Mac OS

Teleport Gets an Update

Teleport is a simply and powerful remote control solution for the Macintosh.  KVM’s are typically hardware devices that let users share a single keyboard, mouse, and monitor with multiple computers.  Teleport is a unique software solution the provides similar functionality.  Simply install Teleport on the necessary Mac systems and one keyboard and mouse gain the ability to control multiple computers.

How It Works:
Install the Teleport preference pane on the necessary Mac systems.  One computer becomes the control console for the other systems.  The control system is the one that has the mouse and keyboard physically attached to it.  The other computers don’t need their own mouse or keyboard because the control system’s mouse and keyboard motion and tracking data are transferred to the remote system via the network (wired or wireless).
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How Universal is Your Mac?

Apple did the Mac community proud when it released the first round of Intel based Macintosh systems.  The new machines perform brilliantly, and provide the speed increases that users have been clamoring for.  Unfortunately that performance increase has become something of a double edged sword.  The applications that really let the new systems flex their muscles are referred to as Universal Binary.  The term indicates that the software has been compiled to run natively on older PowerPC based systems as well as new Intel based hardware.  And while Universal Binary applications shine on the new machines, older PowerPC optimized applications run in emulation and their performance suffers greatly as a result.

For the average user, telling the difference between Universal and non-Universal software can be less than intuitive.  The most direct way to find out its to simply use the Finder’s Get Info command on the application’s icon.  The info window clearly lists the application as either Universal, or PowerPC (or in rare cases, as Intel).  See the icons below.
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What Does the Future Hold for Hamachi?

It’s confirmed.  Hamachi, the killer free P2P VPN software solution has been purchased by LogMeIn.com.  Given LogMeIn’s current market aimed at business support solutions, the future of Hamachi is in question.  The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.  For now we can only hope that the product will remain a free solution.

LogMeIn’s intention seems to be the same as many current Hamachi users.  They intend to integrate the software into current products that allow easy and intuitive offsite tech support.  Checkout the press release here and tune in later for more news as it develops.


Steve

Hamachi: Peer to Peer VPN Connections

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are the safest way to connect computers or computer networks over the internet.  Once a VPN connection is established, the data between the systems on either side of the VPN tunnel exchange data that has been wrapped in encryption.  This prevents evil doers from accessing the data while it’s in transit.

Unfortunately, while VPNs are an extremely secure way to connect computers, configuring the VPN connection often borders on rocket science.  The routing, IP protocols, and assortment of encryption options often keep even the advanced computer users needlessly spinning their wheels for days.  In many cases, people simply give up on the concept of security and fall back to more conventional and much less secure means of transferring data.

In a previous post on this site, I detailed how to configure the VPN service built-in to OS X Server.  The article explained how to configure the VPN server so that remote clients (telecommuters or portable computer users) could access a secure LAN over the internet using a VPN client.  And while the story was very well received, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one stumbling to get a VPN server working correctly.

A conventional VPN connects a remote user to a secure network, be it home or corporate.  Once the VPN connection is in place, all data between the remote client and the VPN server is wrapped in a tunnel of encryption.  It’s impervious to anyone trying to eavesdrop as the data is transmitted over the internet.  This is what makes it a virtual private network.  The VPN allows the remote user access to all of the network resources of the home or corporate network as if the remote user where plugged into a network port right on the LAN.
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Multiple Simultaneous VPN Connections in OS X

The VPN client built into OS X 10.4 is nothing short of amazing.  As expected, it can connect to the VPN server built into 10.4 Server.  It can also connect to almost any L2TP or PPTP server such as those built into Linksys and Cisco routers.  To anyone who has used OS X’s VPN client, this is probably old news.  But few people actually realize that the client is actually capable of connecting to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.

Consider the situation I ran into last week.  My office is in northern Illinois.  I was setting up a network at my company’s new facility in Florida.  One night I was working late from my hotel room and needed to connect to my network back in Illinois as well as access data on the network at the new office location on the other side of town.  I had already set up VPN access to both locations but I was stuck when I needed to access both networks at the same time.  I starting to explore the VPN connection options of the Internet Connect application on my laptop and discovered that it was actually possible to connect to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.  Though not immediately obvious, the ability actually does exist.

First, it is necessary to understand that there are really two ways to add a new VPN connection to the Internet Connect application.  One allows for multiple simultaneous connections while the other does not.  If there are no VPN configurations set in Internet Connect it is first necessary to create a new one by selecting New VPN Connection from the File menu.  Next, select the VPN type— either L2TP or PPTP.  The following screen will ask for the Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  There is also a Configuration menu.  Pull down the menu and select Edit Configurations.  This provides full access to all of the settings needed to configure a VPN connection.  It is worth noting that is good practice to always select Edit Configurations rather than simply input the settings into the first screen that asks for Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  In the case of L2TP connections, it is not possible to establish a connection to a VPN server without specifying the Secret.  This can only be done from the extended information screen available under Edit Configurations.
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Why Should a Remote User Route All Traffic Over a VPN?

This post is a follow-up to the article posted last week detailing how to setup OS X’s built-in VPN Server.

One of the cool new features in 10.4’s VPN client is the ability to send all traffic over the VPN.  As one reader noted, this is great for people using public access, like a wireless network at the upcoming MacWorld Expo.

Setting the VPN client to send all traffic over the VPN has several advantages, and two possible disadvantages.  First, the down side.

Disadvantages:
Consider the bandwidth available to your VPN server.  If you are on a corporate network, odds are you have a synchronous internet connection, meaning that the internet connections upstream bandwidth is equal to its down stream.  This is the case with the T1 at my office.  If your VPN server is using a consumer level broadband provider, odds are your connection is asynchronous.  This is often the case with DSL or cable modem connections.  The downstream might be a high as 8Mb, while the upstream is limited to 384Kb.  That is the case with my cable modem at home.
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Setup Mac OS X VPN Server for Mac & XP Clients

Mac OS X Server has included VPN support for some time.  And, in true Apple fashion, it brings simplicity to a very complicated and technical server function.  Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are used to securely connect two networks over the internet.  This is done by creating an encrypted tunnel between the two networks.  The tunnel wraps around all data that is passed in either direction.  This keeps the information safe from prying eyes as it crosses the insecure internet.  The tunnel endpoints take care of all the encryption and decryption so that, once the tunnel is established, the network communication is seamless to users.

In many cases, VPNs connect two routers and effectively bridges two networks.  In the case of a telecommuter, the home router might establish a tunnel with a corporate router in order to allow the home user access to services on the company network.  In this scenario, the two routers are the endpoints for the VPN.  Router to router based VPNs are often very difficult to configure, especially when one of the endpoints is a high powered enterprise class device like those provided by companies like Cisco.  Router to router VPNs are often hardware based because the routers on either end have hardware built into them that is dedicated to processing VPN traffic.

Mac OS X Server has the ability to create software based VPN tunnels.  Combine that with the VPN client software built into the client version of Mac OS X and you have a very powerful and easy to configure VPN solution.

Consider this scenario.  A corporation runs Mac OS X server on their network.  A number of mobile users need to connect to the corporate network in order to access internal systems.  Once the Mac server is properly configured, the remote users can establish a secure VPN tunnel between their desktop machine and the corporate network using nothing more that software already built into their operating system.  And, once the VPN tunnel is established, all of the information exchanged between the remote user and the office network is fully encrypted and secure.
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Get a Bluetooth Headset Working with a PowerBook

One of the coolest uses of Bluetooth so far, is undoubtedly the use of wireless headsets.  I have two that I use with my cell phone, and I use the all the time.  It has gotten so that I can’t stand using the phone without the wireless headset.  The freedom and mobility are second to none.

And since I have two Bluetooth headsets, I always intended to use one with my PowerBook.  A wireless headset would finally make the voice capabilities of iChat something useful to me.  Unfortunately that was easier said that done.  My PowerBook is a 1.25GHz Aluminum model and it has built-in Bluetooth support.  But every time I tried to pair my headset with the laptop, it failed.

I have tried several times, off and on, over the last couple of months.  Each time a received an error and the pairing failed.  In fact, several times I hit Google in search of a resolution to my problem.  Each time I failed to find a solution.

Enter Apple Bluetooth Firmware Updater v1.2.  It was actually released in November of 2004.  At which time it appeared in the Software Update control panel and I ran the update.  It simply failed to solve my problem.

Early this morning I tried the update again.  I ran the installer from the DMG image and when it finished, I rebooted my computer and tried to pair my headset again.  Once again, it failed!

Then I started looking at my computer a little more closely.  On a whim, I checked the Utilities directory and found an application called Bluetooth Firmware Updater that was dated today.  That is when it occurred to me that the installer on the DMG install image had simply installed the firmware flasher on my system.  It had NOT actually flashed the firmware!

Running the Bluetooth Firmware Updater application took about 6 minutes.  The instructions are very clear in stating that it is imperative that the computer not be shutdown while the update is in progress.

Once the update completed, I rebooted to be on the safe side.  Then I tried to pair my headset one more time.  Bingo!  First try!  The headset has worked perfectly ever since.

Now, here is my complaint.  I know I am not the only person who is having this issue with Bluetooth headsets.  In searching Google, I read about dozens of others.  Now I realized that the problem is not that people are not updating the Bluetooth firmware, but rather that they simply don’t realize that it is a two step process.  I think that most users don’t realize that they need to run a separate flash utility once the install from the disk image has completed.

There is simply no documentation to describe the process at all.  That is strictly the failing of Apple tech support.  And it is a big disappointment.  In the end there was a complicated solution to a simple problem.  This could have been avoided if there had been some form of documentation.

Simply put, the solution is to download the Bluetooth Firmware Updater 1.2 and run the installer on the disk image.  Then look for an application called Bluetooth Firmware Updater in the Utilities directory.  Once you run that updated, the Bluetooth firmware will finally be flashed.

I have written this post in an effort to help the next poor hapless soul who finds himself in the same situation.  Until Apple fixes the updated, this will be a problem for countless others.  Good luck!


Steve

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