Shimo 1.0.3

Mac OS X’s built-in VPN (virtual private network) client is a pretty good one: it’s easy to set up; its menu-bar menu makes it convenient to connect to and disconnect from your VPN(s); and it gives you reliable connections.

Unless you’re connecting to a Cisco VPN, that is.

Search the Web, and you’ll find scads of complaints from Mac users trying to use OS X’s built-in VPN software to connect to Cisco VPNs. The solution is to install Cisco’s own Mac OS X VPN client. When I finally switched—I’d put it off for quite a while because the Cisco client requires the installation of kernel extensions and other system-level files—I was amazed by how much more reliable my VPN connections were. I was able to connect instantly, and my connections actually stayed connected for as long as I needed them. (Note that you can’t download the Cisco client without a license; if you need it, you’ll have to get it from your IT department.)

Cisco VPN client window
On the other hand, the Cisco client requires you launch a separate application—and an ugly, Windows-looking one at that (see right).

I missed my menu-bar connection menu, and I didn’t like having to keep another application open just to connect to the VPN. So I went looking for something that would give me the interface and convenience of OS X’s VPN client with the Cisco client’s compatibility. NexUmoja’s Shimo 1.0.3 (   ; payment requested) was exactly what I wanted.

Shimo menu
Shimo still requires that you have Cisco’s client installed and configured, and you need configure a profile in Shimo for each VPN to which you connect. But after this one-time setup process, Shimo gives you a menu, similar to OS X’s own VPN menu, for quickly connecting to and disconnecting from each VPN—either by choosing Connect or Disconnect, respectively, from the menu or by pressing user-defined keyboard shortcuts. And Cisco’s own client doesn’t need to be running—you can hide it away in your Applications folder and never look at it again.

Depending on your preferences, Shimo can show your connection time in the menu bar, and can notify you of connections, disconnections, errors, and general information messages; notifications can include any combination of a visual dialog, a Growl alert, an audible alert sound, or a text-to-speech reading of the alert. You can also set up Shimo to run an AppleScript whenever one of these events occurs, a neat feature that enables near-endless possibilities for custom functionality.

Each VPN profile can have different settings, which include a number of useful features. For example, Shimo can automatically reconnect whenever the VPN connection is lost—including after sleep and at startup. It can also connect to a specific VPN whenever you connect to a specific wireless network or switch to a particular Network Location.

Shimo also provides an optional Statistics display that shows detailed information about your connection, including IP addresses, traffic summaries, and route information.

My biggest complaint about Shimo isn’t with its functionality; it’s that the developer includes no documentation, nor is detailed information about its features and settings available from the developer’s Web site. Some settings are obvious, but others aren’t at all, so if you experience connection problems—which, according to feedback on Version Tracker and MacUpdate, some people do—there’s a good chance that the problem is simply a wrong setting somewhere. My advice: if you don’t understand a setting, don’t touch it—and then drop the developer a line and ask for some documentation. Even floating tooltips over each setting would be welcome.

Lack of documentation aside, Shimo is a great utility for those of us forced to use Cisco’s inelegant—but functional—VPN client.

Shimo is a Universal binary and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and Cisco VPN Client v4.9.00.0050 or later.

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