Remote Control of Your MacBook - dummies

By Mark L. Chambers

One of the coolest advantages to a network is the ability to take control of one computer from another computer. For example, sometimes you might need to access files on your Mac Pro desktop while you’re on a trip, but you don’t have File Sharing enabled. What can you do?

You can remotely connect into your Mac Pro and then enable File Sharing. Perhaps you have a file on your computer with someone’s phone number that you suddenly need on the road. With remote control, it’s at your fingertips!

How to use Screen Sharing on your MacBook

Lion’s Screen Sharing feature, which is available from iChat, can be turned on for individual users from the Sharing pane in System Preferences. You can allow access for all user accounts on your MacBook or limit remote access to selected users. Screen Sharing is Apple’s implementation of Virtual Network Computing (VNC) technology.

To set up Screen Sharing, follow these steps:

  1. Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock.

  2. Click the Sharing icon to open the Sharing Preferences pane.

  3. Click the Screen Sharing check box to select it.

  4. To limit remote access for specific accounts, click the Only these users radio button, and click the Add button (which bears a plus sign) to select a user.

  5. Close the System Preferences window to save the change.

After you’ve enabled screen sharing, you can use the Buddies→Share My Screen menu item in iChat to share your screen with another person. To view another person’s screen, use the Buddies→ Share Remote Screen menu item.

Remotely control your MacBook

Virtual Network Computing (or VNC, available for many platforms at RealVNC) is a very nice application that enables you to remotely control a computer from pretty much anywhere that has an Internet connection. VNC is easy to install and configure, and it runs on many different platforms, ranging from Windows 7 and UNIX on desktop computers and servers to iPhones, iPads, and Windows CE on personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Wrap your mind around this: You could be at a friend’s house on her wireless network and use your iPhone to remotely control your MacBook at home over the Internet.

Some networks have proxies and firewalls that might interfere with VNC’s operation. You can remotely control a computer that’s behind a firewall or cable/DSL router, but the firewall/router needs to be configured properly. Because the process varies from one manufacturer to the next, check your cable/DSL router manual for instructions on how to do this.

How VNC works

In a nutshell, VNC takes the graphical interface on your monitor, turns it into data, and sends it to the computer that you’re using to remotely control it. The computer that you’re using sends keyboard presses, trackpad movements, and clicks to it, acting just the same way as it would if you were sitting right in front of it.

You can use Lion’s Screen Sharing feature in iChat to make a remote connection from another Mac to your MacBook. However, you’re not limited to using just another Mac using Lion and Screen Sharing in iChat — you can control your MacBook from a Windows PC, or from an older version of Mac OS X as well! If you’ve already enabled Screen Sharing, follow these steps to enable any VNC connection:

  1. Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock.

  2. Click the Sharing icon to open the Sharing Preferences pane.

  3. Click the Screen Sharing entry.

  4. Click the Computer Settings button.

  5. Click the VNC Viewers May Control Screen with Password check box to select it.

  6. Click within the password text box and enter a password for VNC applications.

  7. Click OK to exit the Computer Settings sheet, and close the System Preferences window to save the changes.

Remote control of another computer from your MacBook

A few different VNC viewers exist for Mac OS X. A VNC viewer is just an application you use to remotely control another computer running VNC. You can download them at RealVNC. If you find yourself on a computer without a VNC viewer — heaven forbid — VNC server actually runs over the Web as well!

As long as the computer that you’re using has a Web browser that supports Java — which Safari does — you can still remotely control your computer. (You may have to download the Java runtime package from the Apple website. Click in the website Search box and type Java runtime to locate the latest version.)

When you connect to the computer running VNC using a Web browser, the Web server sends a default page that contains a Java applet. That Java applet asks you for the password to connect; upon entering the correct password, it brings up the remote control session right in the Web browser.