create these wonderful games and apps using the Palm Pre SDK with just basic web site development knowledge, you’re in for a surprise. Read the rest of this entry »