Using a Mac without a Screen

Introduction

One of the recent comments on my blog was, “can you run a mac mini without a screen and keyboard”.

From this I had forgotten to blog about something that I had used for ages but had neglected to show the basics, assuming that all people will know about this and so this blog is just a quick and simple demonstration of how to setup “Screen Sharing” on a Mac and I assume that you are new to the Mac ecosystem, it has also been a quick relearn for myself as well as I had forgotten some things that I really should have secured when I set up the new Mac 5 months ago 🙂

Simple answer is yes, and in this hopefully short blog post I am going to show you how to do just that, from background my mac mini is sat under the TV in the living room but is actually not used at all in that way, it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse, I generally just remote onto the machine using Apples in built “share Screen” options. If I ever have to administrate using a windows PC (not very often as all are virtual) then I can use VNC to do that.

The Setup

You will need a few things setup and working before you can share the screen of a Mac, the first are the usernames and passwords to be able to connect to the Mac as well as to setup up the sharing facilities.

Setup you new mac exactly the same way as you would any other PC/Mac using a screen and keyboard, I promise this is the only time you will ever need these once this is setup, once you finally get to the desktop and have connected the Mac to the network and/or wifi (older Macs have not very good Airport cards), you will need to go into the system preference’s pane.

System Prefferences

On the third row down the last icon on the right, is the sharing options for your Mac computer I’m going to be using my MacBook Pro for this demonstration so that settings are a little bit different as to what are setup on my server, because I use the Server App on the iServer to control this access, but you need to do it this way first as you would not ordinarily have that installed at this stage.

So you’ve clicked the sharing settings and you should now have a new panel that has replaced the system preferences (note I have an External USB Blu-ray Burner attached to my Display hence having the DVD sharing option available)

Options Pane

Make a note of the computers name and/or change it at this point, you can do that just by typing in the box or by using the “Edit” button, on naming conventions make sure it means something to you so that you can connect to it later.

As its already been done on my computer all you have to do it click on the tick box at the side of “Screen Sharing”. And then go into the settings of the screen sharing to make sure that you and on you can access this feature.

Sharing Panel

So the Screen Sharing options look a little like RDP settings from Windows XP and beyond but are a lot nicer to look and easier to use, the first thing to do is to make sure that only your Username is in the Allow Access, if you select all users then anyone with an account can connect remotely to the Mac which isn’t good from a security stand point.

One of the other things to do is to click on the Computer Settings button and just check the settings in this option and just make sure that the top box is un-ticked and that VNC viewers need a password to control (VNC people are Windows people and should not be allowed free reign on a Mac)

Sharing computer settings

You will also notice that I have remote login enable on my Mac, this is simply being able to SSH onto my Macbook, I don’t recommend enabling this service, I only have it enabled to that if I am working on another PC or the iServer, I can quickly SSH onto it and quickly do things that don’t really require the use of the GUI.

Before you ditch the keyboard, mouse and Screen, I suggest that you just quickly test connectivity to the soon to be remote computer, as well as restart and test again, I also do not recommend encrypting the whole hard drive if its going to be a server due to the fact you will need to be logged into the system for the Open Directory and other server features to be active. Or have the second drive as the base for the server application dumps, I have personally partitioned off the 2Tb drive with 500Gb to run the Open Directory and other Applets from the main OS and Virtual’s Drive are encrypted.

So that is how easy it is to setup the “screen sharing” options on a Mac, in the next section I will show you how to use your Mac to remote on this soon to be Headless Machine.

How to connect to a Mac from a Mac

Apple have done a really good job in being able to remote control an OSX machine, unlike Windows with the RDP or MSTSC application you actually need to forget about this and just go to the network folder, which will show you a list of other PC’s and Mac’s on your current subnet

Netwrok Folder

Not a lot on mine at the moment which is nice :-).. for the Demonstration I am going to connect from my Macbook Pro onto the Mac Mini (iServer) as both of them are setup for Screen Sharing.

Ok to start with you need to find the computer that you are wanting to share the screen with, in my case it’s the iServer, so to get things running I just double click that and it will show me all the shares that I have access to, due to me already being logged in through my Keychain it has brought up the shares available to me

Iserver shares

If I wasn’t logged in I would not be able to see those shares other than the Public Folder, I’ll just quickly show you what I would see if I wasn’t logged in using Sarah’s Mac Mini (shh don’t tell)

Sarah's Mac

As you can see in the above I still have the same options available to remote but I do not see any shares, and I also note that Sarah Doesn’t have public folder available either (she has learned something from me after all). To log in to see the shares I would use the connect As button on the top right of the window

Connect As

I would then have to log in

Login Screen Share

I wont at this point as its not the point of this blog and Sarah would skin me alive :-).

Ok Back to it, if you are wanting to connect to the desktop and use the Mac remotely you just use the “Share Screen” button on the top right side of the folder

Connect As

Once you click that it will check the security settings of the remote computer just to make sure that it is enabled and then will ask you for user credentials to log in

Share Screen Log in

I have allowed my keychain to save the details as I think if anyone has gotten access thus far I have far more issues to deal with but you can make your own mind up on whether to save the credentials or not.

Click on the connect button and it should bring up a new windows that is you log in screen of the remote window

Remote Desktop

Log in with your normal password that you usually would and it will take you to your desktop

RD Logged in

So that’s it your now connected remotely to your computer, so you can ditch the Keyboard, Mouse and Screen, leave the Mac Mini in any location you feel suitable. Although whilst the Mac Mini is very good at coping with high temperature’s I would make sure that it has good air flow underneath and to the rear of the chassis (at least 3 inches to the rear) and make sure its on a hard surface not soft ones, I have seen Mac Minis and macbook Pro’s stored and powered up under sheets and washing and all manner of other places and yes they did just work but for the longevity of your computers I just make the suggestions.

If you are going to do updates remotely don’t worry the update screen and boot screen as usable from the remote console and will show you everything just as if you were sitting at the computer, similar in function (but limited) to the Intel VPro technology found on high end business machines.

To remote from your iPad or iPhone I suggest using an application called VNC Viewer which is free from the App store.

To connect from a windows Machine you will also need a copy of VNC viewer but I will cover VNC in another blog but its workings are pretty simple.

Conclusion

So we have setup Screen Sharing and connected to the remote machine from another Mac, all in all a pretty productive day. I must say its one of the best things about having a Mac server and multiple Mac’s about the house, with Screen sharing enabled, Sarah is able to flick between Mac’s around the house/Property without moving and I am able to do the same when I need to, as well as having the advantage of being able to remote onto them from my iPad or iPhone if I have lost the energy to go upstairs and grab the MacBook Pro.

In future Blogs I will show you how to end one of the annoyances of mine and that is where the screenshots end up, by default this is the desktop as you can see from some of my screen shots, I will show you how to redirect these somewhere better :-), Apple do get things wrong sometimes but this times its just down to preference.