Mac remote desktop solutions expand with Citrix "Gotomypc"

Citrix has announced their "Gotomypc" service for the Mac platform, which despite its rather mundane name offers another viable remote connection solution for Mac users.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
4 min read

Years ago, the collaboration and remote desktop solution "Timbuktu" was one of a few remote desktop solutions out there for the Mac, and it had an interesting name. Even the "VNC" label as a generic technology worked for various names (ie, RealVNC, FastVNC), but also spurred people to create amusing and interesting names such as "Chicken of the VNC". These days, companies including Apple are breaking from creativity in names and are resorting to rather mundane labels for remote access services. Apple has "Back to My Mac," and recently Citrix systems recently announced their "GotomyPC" software for Mac. While it is great to see new products and services out for the Mac, it seems the need to come up with a unique name for remote desktop products has diminished.

Like Back to My Mac, the new Citrix solution for the Mac is a VNC and file-sharing system that enables you to easily locate and connect to your Mac. Even though there are a variety of ways to do this, these options allow for seamless connectivity; however, they do come with a price. Apple's solution is bundled with their MobileMe package for $99/year, and the GotomyPC service costs $179/year. Granted, with these services you will just have to click your Mac's icon from a remote location and be able to see the screen and access files; however, there are cheaper alternatives that you can use.

The key to having seamless remote access to your Mac (or any other PC) is to always know the IP address of the computer. Your system already has the services needed to share files, printers, scanners, and screen share, but the difficulty is with knowing what the address is at all times, especially when home internet connections have dynamically assigned IP addresses and are behind routers with firewalls. To tackle this, Back To My Mac and GotomyPC have the computer log in to their servers, where they provide a Dynamic DNS service that maintains a connection with the PC, so you just connect to the service and all information is routed to your computer. This works, but there are cheaper alternatives available for doing this, including using cheaper DynamicDNS services (i.e., DynDNS.com) which will bind a URL to your computer and make it just as available as Back to My Mac and GotomyPC. Additionally, you can use an IP address tracking utility such as Bwanadik to send you emails on what your current IP address is whenever it changes, which is useful if you have a dynamic IP address (though many workplaces and schools have static IP addresses that can just be memorized).

With this information, you can open up the Screen Sharing application (available in the /Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ folder), enter the known IP address of your computer in the address prompt, and be able to connect to your system from there. Additionally, you can do the same with the "Connect to server" option in the Finder's "Go" menu to connect to a variety of services at the given IP Address. To do this, enter the URL as one of the following:

vnc://IP_ADDRESS (connects to screen sharing)
afp://IP_ADDRESS (connects to the native OS X file sharing)
smb://IP_ADDRESS (connects to Windows file sharing)

While the free options may not be as seamless as using a pay service, they can give you a very similar experience. The one point of confusion may be if you have multiple machines behind a home router, and wish to specify which machine you want to connect. Doing this with just knowing the router's IP address may require you to set up port forwarding in your router, or set the desired computer to be a "DMZ" system (nonfirewalled, so all port information goes to it by default--this can be a security risk). Unfortunately doing this can be tricky, may take time and troubleshooting, and in some cases will just not work. If so, DynamicDNS services should be able to get around this problem, so if you have multiple machines at home then one of these services (many of which have free options) may be a good alternative. Again, the key is having a way to connect directly to your machine, and once that is established you can easily use OS X's built-in connection utilities to share the screen and access other services.

Despite it being relatively easy to connect to a machine from remote locations, I think it's great to have multiple options for Mac users to connect to their computers, and think "GotomyPC" is a good product; however, the pricing is rather high for a service that with only a little effort can be done for free. I also hope they come out with a better name at some point, but I am not counting on it.

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