How to Use Back to My Mac to Get Free and Seamless Remote Access

Back to my mac vs logmein vs teamviewer

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?

Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.

24 Comments:

  1. I agree with your assessment of Back To My Mac, but, unfortunately, on my computers it wasn’t compatible with LogMeIn, which I need for access to Windows computers and for access from iOS devices. In my experience, LogMeIn is somewhat slow and buggy (with the bugs varying depending on the browser used), but usable. Would TeamViewer be any faster than LogMeIn?

    • It’s been quite a long time since I’ve used either TeamViewer or LogMeIn, mctavish, so I’m not sure if one is faster than the other or not. Maybe somebody who has used TeamViewer recently will see this and be able to give us an opinion.

  2. Evan, are you using any remote desktop other than Back To My Mac?

  3. Evan, your reply encouraged me to try Back To My Mac again, but this time I never could get screen sharing to work. I was stopped at the authentication screen. I tried a number of troubleshooting steps, but no luck. It was a big time sink. I’ll just stick to LogMeIn for everything.

  4. It’s working now. Interesting that AppleCare didn’t know what to do. The senior advisor was sending me on a wild goose chase. Anyway, what fixed it was logging out of iCloud, and then logging in again, on both computers. I read that somewhere, a suggested maneuver for trouble shooting iCould problems in general.

    So I’m using Back To My Mac screen sharing between my iMacs and LogMeIn for access to my iMacs from my iOS devices. I agree with you, it’s the way to go. By the way, LogMeIn also is good for accessing Windows (which I run in VMs) from my iOS devices.

    Thanks.

  5. Glad to hear it is working for you. iCloud definitely has issues – I have to enter my password in Mail every day or two. Not a deal breaker, but frustrating.

  6. Evan,
    I agree and have had the same problem with iCloud.

    Regarding the screen sharing, do you know of a way to make it time out? If I forget to turn it off when I’m done, the host display won’t go to sleep.

    • I’m not sure how to set a time out. I actually don’t even set my iMac to sleep, but just for the display to go off, since I have various processes that I want running all the time.

  7. Evan,

    Same here, but screen sharing won’t let the host display go off, even if the client display does. I’ve heard that “always-on” shortens the display life.

    • Hmm, I’m not sure then. I don’t think I’ve done anything special, yet my iMac screen is always off when I come down to it in the morning, even if I removed into it the night before.

      • I should clarify – I usually do remember to disconnect, but I’m sure there have been times where I’ve forgotten, and I can’t recall ever coming to my iMac and finding the screen on.

  8. The teamviewer app for mobile devices is also great. So much useful when you are not near a computer

  9. I haven’t tried using backtomyMac remote support tool as I use RHUB remote support servers for remotely accessing computers. Will check out the same and will let you know my review about the tool.

  10. Since Aliasgar placed a recent post, I’ll put in my two bits again.

    I use Macs, home and office, each running a Win8 virtual machine. I mostly connect between the Macs and from iOS devices to the Macs.

    I’ve been using Back To My Mac, Google Chrome Remote Desktop, LogMeIn, and GoToMyPC on the Macs and LogMeIn Ignition and GoToMyPC on the iOS devices.

    Frustratingly, none of these is completely reliable in making connections. GoToMyPC is the most reliable, but it costs money, and occasionally won’t connect. Very frequently, if one of the services won’t connect, one of the others will, so it is useful having all available if remote access is important as it is to me.

    On the Mac desktop Back To My Mac has the best interface with Chrome Remote Desktop second.

    On the iOS devices LogMeIn certainly has a better interface than does GoToMyPC. I bought Ignition some years back, and it may give me ongoing use of LogMeIn even though the free desktop version is no longer available.

    • Thanks for the nice explanation of each. My biggest problem with Back to My Mac right now is that sometimes my Mac doesn’t even show up as a connection option when I’m not in my local network.

      I use GoToMyPC for my work PC, and it has been solid.

      I’m going to review Parallels Access, a pretty unique remote app on the iPad.

  11. One thing that I’ve learned about troubleshooting Back to My Mac is that you have to jump through all of the hoops that Apple lists in their support article “Set up and use Back to My Mac” (http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4907). Recently, my work Mac wouldn’t show under “Shared” in the Finder sidebar. The problem was solved by this instruction: “3. Open a Finder window, and look for the Shared section in the sidebar. If you don’t see any shared computers or base stations, place the pointer over the word Shared and click Show.”

  12. Does anyone know what the process is for Back To My Mac? I was hoping that whenever Back To My Mac crashed, I could just restart the process rather than having to reboot the Mac.

  13. Quitting “awacsd” kills Back To My Mac on both the client and host sides, so that appears to be it. Interestingly, it rapidly restarts itself. Next time that I can’t connect, I’ll give restarting “awacsd” a try. Thanks.

    “Know your Mac OS X processes” is a nice find, also.

  14. It works. I couldn’t connect Back To My Mac, so I opened Activity Monitor on the client computer and quit awacsd. Awacsd immediately restarted itself, and the next attempt to connect Back To My Mac worked just fine. Outstanding!

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