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I just started working from home recently, going into the office only once a week or so (unlike the unfortunate telecommuters at Yahoo! who are are being dragged back into the office). You need the right type of job and the right mentality to work from home, of course. You also need the right tools.

The company I used to work for, about 20 miles away,  moved me over to a sister company in the same overall corporate organization. The sister company is close to 800 miles away though, which makes a normal commute pretty expensive. I’d been “rented out” to the distant company for a year or so, working from the office. But they told me that they’d actually prefer me to work from home, as they felt it would be less distracting than going into the office every day (and so far, they’ve been right). I’m still rented out to my old company part-time, though. So I still do a bit of work for them.

I have a company laptop, a Dell that’s – OK, I guess. It’s a bit slow (the disk is the main culprit) and the screen is only 13″. That’s too small for my aging eyes (I’ve tried it and spend too much time squinting and moving windows around). My screen at home is a 27″ display hooked to my MacPro. So in order to get a decent size display, I use remote control software to connect my Mac to the Windows laptop.

There are plenty of free options. One I used to like a lot is called CoRD – it’s free, open source software that easily talks to Windows machines. It can scale full-screen or stay in a window, and you can open multiple sessions at once. But I had some trouble copy and pasting certain characters for some odd reason – they’d cause CoRD to crash.

There’s a command-line option called rdesktop if you are inclined to go that route. There’s also software like TeamView, but that requires installing a piece on the target machine. I want to hook into Windows’ native remote desktop that’s already built-in.

So the program I use now? Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection. it’s free, and while it hasn’t been updated in a while, it still runs fine on OS X 10.6 on up (even though Microsoft’s download page says it’s “not intended” for systems past 10.6).

I have had an occasional crash, especially when disconnecting, for some reason, but otherwise it works fine. But for some odd reason, it limits you to some (to me, anyway) small screen resolutions:



But here’s a tip: if you save off your preferences, you can go into them (they’re just a text file, and you name and save it where you want) and edit them to something more reasonable:



1920×1200 is much better, thank you!

Remote Desktop will also let you use your local printers and the disks attached to your Mac (they show up on the remote system as network devices). I can copy/cut/paste between my Mac and Windows, and even use the Mac shortcuts to do it (even if I am doing a copy/paste in Windows between two programs, I can use either the Windows or OS X key sequences).

Also, since I have to log into two machines – the laptop at my house, and the desktop at my desk in the office, I need multiple sessions open at once. Fortunately, Remote Desktop supports that as well. I remote into the office via Virtual Private Network (VPN) – the office uses Cisco equipment, so the built-in VPN software in OS X means I don’t need to load anything else. The laptop VPNs directly into the distant office.

I’m getting more done, I’ve dropped out my 20 miles (each way!) commute, and I have a nice, quiet, distraction-free environment. They are about to start some construction work at the office – so I might start going in even less than once a week, as there is talk of using my office to store stuff during the construction.

Even more reason to be comin’ home.


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