Create easy screen-sharing shortcuts

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Given that our Macs are spread throughout the house, I use OS X 10.5’s screen sharing feature a lot to work with machines that don’t happen to be sitting where I am. While there are many ways to start screen sharing, here’s one of my favorites—it’s especially useful if you have more than two Macs in your home.

You can create a shortcut to any screen sharing with any machine on your network by using your Web browser, and a special URL. The URL takes the form of vnc://address.of.machine, and address.of.machine can be either a raw IP address (i.e. or that Mac’s Bonjour name, which is typically whatever you named the machine, followed by .local. I prefer to use the IP address, though, because that typically won’t change, whereas you may rename your Macs on occasion.

(You can find your Mac’s IP address by opening the Network System Preferences panel, then click on your connection type (Ethernet, AirPort, etc.) in the left-hand panel. Your IP address should then appear somewhere in the right hand side of the window.)

Once you’ve typed the above address into the URL bar in your browser, do not press Return. Instead, select the text you’ve just typed, click-and-hold the mouse over the selection, wait a second or so, then drag it to your desktop and drop it. This will create a “.vncloc” file on your desktop. Double-click that, and Screen Sharing will launch, and connect to the specified machine. Repeat this procedure to create fast-access shortcuts for each of your machines. (I tested this in both Safari and Firefox, but I’m not sure if it works with other browsers.)

Once you have all the shortcuts created, you can make them even easier to use—and visually easier to distinguish—by changing their names and icons. I did that, then put all my shortcuts together in one folder, dropped that folder into the right side of the Dock, and set it to display as a grid. (You could, of coruse, drop this folder in the Finder’s sidebar or toolbar, too, or set it up to work with your launcher program—i.e. Butler, LaunchBar, or Quicksilver). )

The final result can be seen at left; click on the small image for a larger version. If you’re wondering where I got those lovely computer icons, the answer is that they’re included in OS X 10.5. With only a couple minutes’ effort, I built myself a graphical, always-there screen sharing assistant, thanks to a special URL and some bundled OS X icons.

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