Controlling multiple Macs, locally and remotely

Remote controlled

For anyone who owns more than one Apple computer, the thought of controlling two or more machines at the same time is surely something many people think of. Despite any previous assumptions you may have had, the steps necessary to control two or more Apple computers [at the same time] is quite simple and easily completed by anyone willing and able to follow a few simple directions. The challenge now is not a question of "How could I possibly setup and control multiple machines – for free?" Rather, the challenge is deciding whether or not you need 1) simple "local" control (main desktop + a secondary computer on the same desk), 2) remote access (control your desktop from the cafe or office), or 3) both. We’ll look at setting-up both local and remote access using two methods – both utilizing free – and secure (if applicable) – software.

Looking for local network control and nothing else?

The great thing about owning a desktop and notebook computer is that both machines operate under different variables. Your desktop machine is probably considered the main computer, while mobile responsibilities are offloaded to the notebook. If you are like me, you may feel the urge / need to operate or control both computers at the same time while sitting at a desk. Rather than constantly twisting your upper torso left-to-right in order to use the desktop keyboard & mouse, and the notebooks keyboard & trackpad, why not control both computers using one keyboard and mouse without the need for an expensive KVM switch?

Fortunately, there are a couple of software alternatives for the previously mentioned [hardware] KVM switch – namely Synergy & Teleport. I experimented with both utilities and opted for the consistent and stable performance of the OS X only Teleport. Anyone working in a mixed computing environment will want to experiment with the cross-platform friendly Synergy.

1. Download Teleport to any machines you wish to control

The first step is to download Teleport to any machines that you wish to control with a single keyboard and mouse. You can find the free Teleport download on Abyssoft. For the purpose of this tutorial, I have download to both my Mac Pro and MacBook.

2. Install the teleport.prefPane

Teleport Preference Pane installation

Unzip and double-click the teleport.prefPane which will add a new menu option to your System Preferences underneath the ‘Other’ section.

3. Opening necessary Firewall ports

Teleport Firewall Settings

If OS X’s built-in Firewall is enabled, navigate to ‘System Preferences > Sharing > Firewall’ and select ‘New…’. For ‘Port Name’ select ‘Other’, ‘TCP Port Number(s)’ enter ‘44176-44177’, and ‘Description’ enter ‘Teleport’. ‘UDP Port Number(s)’ can be left blank.

4. Activate Teleport from System Preferences

Teleport Activate

Return to the main System Preferences screen and select ‘teleport’. Activate the utility by checking ‘Activate teleport’ at the top left of the screen. You’ll need to make sure that teleport is activated on all computers you wish to use.

5. Keyboard & mouse controls for non-primary computer(s)

Now that you’ve opened the necessary ports, and activated Teleport, any computers running the software should be able to see one another on your local network. Security conscious individuals can rest at ease knowing that Teleport does offer the option to encrypt traffic. The decision now is to decide which Mac is the primary machine (keyboard & mouse), and which machines(s) are the non-primary computers.

Any computers that have the added option of ‘Share this Mac’ enabled can be controlled using the primary keyboard & mouse. In my particular setup, I enabled the ‘Share this Mac’ option on my MacBook allowing me to control the notebook using the keyboard & mouse connected to my Mac Pro.

6. Arranging screen positions

Teleport Arrange

Similar to setting up multiple displays for your computer, Teleport allows users to virtually arrange the location of your non-primary computers based on their relative position to your primary screen. As you can imagine, virtually arranging your screens you with an extended desktop as you move your cursor from screen-to-screen [using a single mouse].

In addition to offering the convenience of controlling multiple computers with a single mouse & keyboard, Teleport offers traffic encryption, shared clipboard, drag ‘n drop files between Macs, and bezel notification whenever your mouse leaves the primary screen. The best part is that Teleport is freedownload the latest release directly from Abyssoft.

Local network AND remote control?

Although Teleport is a fantastic free utility that provides users with the convenience of controlling multiple Macs using a single mouse & keyboard, the software is limited in that once you leave your home network, your connection with other machines is lost. In order to control your home computer, access files, or open and close applications while sitting in a coffee shop 30 miles away, you’ll need to open a virtual network connection. Similar to controlling two or more Macs, the actual setup required to access your home computer remotely and securely is much simpler than what others may have led you to believe.

In order to achieve a secure connection with your home computer (even if it is behind a firewall) remotely, you’ll need two pieces of software: 1) HamachiX – the OS X frontend for Hamachi, and 2) Chicken of the VNC – a fast lightweight VNC client.

Thanks to the thorough setup documentation pointed out by Dan, setting up HamachiX and creating a secure network is only minutes away. Carefully read through the existing HamachiX Online Help which will walk you through the necessary steps of connecting to the Hamachi servers, creating a private network, and inviting others creating an invitation which will automate the setup on your other computers.

1. Enabling OS X VPN and remote control

Apple VPN

In order for you to control your home Mac remotely using HamachiX and Chicken of the VNC, you’ll need to tweak a few System Preference options. Open ‘System Preferences > Sharing’ and enable ‘Apple Remote Desktop’. Highlight ‘Apple Remote Desktop’ and select the new option titled ‘Access Privileges’. In the new screen, enable any permissions you foresee requiring and ensure that ‘VNC viewers may control screen with password’. Make sure to enter a secure password. Select ‘OK’ when finished.

2. Use HamachiX on both machines to "talk" securely

Assuming you have successfully followed the necessary steps required in order to create a network and add existing computers to said network, your computes can now [securely] communicate with one another over your standard internet port (80). In order to do so, you’ll need to initiate HamachiX on both computers. If the connection between your computers is successful, you’ll notice a green dot underneath the ‘State’ of your network.

3. Remote control with Chicken of the VNC

Because ‘VNC viewers may control screen with password’ was enabled, you can now control your computer remotely. With HamachiX running and connected, start Chicken of the VNC. Enter the ‘Hamachi ID’ of your home computer as the ‘Host’, enter the previously specified password as the [Host] ‘Password’, and select ‘Remember Password’ if you feel so inclined. Leave all other settings unchecked and select ‘Connect’. Chicken of the VNC via HamachiX will create a secure connection to your home computer allowing you to work remotely as though you were sitting in front of your own computer.

Discuss - 54 Comments

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  4. TZ says:

    I don’t really understand the need for Hamachi… Why don’t you use a secure SSH connection and tunnel VNC through it ? It’s secure, stable and can be set faster.

  5. Derek says:

    [quote comment=”49338″]I don’t really understand the need for Hamachi… Why don’t you use a secure SSH connection and tunnel VNC through it ? It’s secure, stable and can be set faster.[/quote]

    If I’m not mistaken, SSH does not guarantee the simplest [near] guarantee of getting through most firewalls. Hamachi operates on the standard internet port 80. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong though 😉

  6. Brett says:

    I don’t know if it’s still the case, but I had a problem where HamachiX would slow down the computer pretty badly if it was left on for extended periods. Eventually I stopped using it because it go to be pretty bad.

  7. Jordan Chark says:

    Nicely illustrated. I use this method quite often even though I don’t own two Macs, I’m often finding myself using this when working on friend’s machines.

    Even though Hamachi entirely bypasses the need for firewall configuration and/or port forwarding, using port 80 as Derek mentioned, I’ve had the same problem as Brett has in the past with it’s excessive lag after a long period of time. I figured it just wasn’t worth it if I could easily forward a port and use teleport,

  8. Derek says:

    Everyone that has been experiencing lag, have you all been updating regularly when updates are available? I’ve left HamachiX running for 4 days straight without any noticeable impact on system performance.

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  10. MarkD says:

    “So, is there any way to synchronize those two computers, so if I change for example an event in iCal on my PB, is it possible to automatically synchronize with the accout on the iMac?”

    I was in the same position with several programs I wanted to sync. I finally just decided to put all those files I update constantly in a folder on my iDisk, (in both of my machines I use the local iDisk). Whenever there is a change in any file, it syncs the folder. If you have changed the same file on both machines before syncing, it will ask which one you want to keep, or if you want to keep both.

  11. rasterbator says:

    [quote comment=”49375″]”So, is there any way to synchronize those two computers, so if I change for example an event in iCal on my PB, is it possible to automatically synchronize with the accout on the iMac?”[/quote]

    There is always .Mac service. Lbelieve you can set up an Applescript or an Automator workflow to do this, but I believe the iMac would need to be mounted already.

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  13. Brett says:

    [quote comment=”49351″]Everyone that has been experiencing lag, have you all been updating regularly when updates are available? I’ve left HamachiX running for 4 days straight without any noticeable impact on system performance.[/quote]

    Well, the recent update was the first update in nearly a year… so I don’t think that that’s the issue. The update doesn’t mention that it addresses lag anyways, just a couple minor bug fixes.

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  15. I had success with Synergy going between Windows and Linux. You can read about my experience by following the link.

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  17. Eduardo says:

    As for establishing a secure remote connection, I cannot speak highly enough of openvpn. It isn’t quite as simple as Hamachi; however, it doesn’t take long to configure.

  18. adin says:

    You also want to check out the shareware app Spyme. It’s fairly inexpensive and doesn’t use the VNC protocol–so its got a little bit of security by obscurity. It also works *really* nicely for more than 2 computers and feature a “Help Desk” (useful for helping out family members) and also can be routed through SSH.

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