The Practical Mac

A Home Away from Home

- 2001.12.11

Have you ever gotten home from work and discovered that you needed a file from the office? Or worse yet, have you ever gotten to work and discovered that you forgot to email youself that great game you downloaded at home last night? We at The Practical Mac have been there. We feel your pain.

Today we look at some solutions that will help you to make sure that neither of these scenarios ever happens again.

Remote control products have matured over the years. I remember first using PCAnywhere over ten years ago, across a dialup connection at 1200 baud, and thinking that it would have been easier to walk across town to the other PC, get what I wanted, and walk back. Those days are gone, and today's products are spiffy solutions to the one person, computer-in-two-locations problem.

Timbuktu Pro

Timbuktu Pro, available from Netopia, is king of the hill when it comes to remote control software. It is fully cross-platform compliant with Mac OS 8.1-9.x as well as OS X. On the Windows side, it runs on Windows 95 and all later versions of Windows. You can control Macs from Macs, Macs from PCs, PCs from PCs and PCs from Macs. Timbuktu encrypts the login password and dynamically scrambles and encodes all keyboard and mouse data sent from the guest to the host machine on a per session basis. It is slick, full-featured, and easy to use. It is also, unfortunately, a bit pricey. A license for two computers is currently $179.95, and the licenses can be used on either Macs or PCs. If you want licenses for only Macs or only PCs, the cost is slightly less.

This is a great program for the business user or even for the home user who does not mind the price. However, if you are on a budget, read on.


In the proud tradition of The Practical Mac, we are elated to let our readers know that there is a fully cross-platform solution availably at a lower price: free. VNC, which stands for Virtual Network Computing, is availabe as a free download from AT & T Research, United Kingdom. As if being free were not enough, VNC runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, Sun Solaris, and various flavors of Unix. You can control a computer running any supported OS from a computer running any supported OS. For instance, I can control my Sun box from my Mac and vice-versa.

VNC doesn't have as many features as Timbuktu. You can't easily transfer files between machines or do remote printing, but VNC should handle the remote control needs of 95% of users. We have it installed on every computer in our organization. It is a life-saver when it comes to remote troubleshooting. Beware, though, security is only rudimentary. I would not advise using it across the public Internet.


GoToMyPC is a relative newcomer to the remote control arena. GoToMyPC works a little differently. All connections are made through GoToMyPC's central servers on the Internet. You download the program to your PC and, once installed, you can control your PC from virtually any Java-compliant Web browser with an Internet connection. Currently, GoToMyPC only supports Windows hosts. Remote control is also supported on Mac, Linux, and Unix clients.

When the product was first released, it was Windows-only. Within a few months, they had expanded support on the client side. I have been in contact with the folks at GoToMyPC for some time, and I am hopeful that support on the host side will also be expanded eventually.

This service costs $4.95 per month for 2 PCs. Security is impeccable (of course, since it runs over the public Internet, I would expect it to be). It fully supports 128-bit encryption. If access on the go is your need, and you only need to control Windows PCs, this product is worth looking into. If your host needs include Mac or Linux/Unix computers, I urge you to email your support for multi-platform hosts to the folks at GoToMyPC at

For better or for worse, you no longer have to be away from the office when you are "out of the office!" LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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