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The end of the road for Back to My Mac.

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Apple Abandoning Back to My Mac in Mojave

Back to My Mac won’t be part of macOS 10.14 Mojave. On 9 August 2018, Apple announced that fact in a support note and offered limited and incomplete alternatives. The technology, which enabled screen and file sharing between two Macs even when they weren’t on the same network, first appeared in 2007 in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Back to My Mac provided a way to connect one Mac to another over the Internet without any special network setup or router configuration. It let you, when traveling, connect back to a Mac on your local area network (LAN) just as though you were on the same LAN. Every Mac logged into the same iCloud account appeared in the Finder sidebar under Shared. Apple later added remote configuration of AirPort base stations to Back to My Mac through AirPort Utility.

Back to My Mac first used .Mac, then MobileMe, and finally iCloud as a central coordination point to set up an encrypted tunnel between two Macs, sort of like a very private VPN (virtual private network). Generally, it supported only file and screen sharing, and those services had to be enabled on the shared Mac. With some tinkering, you could sometimes get other types of connections to work, too, like FTP and SSH.

I found Back to My Mac such an exciting proposition back then—and so complicated to get working just right with different routers and network setups—that I wrote a nearly 100-page book for the Take Control series just about Back to My Mac. (And a separate one about screen sharing!)

Back to My Mac worked reliably only in certain networking configurations. It couldn’t punch through a “Double NAT,” a situation in which you have two layers of network devices assigning local IP addresses (see “Punching a Hole for Back to My Mac,” 17 November 2007). This can happen if you have an ISP-provided broadband modem that offers some networking capabilities, and you also want to attach your own Wi-Fi gateway with your own settings. Other remote-access software can overcome that difficulty.

The need for Back to My Mac is no longer as great as it was when Apple introduced it. Before Back to My Mac, you had to know how to obtain and configure server and client remote control software, which may have used the industry standard VNC, for remote access. (Apple’s Screen Sharing service is a modified version of VNC, in fact, and supports standard VNC for backward, but highly insecure, compatibility.)

Nowadays, you have a number of options for specific forms of remote access, many of which work across multiple desktop platforms. However, most are quite expensive or require a monthly subscription.

Alternatives to Back to My Mac

First, some good news: the loss of Back to My Mac doesn’t affect macOS’s built-in screen sharing, which you can still use over your LAN or invoke via Messages.

If you need remote screen and file access only for personal or non-commercial purposes, the cross-platform TeamViewer is the best option (there are many others). It’s provided on an honor-system basis at no cost for those who aren’t using it for work. Otherwise, it starts at $588 per year for a single user to access any number of computers, with only one session active at a time.

The Sweet Setup recommends Edovia’s Screens (Mac, $30 or part of the Setapp $9.99 per month subscription service; iOS, $20) for remotely accessing a Mac and other platforms. (That article also recommends a number of other alternatives worth examining.)

Apple offers Apple Remote Desktop ($80), but its reviews are quite poor, and the company doesn’t seem to have kept up with the level of development required to make it shine and be reliable in the latest versions of macOS. It’s possible dumping Back to My Mac from macOS could spur improvement, but I don’t recommend Apple Remote Desktop for most people.

For remote file access, nearly everyone I know has switched to a cloud-based service like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Such a service provides access to files on linked desktops, through mobile software, and via a Web browser.

People who still need a Mac-to-Mac secure tunnel will have to look into more complicated solutions, like installing VPN server software on their Mac. That used to be an option with macOS Server, but Apple is removing the VPN server in future versions (see “Apple to Deprecate Many macOS Server Services,” 26 January 2018).

I felt a pang of regret when I read that Apple was putting an end to Back to My Mac, thinking of the utility it brought its users over the years. But—perhaps due to relatively low uptake by everyday Mac users—the company let it languish and never built it into a robust, consistent, and modern part of macOS. It’s a reasonable time to let it go.

We’re running a two-question survey to see what TidBITS readers think of Back to My Mac and what they have used it for.

 

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Comments About Apple Abandoning Back to My Mac in Mojave

Notable Replies

  1. Do we know if BTMM will continue to work with older OS’s, or will they be removing the functionality from iCloud for everyone? I suspect the latter, though the announcement doesn’t address this.

  2. Back to my Mac - hasn’t worked for years. Barely worked when it did.

  3. I have found BTMM (in remotely connecting from my MBP to my iMac) very helpful and easy to use, however it sometimes didn’t work, or was erratic with making the connection. I had to get someone to restart the iMac to make a connection work, as in show up in the sidebar (not a good thing to rely on someone else to be onsite!). That’s a great feature when connecting into your own devices.
    However, the feature I use most is helping elderly clients via Messages Screen Sharing to give simple and even complex tuition on using apps or even something really simple such as putting back into the Dock an app icon they may have removed accidentally etc. It is a very convenient, time saving, way of assisting people.
    With Screen Sharing (via the Messages app) I find that works really well, when it works. In Australia I’ve found the Telstra supplied modems often times don’t allow me to access a client’s computer, but I could share my screen with them.
    At one client’s house, I could screen share easily with his iMac, but his MBP wouldn’t connect as “me to him”, but would connect if I shared my screen with him.
    Go figure!
    I’ve found that turning off and turning back on the Back To My Mac in SysPrefs will sometimes allow a connection to work properly. But not always.
    It seems Apple are really only wanting Screen Sharing to work on a LAN as their support guides don’t give hints for remote connection troubleshooting.
    I would like a guide on how to use (and troubleshoot) the app ScreenSharing (which is in a “hidden” folder on the Mac) so that if a client on the other end of the phone can tell me relevant info required in their SysPref Sharing dialogue box, to make a ScreenSharing connection.
    I’ve used TeamViwer (I think ScreenSharing via Messages works better once a connection is made) but find it harder to invoke especially it the client is not computer savvy and has not used TeamViewer previously.
    One thing with TeamViewer is that it always seems to be able to make the connection (when Messages ScreenSharing wouldn’t).
    Apple seem to have their own app they get a customer to download and then tell the Apple person the code they see on screen to make a connection (but it may be observe only?)
    Who has the answers?

  4. I’ve used BTMM to remotely access my own machines for years, with few problems. And those were due to whatever router I had at the time not being able to correctly allow setup via UPnP.

    Since TeamViewer was mentioned, would that be able to allow screen sharing back to a machine without anyone sitting in front of it? (Like back to my desktop while I’m out of town.)

  5. Yes. You can set it up in a few ones, and one of them is unattended access.

  6. Apple has a long history of abandoning their software. So do others, but it is frustrating because we expect better from Apple.

  7. I think some of this comes from being so secretive about their projects. They never test them out in the real world, and when they do, they are not used as much as they like. On the other hand, a few people use them extensively (Aperture) and then they feel upset when something in their workflow is taken away.

  8. In principle that can work right out of the box. Enter the remote Mac’s IP in the Screen Sharing app and as long as that remote Mac is set up to allow Screen Sharing (Sys Prefs > Sharing) it should work just fine.

    The reason most people will run into trouble here is not related to SS, but rather networking. Many remote Macs will be sitting on a LAN behind a router that is running a firewall that will be blocking incoming port 5900.

    If you’re a bit UNIX savvy and not afraid of the CLI you can easily get around this by setting up SSH port forwarding and just tunnel SS traffic through 22 to the remote Mac. I have used that myself for many years and, especially if you have static (or rarely changing) IPs, that will be very convenient to use in practice.

    Things can get more complicated if you do not have access to the firewall setup on the remote router so you cannot ensure that e.g. 22 is open so you can use it for secure tunneling or if you have frequently changing IPs. If I understand right, the problem with BTMM now vanishing is that this last step was taken care of behind the scenes by macOS. BTMM would basically act as a dynamic IP forwarding service. It’s this last important bit of the puzzle that Apple is removing. IIRC you could even use BTMM to collect the dynamically changing remote IP by hand parsing some command output (can’t find the link right now).

    If Apple would include IP forwarding into FMMac or FMiPhone that would basically solve that issue. You’d get the IPs of all your iCloud devices, maybe even an ad-hoc name (something like 123456.youriCloud.iCloudClients.apple.com). But Apple hasn’t done anything like that as far as I’m aware—I’m sure that’s too corporate or too yesterday, that’s what the Genius Bar is for. There are of course commercial dynamic DNS updating services, but apart form costing money that needs to be set up beforehand and not just the moment your 92 year old uncle Harry calls you up from Duluth because “it’s no longer printing” and is expecting some magical solution from you sitting 1,500 miles away pronto.

  9. I agree. But I think it’s not just software. In general, Apple can get all revved up about something only to then lose interest a while later. Once that happens things go stale really fast and you wonder about the contrast that displays compared to the OMG-what-the-holy-hoopla stance they displayed two years when they were launching the thing.

  10. We don’t know, no, and won’t until Mojave ships.

    And let’s not turn this into complaining about how Apple or software companies in general abandon software. It happens, and we don’t have to be happy about it, but there’s nothing new to say about it.

    It’s much more interesting and positive to talk about what we’ll use to replace the missing capabilities.

  11. I’ll be honest: I never understood what BTMM was supposed to do, and never bothered to figure it out. I would like to be able to remotely access things on my home 192… network behind a frequently changing ip. I do have dynamic dns set up with my dns provider and run a shell script on my mini to keep it updated. It’s a pain. Would be nice to have an easy secure way to get on my local network.

  12. As the TidBITS survey shows, most people don’t use BTMM. And readers are much more likely to than newer Mac users. Apple hasn’t promoted the feature for some time.

    I understand the disappointment from the community when a feature or application is sunsetted. Sure, it’s disruptive and upsetting. But I wish TidBITS would refrain from the “click-bait” headlines. “Abandons?” Seriously, shame on you TidBITS. As a paying member I expect higher editorial quality.

  13. I used to purchase JollyFastVNC Home to use as a VNC client to connect to my Macs on my LAN. Then I discovered macOS came with a way to do screen sharing and file sharing without a third-party client. I stumbled across the syntax to use Finder’s Go > Connect to Server to launch the appropriate client and I have never looked back.

    I have been given the responsibility of helping remote relatives with their Mac. Trying to explain something over the phone is not as good as screen sharing with them. I will need to find a low cost method for screen sharing with remote family members. Any suggestions beside the one mentioned in the article?

  14. Sorry you feel that way, but seriously, you see “Abandoning” as click-bait? And one entirely accurate word in a title is enough to trigger a larger concern about our editorial quality?

    We write titles that we think will attract attention, yes, because the entire point of the headline is to encourage someone to read the article. “Support Note Indicates Back to My Mac May Not Be Available in Mojave” is equally accurate but way more boring. But I don’t see "Apple Abandoning Back to My Mac in Mojave as click-bait.

    Click-bait would be “Apple Rips Back to My Mac out of Mojave and Stomps on its Corpse to Spite You.”

    BTW, I just spent 15 minutes replying to this instead of writing or editing TidBITS articles.

  15. No, I’m sorry to have struck a nerve. “Abandoning” is a pretty emotional word. Abandoning a child, abandoning your post, abandoning ship? Did Apple “abandon” the PowerPC processors? Did they “abandon” iPhoto? To me language makes sense. I would have suggested “drops support” or even BTMM is “gone” in Mojave. “Abandon” is quite pejorative.

    “Clickbait” was probably not fair, but “abandon” is inappropriately sensational. Best regards.

    abandon

    1. cease to support or look after (someone); desert.
      “her natural mother had abandoned her at an early age” <–
    2. give up completely (a course of action, a practice, or a way of thinking).
      “he had clearly abandoned all pretense of trying to succeed”
  16. You didn’t strike a nerve so much as your criticism came out of nowhere. And it seems really trivial and thus a waste of my time to deal with. We publish thousands of words per week, and we can’t vet every one of them for whether someone might consider it emotional. And many people do feel that Apple abandons them when it drops support for long-standing technologies, so it doesn’t seem inappropriate to acknowledge that in a small way.

  17. Kind of! I know a lot of people affected in each migration Apple makes who feel left behind. Apple has what I think is a salutary habit of “killing their darlings.” The reason the company produces ever-better technology is that they don’t keep old stuff alive forever. Microsoft’s biggest technical debt in the 2000s, something that I think horribly weighted it down, was keeping Windows 95, 98, Me, and 2000 running. (They couldn’t just rip a bandaid off, but they had options of proceeding that they didn’t take, such as shifting to virtual machines for legacy support, etc.)

    I receive email almost every week from iPhoto users who feel abandoned (in my capacity writing the Mac 911 column at Macworld). Folks try Photos and, three versions in, they still hate it or find features missing. There are a lot of bugs or broken features remaining. (Try to set up a slideshow in Photos and maintain the order of your pictures!)

    If you don’t use BtMM, you don’t feel left behind. If you do, we’ve received emails and I’ve read messages on social media by people who really feel betrayed and left out, because this breaks the only viable method that worked for them and was free to boot.

    Folks will get over it. But I don’t think the word “abandon” is as weighted as you feel.

    [sarcasm]Adam, I fought for that headline! I still think it’s the good one.[/sarcasm]

  18. Todd,

    The simplest is to use the ‘ask to share screen’ function in Messages on the Mac… assuming they have logged into it with their Apple ID successfully.

    Screens for Mac is pretty painless with their Screens Connect and Screens Express add-ons, if you want a single purchase solution.

    Teamviewer is fantastic, and can be used for personal use for free… but after that is a monthly license cost.

    As I mentioned earlier in this thread; setting up dynamic dns (to find the ip of the remote computer), ssh/vpn tunnels to carry the traffic, holes in the firewall and Apple’s Screen Sharing app, all work very well together.

    Cheers,

    Dave

  19. Nah…abandoned is an ok word but it doesn’t really work anyway. BTTM has always been broken for me and I switched to Screens long ago.

    neil

  20. I use BTMM for screen sharing between home and work regularly and this is a real loss for me. I like that it gets through both my work and home firewall and NAT and just works without having to run any special software. TeamViewer will work but it is not a faceless app and so sits around in a way I find annoying. It’s a bit like good old Classic and headphone jacks on iPhones. I sure can still emulate a Mac Classic with OS/9, but it is no way as seamless as the old classic support in 10.4 and the lack of a headphone jack means I can’t plug my iPhone music into any hifi any more as we don’t all have Bluetooth speakers. Clearly I am just not hip enough for Apple anymore. I need to live in the past because I feel abandoned.

  21. But I wish TidBITS would refrain from the “click-bait” headlines. “Abandons?” Seriously, shame on you TidBITS. As a paying member I expect higher editorial quality.

    Gimme, and TidBITS, a break. According to dictionary.com, the second of seven definitions of abandoned is:

    to give up; discontinue; withdraw from:to abandon a research project; to abandon hopes for a stage career.https://www.dictionary.com/browse/abandon

    The other definitions are in context of the article as well. It sounds like an appropriate analogy to me.

  22. Even if port 5900 is not blocked you still need to fiddle with port forwarding for any setup behind a NAT router/firewall setup. And that will be 99.9999% of home users in the US. And for 1/2 of them or more they will NOT even know how to log into their router. As it was setup by their ISP/children/neighbor/etc…

    Now AT&T will sell you a service for $5 or $10 a month to do such things for you. :slight_smile:

    Says he dealing with this just now for a client before catching a flight out tonight.

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