This month’s The Legal Mac column from Law Practice Today, the ABALaw Practice Management Section‘s webzine, discusses the issues involved in working remotely with your Mac. I am pleased to present, "Working Remotely on the Mac" by Jason Wietholter, Director of Technology, Opveon Litigation Services:
Get advice for using your Mac as a work tool no matter where you are.
In this day and age, demands for our time and our presence require us to be everywhere and work from everywhere. We choose Macs because they are dependable and easy to use. Working remotely on the Mac platform is just as simple and reliable. With services such as Mobile Me and the growing popularity of the entire Mac platform, more and more options are opening up to facilitate working on the road; everything from the hardware necessary to the software and services that help keep everything running smoothly.
The hardware is simple. It just works. Whether you have a MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or even an iPhone, your Apple device has the tools you need to work on the road – already built in. All you’re missing is an internet connection. Each one of these Macs has its benefits and a certain set of constraints. Obviously, the iPhone is the smallest and most mobile option, but you give up some flexibility in not having expansion options, such as USB ports. All of the other laptops in the Mac line offer different levels of power. The MacBook and MacBook Air are the “lightweights” of the breed while the MacBook Pro is for the “heavy lifting” users out there. The beauty of the Apple hardware lineup is that you can have a laptop for the road and a desktop for your office or home and use them in perfect harmony. The basis of the Mac OS X operating system and the software available for the Mac platform make working remotely as beautiful as the hardware your run it on.
With OS X, services such as VPN and VNC along with File Sharing and the ability to connect to Exchange servers are already built in and easy to set up. Just open System Preferences, then look under the Networking and Sharing panes to set up each feature. Additionally, the security and the scarce number of viruses targeted at OS X allows you to work with peace of mind that your files are safe. You can walk in to any coffee shop or cafe with WiFi, connect securely to the office, review files from your computer back home and even control the machine from your comfy booth. The OS is a great platform to work with, but it only gets more powerful with additional software.
Software and services such as Mobile Me allow for unparalleled ability to keep your calendar and email, even your whole computer synchronized. Although this option costs about $100 a year, it is well worth it. You can find it by opening System Preferences and looking under the Mobile Me pane. With this service, your Mac syncs all of its preferences, Dock icons, Mail accounts, calendars, notes and even 3rd party programs’ preferences across each and every Mac you own. This provides you with an almost universal interface across your computers that stays in sync so you never really feel like you are in front of a different computer. Mobile Me also includes storage space online to keep important files that you might need away from the office or to backup other files offsite. In addition, with the right combination of hardware and Mobile Me, you can control your Mac at home or the office, just by opening Finder and looking under Shared . While Mobile Me is your most comprehensive option, there are other services and software available that you can piece together to accomplish the same goals. For example, with a Google account and SpanningSync, your calendars in iCal can sync to your Google account and then be accessible on any internet connected computer or synced with another Mac; a quick search will result in a plethora of other options. With VNC software you can access the mouse and keyboard controls of your home or office computer and work on it just like you would if you were sitting in front of it. I’ll warn you though, VNC is quite technical, but a more user-friendly option is LogMeIn which allows file and monitor/control sharing of multiple computers from any computer with web access. These tools allow you to keep multiple computers in sync or to control one computer from another, but the following software lets you work independent of any specific computer.
SaaS (Software as as Service) opens up a whole new world of possibilities to road warriors and desk jockeys alike. You don’t necessarily need a Mac to utilize this type of software, but you can take comfort in the fact that most of the creators of this software are Mac users like you. Search online for Basecamp or Highrise, some great SaaS products created by 37signals, and you can instantly see the popularity of this option. The beauty of these systems is that most all of them are created with streamlined features so there isn’t confusing fluff to muddle through, just powerful tools to keep you organized and your practice running like a well-oiled machine. These services offer you ultimate flexibility by allowing you to work from any machine, anywhere. From contact management to billing and project management software, these services are modular. You can pick and choose only what you need. RocketMatter is one lawyer-focused SaaS solution with a solid feature set and good road map for development. Keep this in mind if you are looking for a turnkey solution.
With all these options and the constant addition of new software and services, mobile computing on the Mac platform is simple and efficient. Everything works seamlessly to provide the ability to work from the office, from home, from the plane—even around the globe. The Mac platform offers you the freedom to work on the computer in your lap, connect to your desktop at the office, and to utilize any internet-connected computer to access your information from any location. All these tools help you be where you need to be and still accomplish what you need to get done. No longer do you need to sit in your office all day long to stay on top of your business!
About the Author: Jason Wietholter is the Director of Technology for Opveon Litigation Services.