Going Mobile With a Mac

By Jonathan Hirshon

Is Apple the perfect mobile computer? Sometimes I have asked myself that question, and have used some puissant tools available under OS X to bring it as close to perfection. I am a public relations and marketing professional who also happens to be a card-carrying member of the IEEE as well as a pro-bono Mac evangelist for the last 20 years. As such, I’m in a (hopefully) unique position to be able to offer you a clear and concise series of recommendations based on both personal experience and technical superiority. Now, let’s dive in:

Chicken of the VNC

For those unfamiliar with it, the VNC (Virtual Network Computing) protocol enables you to unleash your Jedi mindtricks from afar, enabling you to take over and control any receptive computer remotely. Chicken of the VNC – a more mellifluous name is seldom conjured from the vapour of creative thought – is an excellent OS X program that makes VNC…

Wait for it…

…as easy as crossing the road.

Chicken is optimized for the glory that is OS X, including keychain integration for easy password access. It also has such niceties as automatic server discovery via Rendezvous(TM); listen mode for navigating through firewalls; an auto-scrolling full-screen mode; CPU performance throttling; lots of supported transfer encodings including Tight and ZLib and customizable connection profiles.

While Chicken is dandy, sometimes you need real VPN (Virtual Private Network) access via SSH to comply with corporate IT policy.

Or do you?

AlmostVPN is an SSH tunnel manager for Mac OS X that is packaged as Preference Panel, so you do not have to use yet another application to configure your tunnels. According to the developer, it uses creative network configuration techniques to provide ‘almost VPN like’ access to remote services. This means you can keep using real IP addresses and port numbers while accessing service on the other side of your tunnels.

Translation: you can mount remote volumes and access your iTunes collection of sweet, sweet music. Of course, you can also do mundane work tasks that pay those pesky bills such as upload/download/execute files (with support for both console and X11 based applications) and use remote printers all via your favorite remote access application. For me, that is Chicken of the VNC, but you can use your favorite program of choice – or even a shell prompt for you uber-hackers).

AlmostVPN is also scriptable and imports tunnel defs from most every major SSH program.

Allow me to now wax both eloquent and rhapsodic about the joys of properly-implemented VoiP (Voice Over IP). With my new VoIP-prioritized 6 Mbps DSL connection from Speakeasy, I can now freely share my melodious voice and sanguine perspectives with editors all over the world. All this at virtually no cost and with crystal-clear sound – whether using Gizmo Project for open SIP functionality or Skype to please the proprietary overlords of eBay, you can’t go wrong with a good VoIP connection. For those of you who remember the movie ‘Airplane’ – remember what happened every time Robert Hayes started talking to another passenger? Let us hope my adoption of VoiP does not engender a similar mass exodus from this mortal coil by my friends in the media…

Instant messaging has become an important, if not mandatory tool for real-time communications. On the Mac, Adium is the premier open-source solution for online chat to any major network. Use it, love it, be one with it. For those times you need a real videoconference, as opposed to gtg, ttyl and other mnemonic shortcuts for the nimble-fingered, iChat rocks my world with great video and audio quality (but it only works between Mac users). Alternatively, Skype also has both instant message and video conference capabilities, if you don’t mind saturating your broadband connection with its unholy hunger for bandwidth.

As a professional communicator, writing for me is a hallowed and hushed endeavour, replete with subtlety and nuance. Using Word to write is akin to driving a Hummer – it’ll get you there, but it’s a beast that is overkill for 95% of my daily tasks (short of the occasional jaunt to the Extreme car crushing event). I prefer the ‘Lotus’ approach to writing – stripped-down, the minimum interface and speed speed speed. I want to focus on my words, not the minion of Satan that is ‘Clippy’ or anything else Micro$oft chooses to throw into its kitchen sink interface.

I will date myself – my first word processor was WordStar, and then I fell in love with XyWrite, the lightning-fast word processor favored by many old-school professional writers. WriteRoom has recreated that old-school word processor experience – just a blank screen, you and your text. It goes full screen to blat out all the distractions of the world and let me focus on my writing. Once I’m done, I can copy the text over to Word and share it with my co-workers and revel in the freedom of an unfettered, distraction-free writing experience. Show your true writing chops – go old-school, go with WriteRoom.

It would be absolutely wrong to even consider using a program like KisMAC to crack a protected WEP network. It would violate every principle of integrity and decency to even suggest that such a program could be incredibly valuable to a road warrior seeking any WiFi connection in a storm. Far be it from me to tout its gloriously Mac interface, its Growl integration for alerts, its seamless Google(R) Earth(R) export capabilities and more.

I feel better for having not enlightened you to such a forbidden and morally bankrupt concept – I hope you do too.

I also hope that you found this a worthwhile primer – feel free to pester Om if you’d like to see me as a regular here talking about mobile work flow solutions. Cheers!


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