Mac users have a new tool for remotely accessing other Macs regardless of whether the remote computers have routable IP addresses. LogMeIn released a beta last week of their LogMeIn Free software for Mac OS X. LogMeIn already supports Windows and Linux operating systems, and some handheld platforms. This version enables a Mac running Mac OS X 10.4.9 to connect to, or be connected to by, any LogMeIn client on their supported platforms.
Remote control software is often used to view and control the operating system interface of a computer elsewhere on a local or remote network, and to retrieve or transfer files among multiple computers owned by one person – I have Quicken installed only on my computer at home, for instance, and use it remotely while I’m in the office. Remote control software is also widely used for technical support, enabling a technician to view precisely what a user is doing, and to install software remotely.
The free flavor of LogMeIn allows unlimited computers and connections, but doesn’t include file transfer, just remote screen control. The company offers several paid versions of their products, including a premium personal release that does include file transfers, remote printing, and a dashboard for managing multiple machines. The Mac version is available only in the free edition at the moment.
LogMeIn requires a software installation (but without the need to restart) on the computer that will be remotely controlled. The company’s Web site manages your connection to remote computers. Remote control is handled through a Web browser: a plug-in for Safari and a Java applet that works in Firefox provide the interface. Just like iChat, Skype, and other communications software, LogMeIn can work with either routable IP addresses or with private, non-routable addresses typically used in home networks, hotspots, and some business networks. (The trick is that computers on either end of a connection open a link to a central server which ties the separate connections together.)
Other Buttons on the Remote — While Timbuktu Pro has long provided a combination of remote control, file transfer, and other communications features, the product is priced and designed for technical support or advanced users with specific needs, not personal use. Timbuktu Pro can’t penetrate networks to reach private addresses, either, since Netopia doesn’t operate central servers that would enable that. Timbuktu Pro can traverse NAT gateways using Skype, but I have found that slow and sometimes unreliable in practice.
Similarly, Apple’s Remote Desktop software provides remote control, file transfer, and client management. But the package is relatively expensive, has no capability for working with private, non-routable IP addresses, and is aimed at large installations (see “Apple Remote Desktop 3 Released,” 2006-04-17).
Fog Creek’s Copilot software can reach routable and non-routable addresses, but is sold on a time-used basis and is meant for technical support (see “Fog Is My Copilot,” 2007-01-09); usage can cost 25 cents a minute or $5 per day, or can be included in monthly subscription plans. Likewise, Mac HelpMate Remote can reach any computer, but is designed for remote technical support, and is part of a package starting at $600 per year.