Now is the time of year when many of us are traveling for the holidays. With that comes the need to remotely access our home computers. We’ve covered two of our favorite remote access solutions in the past, and even pondered whether remote access apps were becoming irrelevant, now that so much of our data is in the cloud. If you have a Mac running Lion, and do need to access your Mac remotely, you don’t even need to use a third-party solution. Back to My Mac, previously a paid service as part of Mobile Me, is now free with Lion. If you can get past the fact that it only works between Macs, it’s awesome. I’ve found it to be the most seamless and pleasant remote access solution yet.
To use Back to my Mac for free, you need to be running OS X Lion 10.7.2 or later on each Mac. As an Apple support page indicates, the computers also must be signed in to the same iCloud account, and have Back to My Mac enabled on them (System Preferences > iCloud). You also must enable File Sharing if you want to be able to remotely exchange files, and Screen Sharing if you want to control the screen of the remote computer. You do this in System Preferences > Sharing.
You access Back to My Mac by opening the Finder. If your Macs are set up properly, and your machines are set up for the same iCloud account, you should see the remote Mac in the left sidebar of the Finder. Select that Mac, and you should see a “Connecting” message in the Finder. Once connected, you can browse the directory structure on the remote Mac, right from the Finder. If you want to control the screen of the remote Mac, you need to click the “Share Screen” button just above the directory listing in the Finder window. You can then log in using either your Apple ID (if set up), or using the remote machine’s normal login credentials.
Once you’re sharing the screen, you can do pretty much anything you could if you were sitting at the screen. If your remote machine has dual monitors, you can choose whether to see both screens at once, or just one of the screens. There is a drop down toolbar that lets you send and copy items from the remote clipboard, take a screenshot, and choose between controlling or observing the remote Mac.
Performance: Back to My Mac vs. TeamViewer vs. LogMeIn
Since Back to My Mac isn’t the only free option for remote access, how does it perform compared to TeamViewer and LogMeIn, the two other remote desktop apps that we’ve reviewed? As much as I am a fan of both of those apps, Back to My Mac is an easy choice for me when using my Macs. For starters, it is seamless, being integrated into the system. Back to My Mac also performs better for me. Visually, back to My Mac was more crisp and clear than the other two apps. In fact, my experience from a remote location with Back to My Mac was similar to my experience with other apps over a LAN – fast, with a pleasing visual experience. When I say “fast,” I don’t mean that Back to My Mac works the same as sitting at my remote computers, but it just worked better for me than TeamViewer or LogMeIn. I remember that when I reviewed both of those apps, they seemed fast to me, but Back to My Mac feels perhaps even faster.
The main drawback of Back to My Mac is that you can only connect a Mac to a Mac. If you want to introduce a Windows machine into the mix, you’re out of luck. Also, when I was searching the Internet for Back to My Mac discussions when I first set it up, I found comments from some unhappy users. Most of the complaints were that it was slow (compared to some VNC options), or that it dropped connections. Fortunately, that hasn’t been my experience. For Mac to Mac connections, Back to My Mac has become my remote access tool of choice.
What tools do you use for remote access?