In this article you will learn some techniques for accessing and manage your Mac OS X computer remotely from Windows.

Here is the situation: you are the systems administrator of a mixed Windows/Mac OS X network environment. Your administrative laptop runs Windows 7, and you realize that you need to establish a remote connection to one of your Mac OS X Server computers to tweak a setting. What do you do?

The good news is that Mac OS X (both the server and desktop varieties) include built-in File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Secure Shell (SSH), and Virtual Network Computing (VNC) servers. Thus, we have immediate, “out of the box” remote connectivity to our Mac boxes.

Enable VNC and SSH in Mac OS X ^

On your Mac OS X computer, open the Sharing System Preferences pane. To turn on the SSH server, enable Remote Login. The status area at right helpfully informs us of our SSH connection string. In the screenshot below, "uwarnti" refers to the currently logged on Mac user, and the IP address is, well, the IP address. 🙂

Enabling inbound SSH connections in Mac OS XEnabling inbound SSH connections in Mac OS X

To enable the VNC server, select Remote Management and then press Computer Settings….A drop-down pane appears in which we can select VNC viewers may control screen with password. Supply a strong password and click OK to complete the configuration.

Enabling incoming VNC connections in Mac OS XEnabling incoming VNC connections in Mac OS X

That’s all there is to it!

NOTE: VNC uses TCP port 5900 and SSH uses TCP port 22 by default. You may need to take this information into account when firewalls and Internet connections are involved.

Remote Terminal with SSH

We can use a Secure Shell (SSH) client in Windows to establish a secure remote Terminal connection to our target Mac OS X computer. Unfortunately, Microsoft has never (repeat: never) included built-in support for this vendor-neutral, open-source protocol in its operating systems. Thus, we will have to download an SSH client.

I would suggest that you try either OpenSSH or PuTTY. Both are easy to use, and accomplish the same goal.

NOTE: Technically, we could use the built-in Telnet client in Windows to establish to the Mac OS X Telnet server, but as we both know, this protocol is hideously unsecure.

The following image shows a PuTTY-based SSH connection to a remote Mac OS X computer. In the screen output you see (a) the connection and authentication process; (b) a run of pwd to test that we are in fact connected to a Mac; and (c) authentication as the root superuser.

Remote Mac OS X Terminal session from WindowsRemote Mac OS X Terminal session from Windows

Of course, once we have authenticated to the Mac, we can issue shell commands as if we had a local Terminal session open on the computer.

Remote Desktop with VNC ^

If we want to establish a remote desktop session to a Mac OS X computer, the VNC protocol is probably our best option. Several quality VNC clients for Windows are available:

I myself use TightVNC because of its robust support for add-ons. The following screenshot shows a VNC session between a Windows XP workstation and a Mac OS X Lion computer:

Remote Mac OS X desktop session from WindowsRemote Mac OS X desktop session from Windows

Conclusion ^

Today we learned a couple solid, reliable mechanisms for establishing a remote administration connection to a Mac OS X computer. I hope that you found this article useful. Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the comments portion of this post.

Also read: Mac-to-Windows Remote Desktop (RDP) and remote command connection

6 Comments
  1. Frans L. 11 years ago

    Thank you for another great article!

    I am already using remote management for my Mac at home and I am using the great tool I found on your website “MobaXterm” ( https://4sysops.com/archives/mobaxterm-the-free-multitab-unix-browser-for-windows/ ): it already provides an SSH client with saved session/password capabilities and also a VNC client.

    I use 1 VNC tab and 1 SSH tab: MobaXterm opens automatically an X11-forwarding channel and a SFTP browser with each SSH connection so that I can also export my display or transfer files.

    So again, thank you for allowing me to discover MobaXterm and for helping us with remote management for Mac!

  2. Agnes 5 years ago

    How can we do the reverse, i.e. run remote command window in windows from mac?

    • ikomrad 2 years ago

      +1 this. Can you do an article about controlling windows from a Mac? 

      • Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

        Install Microsoft Remote Desktop on your Mac.

        • ikomrad 2 years ago

          That works in some cases, but when you disconnect, it logs you out. I need something that leaves me logged in after I disconnect. Why? Because I use Steam Home Streaming to stream Windows games to my Mac and other devices. It doesn't work unless someone is logged in and the Windows PC is unlocked. 

  3. Prasanta Shee 5 years ago

    Above steps are too technical. Instead, one can use tools like logmein, R-HUB remote support servers etc. for remotely accessing Windows and MAC computers from anywhere anytime. They work well.

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