Five ways to remotely access a Mac

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Timbuktu Pro: remote control heavyweight

If you want to connect to a remote Mac, and you want something more sophisticated than Back to My Mac or iChat, but don’t want to rely on a central server for the connection (which services like LogMeIn and GoToMyPC require), Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro ( ) could be the solution for you.

The software—which seems to have been around, in one form or another, forever; I first used it in the early 1990s on an Apple Portable—provides more distinct options for remote interaction than any other program or service profiled in this series. With it, you can remotely access both attended and unattended machines, share your Mac with guests, transfer files, both control and observe remote screens, talk via VoIP, and chat; Timbuktu Pro also integrates well with Skype.

The program can connect over a local network via Bonjour or IP address, and remotely via IP address or an Internet hostname. You can also register your e-mail address to associate it in Netopia’s directory with whatever appears to be your computer or router’s externally reachable IP address.

Unfortunately, none of those connections can punch through a router that assigns private addresses to computers on the local network. But a few years ago, Netopia found a way around that obstacle, by enabling Skype integration with Timbuktu Pro. Skype allows its software to be used as a conduit to connect users on different networks, much in the way that GoToMyPC or LogMeIn does.

To take advantage of this integration, you must create multiple Skype accounts—Skype service is free, so that’s not a big deal—and leave those accounts logged in on the remote machines. You can then use all of Timbuktu’s security and other features; Skype is just the pipe. (If you use the same Skype account on each computer, the connection isn’t made properly to remote systems.)

The biggest downside to Timbuktu Pro is its price: It’s sold as a set of licenses; you need two licenses to connect two machines. (Each license allows both client and server operation, at the same time.) The licenses start at $180 (Mac only) or $200 (Mac/Windows mix) for two machines; discounts are available if you have more machines.

Set up

As noted, you need a copy of Timbuktu Pro on every machine you want access to and from. After installing the software, you add accounts (you can use OS X user accounts or Timbuktu accounts.

You can choose which services to enable, turning off everything but, say, remote observation, in which one can see the screen but not have access to keyboard and mouse input. One hard-to-find option (Setup > Preferences > TCP Security) lets you require that all incoming connections use Secure Shell (SSH), a session-encryption standard; I’d recommend enabling it.

Setting up Skype to work with Timbuktu Pro can be a little tricky. If you’re trying to access someone else’s system, both of you must have Skype active and allow each other to be contacts. If you check the Skype box in the Setup -> Incoming Access dialog, a special Skype tab will appear in the File -> New Connection window. This tab shows whether any of your Skype contacts have Timbuktu enabled.

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