Category Archives: remote desktop

EVDO, Back to my Mac, Tweaking Remote Desktop Connection

I just subscribed to a EVDO data service, so I can use a laptop and have internet access wirelessly. The USB dongle works out of the box on my Macbook with some configuration help I found here. On Windows, it’s the typical installing driver and setting up a dial-up connection. Now that everything works, the fun begins.

I want to access my iMac from my Macbook over EVDO. Luckily, I have .Mac (MobileMe), thus there’s back to my Mac. Despite plenty of horror stories about Back to My Mac, it just works for me. No need to deal with port forwarding and stuff. The only thing I find is that I have to enable Back to My Mac on both Macs, not just the one I’m trying to get access too, despite Apple’s description on System Preferences. It works, albeit sluggish since Screen Sharing transmitted all OS X’s eye candy, including all the dock animation, wallpaper, etc. Unfortunately there’s no setting to reduce the quality setting.

Now, how about Windows? I want to see if I can access my XP Media Center PC from an XP Home machine over EVDO. Microsoft offers Remote Desktop Connection, which is free (vs the paid service of MobileMe). However, with XP, you can only setup remote desktop connection to an XP Pro or Media Center (On Vista, only Vista business and Ultimate, another reason why I recommend people NOT to get Home Basic/Premium). You can, however, use any OS that is compatible with the Remote Desktop Connection software as the client. I’ve been using RDC to control my Windows PCs from my Mac. Combing google, I found a way called Remote Desktop Web Connection. The idea is you use RDC within IE, useful for doing remote desktop on any web-enabled PCs with IE. However, it involved installing IIS web server on the remote machine, which has security concerns. I tried it, and I can never get it to work. Silly me, I forgot about the Remote Desktop Connection client software that already comes with XP Home. I thought it only works only on local network, but it actually works over the internet too! If you’re behind a router, you have to forward port 3389 (the default port, you can change it) to the remote PC. It works if you only need access to 1 remote PC. I haven’t figured out what to do if you want to access more than 1 PC.

So, everything seems to be fine and dandy, until I found this article. This article is a great read to secure your remote desktop connection (forcing encryption, limiting users, etc). The only catch is when I removed Administrators from the Local Policies-User Rights Assignment, I couldn’t log-in via RDC anymore. I have to add the username directly on that policy list, despite having the username already on the Remote Desktop setting screen. Remember, enabling remote desktop means you’re allowing outside connection to your PC, thus increasing the risk of attacks.

So there you go. Setting up RDC on Windows is not as simple as Back to My Mac, but it’s free, so can’t argue with that. Another point for Microsoft RDC is that it can adjust the quality setting of the display by disabling themes, wallpaper, and other screen effects for more responsiveness. RDC over EVDO is very smooth, only a bit laggy, in contrast of the sluggishness of Apple’s screen sharing. Back to My Mac is dead easy to setup though, and I believe it is more secure, as long as nobody knows your MobileMe login and password.


My Top 10 Mac freeware apps

When I switched to Mac, 1 thing I was worried was the availability of freeware apps since I use many freeware apps in Windows. A lot of Mac apps are shareware, but the availability of freeware apps is not as bad as I thought. Here’s my Top 10 Mac freeware apps:
1. Firefox
Sure, Apple wants you to use Safari, but there is simply no substitute for the flexibility of Firefox and its extensions. Having used Firefox in Windows ever since it was called Firebird, the first thing I installed on my Mac was Firefox. Firefox 3 is an excellent browser. It might not be advertised to be as speedy as Safari, but it is secure, follows web standard, and extremely expandable with add-ons. Check my Top 5 Firefox add-ons.

2. XLD
Most users are fine using iTunes as their main CD-ripper and lossy encoder. However, iTunes was not good enough for me, considering I’ve been using EAC and Lame MP3 in Windows for years. XLD started as an encoder, and it supports .cue + wav image file, which is the way I backup my audio CDs. I used to use Max as the CD ripper on Mac, but now XLD will also function as a CD-ripper, able to rip a CD into a .cue + wav image file, and a secure ripper too! XLD uses the latest Lame MP3 encoder. Besides MP3, XLD also able to encode to AAC, Apple lossless, OGG, and FLAC. An excellent and must have tool!

3. MacMP3gain
The obvious Mac version of MP3gain, a utility useful in normalizing MP3 files. the Mac version has simpler GUI.

4. Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection
I’m using my iMac as my primary computer, but I also have a few Windows PCs. Wouldn’t it be great if I can control those Windows PCs without leaving my Mac? That’s what Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) is for. Simply enable remote desktop on the Windows machine, and you can log-in to the machine from MacOS. Note that remote desktop is only available in Windows XP Media Center & Professional, and Vista Business & Ultimate, not on XP Home nor Vista Home Premium & Basic. Another reason why I recommend people to get either Vista Business or Ultimate only. IMO, MS RDC is better than Leopard’s screen sharing function. In RDC, I can have sounds played from the Windows PC to be played on my Mac, set a custom screen resolution, and the Windows PC is locked while RDC is connected. Another note is that if you want to control a Windows PC without keyboard and mouse, make sure it is connected via ethernet. If the Win PC is connected via wifi, you have to log-in on the actual Windows PC first (to load whatever drivers necessary for the wifi card) before RDC can connect to it.

5. SuperDuper
SuperDuper is a backup utility. It can create a bootable image of your Mac’s hard-drive. Extremely useful for backing up. The free version is limited to creating a full image every single time, while the paid version will allow you to do a smart update (only backing up things that are changed), making the back up process faster. No biggie. I use the free SuperDuper to create a full image of my hard-drive once every couple months, while Time Machine does the daily backup.

6. Seashore
iPhoto is great to manage photos, and Apple’s own Preview app in Leopard is powerful enough to crop/resize pictures. But what if you just want to add some text on a picture without using heavy duty programs like GIMP/Photoshop? Windows have MS Paint, a basic image editing program. Seashore is a similar program for the Mac. It’s free!

7. Perian
Want to play Divx, xvid, AVI, and Matroska videos on the Mac? Look no further. Simply install Perian, and you can play those media in Quicktime. Simple and straight forward, unlike the official Divx codecs. Works in Frontrow too, but I find playing Matroska files via Frontrow is a bit dodgy and unstable.

XBMC (XBox Media Center) started as a media player for a modded original Xbox. Now it’s a multi-platform Media Center app, available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, and even Apple TV. If you don’t like Frontrow, or want a more customizable media center program with better codec support, get XBMC. It is not as user friendly and the setup screens are a bit geeky, but its extensive codec support is worth it if you want to use your Mac as an HTPC.

9. Truecrypt
Heralded as the best and free encryption program. It’s also available for Windows and Linux.

10. Handbrake
Need to encode videos for your iPod? Handbrake is perfect for the job. It has presets fro PSP, PS3, iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, etc. It uses x264, a free H.264 encoder, which I find to be pretty fast. It can create chapters that is compatible with iTunes and iPods, useful for long movies, concert videos, etc. The only downside is that I have yet to find a reliable DVD ripper for the Mac. Handbrake itself can rip DVDs, but I find to not work on most commercial DVDs I have. IMO DVDfab Decrypter to be the ebst DVD ripper, but it’s Windows only.


MacOS X Gotchas

Couple things I noticed when using my Macs in general.
1. Pairing Apple remote requires you to log-in as administrator. Yeah, it sounds stupid. I was trying to pair my Apple remote with my iMac to no avail. After reading Apple’s document closer, apparently you have to log-in as admin.

2. Screen sharing doesn’t stream audio output to the connecting computer. This is a bummer. With Microsoft Remote Desktop, the sounds produced by the windows client is streamed to my connecting Mac. Sure there’s a delay due to the network, but it is useful in certain situations. Not the case with screen sharing. Gosh, for once Microsoft did things better than Apple.


Playing with Windows Vista

I got to play with a new Windows Vista 64-bit system.
Quick first impression:
-Why is it so hard to find out my IP address? In Vista, I have to open up the Network & Sharing center, and click on the small obscure “View status” text to get the same result as right clicking on the same icon and choose properties in XP.
-The “start menu” seems to take too much space. Sure, you can now type in the program’s name in the search box ala Mac OS’ spotlight, but the point of GUI is to point & click, not type. There is an option to use the classic start menu, but it’s less pretty. I guess it just takes time to get used to.
-I wanted to enable AHCI on the BIOS. Bam, Vista gave me BSOD. WTF? Apparently it’s a well-known issue. Follow what Microsoft says to fix it. (change the BIOS setting to IDE, do the registry edit, and re-enable AHCI). And yes, Vista still use the dreaded registry.
-Settings for simple things like changing screen resolution, uninstalling programs, etc seem to be scattered all over the place. Again, takes time to get used to from XP.
-UAC is super ANNOYING! Sure, OS X has the same system, but it never pop up as often as Vista’s UAC. On the bright side, with OS X, I have to re-enter my admin name & password, while with UAC, as long as I logged in as an admin, all I need is to click the continue button. Still, it pops up too often.
-Start-up can be fast/slow. There are times when I rebooted the system, after going through the BIOS screens, the system seems stalled. No hard-drive access. At first I thought it crashed. I reset the PC, and bam, Vista yelled at me that it wasn’t shut-down properly. Another time this happened, I waited, Vista loading screen later pops up. Dunno if this is the problem with Vista or the hardware.
-During the logging-in process, the desktop + icons almost instantly showed up after I entered my password! (Although I knew Vista is still loading by watching the hard-drive access and the tray icons loading one-by-one.) Still, it’s a nice change. With XP, even on a fairly good system, sometimes it takes quite a while for Windows to show the desktop and load the icons.
-Too much eye candy. I like the transparency, but the fading-in/out is too annoying, and seems to “slow” down the UI as the fading speed is too slow. Good thing they can be disabled. Where’s the TweakUI for Vista 64?
-Flip3D? Kinda useless. OS X’s expose is much more useful.
-Windows update has its own app, no need to load IE first anymore. Yay! And Vista keeps track of the updates itself, so no more long waits for the Windows update website to figure out what updates I need, like it was in XP.

So, no wonder people are not liking Vista. It’s quite a big change in the UI. Moving from 98 to 2k to XP is easy. Most of the settings are in the same place. Not with Vista. Whether it’s for the better or not, who knows, but Windows 7 will highly likely follow the same setup as Vista, so I guess users better adjust to it.

One thing I learned from this process is about Firefox. I have Firefox on my Mac to save my login passwords. I want the newly installed Firefox on Vista to have the same info, without having me remembering/retyping all the passwords. Apparently it’s just a simple file copy of 2 files. Read it here. Don’t bother with extensions, etc that may/may not work. Just copy & paste the 2 files (key3.db & signons3.txt) and it’s good.

So, why Vista? If you buy any new windows PC, you’ll get Vista. No point in crying to get XP. No, I still use my iMac + Leopard. But there are things that are still best done on a windows machine.
1. Bittorrent. No uTorrent for Mac OS.
2. DVD ripping. DVDFab HD decrypter is a freeware for windows, and it’s awesome. No solution exist yet for Mac OS.
3. Games. Yes, I do still have some PC games that I want to play.

Now, there are different flavors of Vista. I got the 64bit ultimate, and IMO everybody should at least get the business version. Why? Remote desktop and Volume shadow copy/previous versions. Neither of those are available with Home premium and Basic. Remote desktop is very useful in any setup that have more than 1 PC networked. Volume shadow copy/previous versions is a life saver! They’re enabled by default, and doesn’t require an additional drive (unlike Leopard’s Time Machine). Only a couple hours into playing with the system, I already had to use the feature since I accidentally deleted some folders (I’m used to press shift+delete in deletin stuff in windows). IMO, MS should just make 2 versions of Vista, Ultimate as the Home version, and Business.

We’ll see how it goes. So far, I think Vista is okay. The main barrier of entry is adjusting to the new UI and control panel stuff. After that, on a well equipped system (dual core, min 2GB of RAM, dedicated video card), I think Vista will run fine, and is the obvious next step of Windows before Windows 7.


Screen Sharing

Amazed by Microsoft’s Remote Desktop software that allows me to control my Windows PCs from my iMac, I’m thinking I bet Apple have this built-in in the OS. Yup, it’s called Screen Sharing in Leopard. Apple made it even easier. All I need to do is to enable “Screen Sharing” on the target Mac (in my case my Macbook), allow access for specific user(s) (this is for security. I you don’t do this, anybody with a VNC client on the network can access the Mac), and voila. I logged out from my Macbook, went to my iMac, opened up Finder, and my Macbook is listed on the Shared computer list. All I needed was to click “Share Screen,” and a Screen Sharing app started, and I can log-in to my Macbook via my iMac.

Again, probably nothing new for some computer networking experts, but I still find these features to be awesome. Having multiple computers used to force me to go to different computers to control them. Even with a KVM switch, it’s still a hassle. Now I can control everything from 1 computer. 🙂


Remote Desktop

I never realized how useful Remote Desktop is before! I regularly use my iMac now, but I still have a Windows PC on its side. It has its own keyboard, mouse, taking up space. Thankfully Microsoft makes a Remote Desktop software for Mac. Make sure you get the version 2 beta. The official one 1.03 is way old.

All I did was enable remote desktop on my Windows machine, log-off, and then I can log-in to that machine using my iMac via the Remote Desktop software. This is probably not new for many people, but I just realize how useful it is now. LOL. I can even log-in to my HP Windows Home Server unit, which is headless (you cannot connect any monitor nor keyboard directly on the machine). Sweet.

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Posted by on June 19, 2008 in Mac, remote desktop, windows