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I develop on Windows, but I need a Mac for iPhone development. So I'm thinking of getting a Mac mini or a MacBook for the Mac part, and connecting to it as needed from my Windows machine. A mini, in particular, doesn't come with a monitor or keyboard or mouse, so this would be the only way to use it.

The question is: sometimes I travel and so I'm away from my network. In this situation, is it possible to plug a cable directly from my Windows machine to the Mac and do remote desktop this way, or do both machines have to be on the same network and router and the sharing done via IP address in the usual way? Alternatively, can I skip the network entirely and remote desktop machine to machine via wireless signal?

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a mini is just a desktop, you can use any usb keyboard/mouse and display with it. You could also use a KVM to share with your windows desktop. –  Jason Oct 23 '12 at 17:32
    
@Jason: You're right. I should make that more clear. –  Joshua Frank Oct 23 '12 at 17:38
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

First off, it's important to note that Apple's Remote Desktop is not Microsoft's Remote Desktop, and the two are not interchangeable. That said, you can still use various VNC products to connect from the Windows machine to the Mac.

From there, it's standard networking. If you want to leave the Mac Mini at home, you'll need to make sure that you can access the required ports, whether by port forwarding, or by an SSH tunnel/VPN allowing you to connect to your home network.

If you bring the Mac Mini with you, then you can easily create an ad hoc Wi-Fi network to connect them both too, in which case they will be on the same network, and you can connect that way. (You may need a monitor and keyboard attached to the Mac Mini at some point to configure this.)

Additionally, the Mac can automatically make any standard Ethernet cable into a crossover cable, such that an Ethernet cable connecting your Mac to your PC will create a network connection for the two machines, which, again, you can use as a standard network to connect from one to the other.

I'm not sure about something like a FireWire, USB, or Bluetooth connection, but a little research should reveal if those are possibilities as well.

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Thanks for the quick and thorough answer. Do you know if the "various VNC products" are any good? I've experimented with a number of them and the quality is often pretty bad. –  Joshua Frank Oct 23 '12 at 17:34
    
I don't have much experience with them, sorry. I did use Screen Sharing over a wired connection for a time several years ago, and it was surprisingly better than my "typical" VNC experience on other platforms. –  Jonathan Oct 23 '12 at 18:38
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Over Ethernet:
If you would be primarily using wireless on both machines and will not be using Ethernet on the Windows machine or the Mac, then you could configure the LAN/Ethernet on the Windows machine and the Mac as a Private Network and use it whenever necessary.

For example, the Windows machine could have its LAN set to a fixed IPv4 address of 10.0.0.1 and the Mac could have its LAN set to a fixed IPv4 address of 10.0.0.2. In both the cases, let the subnet be configured to 255.255.255.0. You can then connect the machines using an Ethernet cable and you should be able to do do anything on the network (remote desktop using Screen Sharing or VNC, ssh or file sharing).

Over wireless:
Machine to machine through wireless could be done similarly, but it would disrupt your wireless connection to the Internet. If speed is not a concern, you could have both the machines connected to the Internet over WiFi and use a free program like TeamViewer to connect.

Windows VNC clients (to connect to a Mac that has Screen Sharing enabled):

  • TightVNC
  • UltraVNC
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Any cable that will carry an IP based network will allow you to visually screen share a Mac - either with a virtual display or mirroring the current contents of the display. Wireless works well since it also networks and in most cases is fast enough to carry the screen data unless you have several 30 inch displays and are encoding the full bit depth of color information.

This is enabled in the sharing preference pane under Screen Sharing or Remote Management and uses a VNC based protocol. Apple's remote desktop software integrates best with many options to reduce bandwidth since the remote mac is encoding the screen contents and sending it over the network. For this reason, a high speed network is ideal - but you don't need to be on the local subnet if you are using iCloud or another location service to determine the IPv6 address of the Mac being observed.

As the other answers and comments have indicated that some clients are lacking, for my money, Apple's client and the one from Edovia called Screens are head and shoulders above the rest. The screens app is also nice as it includes a location service if you are remote and need to locate the IP / port of the Mac if it is located behind a router that uses NAT/PMP.

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