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.