ShareTool is a piece of software which allows you to easily access your Mac from a remote location. To quote their tagline: “ShareTool is hands down, the fastest, easiest, and most secure way to access all of your Bonjour services from anywhere in the world.” The term ‘Bonjour services’ is fairly generic, but means that services which would generally work only on your home network (such as iTunes Music Sharing, Screen Sharing, File Sharing, Printing etc) become available anywhere.
For instance, you may have an iMac at home with all your media, photos and family content, and also a MacBook which you use for business/travel. ShareTool allows you to connect to your home network from your MacBook when travelling, accessing the files on the iMac, sharing the screen and even printing to your home device.
Setup and Installation
The process of setting up ShareTool is remarkably simple. When launching, you are presented with the following window:
This allows you to select whether you’re wanting to share the content of this Mac, or connect to the shared content on a different network. This simple user interface design flows throughout the rest of the application, meaning that a fairly complicated network operation appears remarkably simple to the user.
ShareTool is able to automatically configure your network router, and had no problem altering the required settings on my Time Capsule. However, when tested on a different router it struggled to apply the port rules automatically, requiring them to be entered manually. I expect that most modern routers will work easily — if you own a fairly old device, you’ll need to be prepared to delve into settings a little deeper.
Once you’ve set up sharing, you’re presented with the following screen:
It is easy to copy the connection information to your clipboard or email it to yourself. You also have the option of selecting exactly which Bonjour services you are wanting to share:
Once you have set up sharing and decided exactly what you want to share, connecting to the network remotely is very straight forward. You type in the details provided when setting up sharing and, fingers crossed, everything goes to plan. I didn’t have any issues, but I can imagine that problems could occur centering around dynamic IP addresses, firewalls etc. ShareTool does support a few services (DynDNS.com, No-IP.com, and DNS-O-Matic.com) which would help to circumvent the problem of a regularly changing IP address.
Services appear as they would if you were plugged into the network and the software seems very reliable — everything worked well for me. There are a few preferences you can change relating to connecting/sharing.
ShareTool states that the software “works with all Internet connections (56k modem and all high speed connections)”. While this is technically true, most of the services in question would be unusable without a fast broadband connection at both ends. Those which involve greater data transfer (streaming audio for instance) would suffer the most.
If you use a VPN, you’ll know that Bonjour services aren’t automatically available when connecting remotely. ShareTool solves this by allowing you to enter your home machine’s internal IP address once you’re connected to the VPN. This performs the same function as normal, and will enable all the various services you have shared.
If you’re transmitting data to and from your home network over the internet, it is important to consider the security aspect. Fortunately, ShareTool is extremely secure and encrypts all data with SSH. This uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), a universally accepted security standard. It also has a method in place for ensuring that it is your machine that is connecting to your network.
Whether I would recommend ShareTool depends heavily on what you’ll need it for, and whether you already have a MobileMe account. The Back to my Mac feature of MobileMe allows for File Sharing and Screen Sharing with relative ease, but ShareTool enables a host of additional services. Some, such as remote printing, can be achieved fairly easily through a combination of File and Screen Sharing, but others such as iTunes Sharing are only possible through ShareTool.
The price difference is important. MobileMe costs $99 for a year, whereas ShareTool is $30 on a one off basis. If you already own MobileMe and only require Screen/File Sharing, then ShareTool isn’t necessary. If you are not a MobileMe user, it’s a great way to stay connected to your home or office network from anywhere.
- It’s really easy to set up with most modern routers
- A wide range of services are supported – you can share almost anything
- Encryption is excellent
- It is fairly inexpensive compared to MobileMe
- It doesn’t differ dramatically from Back to my Mac
- It requires some network knowledge for those with older routers
- Speed is a limiting factor – it works much better with very fast broadband connections