How Can I Access My Files on a Different Computer?

I’m out if town, and need to access my documents on my home iMac from the laptop I have with me. How can I do that?

Mac on Mac action

1) File Sharing: You can easily get to files on the iMac when you are at home with your laptop. All you do is, on the iMac, make sure File Sharing is on: Apple menu > System Preferences > Sharing. Then, on the MacBook Pro, go to Finder > File menu > New Finder Window > left sidebar > Shared section. Click on the iMac, and to the right, click Connect As… Enter the user name and password you use on the iMac (it’s nice to standardize these on all computers). Here’s Apple’s more complete tutorial on File Sharing.

Mac File Sharing

Also, you can turn on Screen Sharing in that same System Preferences pane, and then the button Share Screen… will appear next to Connect As…

2) Back to My Mac: You may have the Back to My Mac part of the MobileMe service set up in System Preferences > MobileMe > Back to My Mac. If that’s working, your iMac will appear on your laptop, in that same Shared section of the left sidebar of your Finder windows, even when you’re not in the house. Note: Back to My Mac is notoriously finicky about routers; unsurprisingly, it plays very smoothly with Apple Airport devices. See item (1) for getting to your stuff once you’ve found your Back-to-My-Mac-enabled Mac.

3) iCloud: This fall, Apple will evolve the MobileMe service into iCloud The cost will change to free, and syncing files and photos between your computers will be one of the flagship features. One can look online for some previews of how iCloud will work.

4) Dropbox: This to me is the winner. Until iCloud appears, and perhaps even after, my favorite way to see my files everywhere is called Dropbox. There are other services almost exactly like Dropbox, but they don’t have its simplicity, accessibility, and widespread adoption. I use Dropbox to synchronize not just my documents, but also my secure databases, shopping and task lists, and frequently used text snippets. Some of our clients share and sync their QuickBooks company files with their bookkeepers.

Dropbox illustration

Dropbox’s pricing is either free for 2GB storage, $10/month for 50GB, or $20/month for 100GB. (That’s a referral link: you and I each get an extra 250MB of storage, up to a 10GB limit!) The iPhone/iPad app is free, and the iPhone word processor I’m typing this on now is $5, and syncs with Dropbox.

5) LogMeIn: Finally, the best free service for remote screen-sharing is LogMeIn. It has a good, albeit $30-pricey, iOS app, and I use it and the web app all the time to help clients. Until this year, LogMeIn Free only offered screen control of your remote computers, but recently they added the awesome feature of being able to access and download files from a remote machine, even to your iPad. This is not sync à la Dropbox, but very useful nonetheless.

Any of these solutions is easy and cheap to implement. I keep Dropbox and LogMeIn going all the time. Call me if you would like further guidance.

Transferring files from PC to Mac

I want to do a quick Word file backup on my wife’s PC.  Can I use a DVD? – Thanks, JW

You sure can, JW. I don’t know what DVD burning software you have on the PC, but it should be easy enough.

For what it’s worth, however, several slightly easier, and perhaps cheaper, ways to do this are:

~ Email those files to your Mac.

~ Use a flash drive (also called thumb drive, RAM stick, memory stick), which might be cheaper in the long run if you plan to do a lot of this.

~ Turn File Sharing on on the Mac and just drag the files across your home network.
Please call me for any additional explanation on that one, or here’s one quick explanation on the web. 
Here’s a longer one.

Then, backing those files up, to a DVD or exteral hard drive is, like everything else on the Mac, easier to explain.

Forget FTP

Following up on the question about FTP software: I just listened to net@night, when they interviewed the creators of, a nifty new web-based file-sharing service. It’s impressive. Some of the cool benefits & features:

~ free! ~ very simple ~ requires no sign-up, no login, and thus no personal information is collected ~ you can send  in files via the web, email, SMS, by phoning in an audio message, or even with a free fax number anyone can use to fax a doc into your box ~ free conference calls ???

Thought y’all who were needing FTP might want to check this out. Graphic designers can of course use this to share proofs … you get the picture.

100MB is free, and you can upgrade to 1GB for a tiny $10 a year.

FTP client, and how to find Mac software

I need to FTP some files and I was wondering if you had a recommendation for a cheap program to use on the Mac (or maybe there is something already on here?).  I used to use Cute FTP, but the version I have is for Windows.

Pardon a longer response, but there’s some more general info below that may help in your mastery of the Mac:

Whenever I need software for the Mac, I go straight to Versiontracker or Macupdate, and search for the thing I need, in this case “FTP.” Then I sort the results by “Product Rating.” The user reviews are so helpful. Then I might sort by “License” to see if any of it’s freeware, or at least cheap.

Even though I had a recommendation for you already, I just tried that search at Versiontracker, and found I needed to narrow it down a little further to “ftp client.” (In software terms, “client” is one side of a “client/server” relationship, where a server provides services, such as FTP, web, email, what-have-you, to clients. The terms could refer to the application itself or to the computer it’s running on. Examples: “We have a file server in our office.” or “The FTP server software needs to be updated.”)

You’ll see that only four of the top 10 packages fit the bill precisely by having “FTP” and “client” in their description and are “freeware” or “shareware,” and only Cyberduck is free. (Plus, its icon is a frickin’ cute rubber duck, and you just want to squeeze it. One of my other oft-used Mac apps is a chicken. Y’know, you can’t call many Windows programs adorable.)

I also found that Yummy FTP got good reviews, and I also know Transmit is very very popular. You’ll see both of those list “advanced features,” which you may not need, but if for whatever reason you find Cyberduck lacking, you may find those features, or just their interface or organization, worth the $25 or $30, respectively.

So, all you have to do is click on the link to one of those programs, and click “Download Now” over on the right. Your web browser will download and extract the installer. (Since you’re in Leopard, you’ll find the file in your Downloads folder, which is in your home folder and shortcutted in the Dock.) You want to make sure you install the app properly, which may mean just dragging its icon to the Applications folder, or double-clicking an instaler. After that you can throw out the installer file if there’s one left in Downloads.

Sharing files across the internet

Can you recommend any do-it-myself FTP software? One of our co-workers has started working remotely, and we need to share files with her.

Two recommendations (neither of which involve setting up your own FTP site, which would be a bit of a hassle, and not terribly secure): 

The easiest thing to use is the 10GB iDisk that comes an Apple .Mac (“dot Mac”) account. Check out the details at At $99/year, it’s a service that Apple would like everyone to buy, because it’s easy profit for them; a lot of people buy it, but not everyone understands what it can do for them, and the money ends up going to waste. But it can be very useful — I use my .Mac services daily — to publish photos, sync address book and calendar information, work remotely with the iDisk and the new Back to My Mac feature. 

The other possibility, one that I’ve used and thought was pretty cool, is a free 5GB Xdrive from, believe it or not, AOL. It works through a web browser, so it’s just a little clunky, but in some ways that makes it pretty easy to work with.