Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cisco VPN with Mac

Guess what?  Cisco has a Mac version of their VPN!  It works under 10.4 versions, and under 10.5 and 10.5.1 as well!

If your IT department doesn't support Mac (as I've said, they're invariably overloaded so that's not an unreasonable initial stance), you can either pull in a favor from a friend in IT (she just has to go to the protected part of the Cisco site, which she can do if she's in your IT group, and get the Mac client for VPN and email it to you), or google the web for a copy.  I found a current copy on some European site, perhaps a university. (Suppose I could have shmoozed one of our IT guys, but I got into the challenge.)  The newer version I now have, 4.9.01 from about 2006, is much more forgiving of the vagaries of hotel networks and such, so I am no longer having any problems (well, no more than my PC friends) with consistency as long as the actual connection is good. 

In a hotel, the sequence is: pick a network, clear a path to the internet, then clear a path through VPN.  Hotels are the most challenging, so if you can do a hotel, you're a pro.  Home DSL is easy in comparison.

Pick a network.
1.  Plug in the network cable, or click on the wireless antenna icon.
2. If you clicked wireless, it will show you a list of possible networks.  Pick the one you want and click on that.
3.  The antenna symbol will now show you some bars, which says you have a physical connection.  Or it won't, in which case you are missing a password, or something's changed.  

What you have now is a path to the hotel's network.  From here, you need to get to the real internet; the hotel may give you some ads or limited Yahoo access, but they'll usually charge for full access.

Clear a path to the internet.
1.  Click Safari, or your chosen browser.  Do you get your home page?  I bet you don't.  I bet you get the hotel's page, you've been redirected to it, because they want to ensure your satisfaction (charge you money) and deliver optimal performance (charge you money) before they let you get to the network, a grace for which they're likely to want to charge you money.  Heck, they're charging you $10.95 for bad porn on the TV with all the interesting bits edited out, why would they let you have internet porn, with those bits still retained, for free?  And the details of surfing aren't reported on your hotel bill, so you can go ahead and prepare your expense report with a clear conscience.  I'm sure you've done at least one work-related email, right?  

Incidentally, I know this because I talked with a guy who did this.  He was an odd one; he didn't seem to think that we were given sex so we'd be easier to damn.   

2.  OK, you've got the hotel's page, so you agree to the charges, or you click to say that although they're not charging you, you're willing to take responsibility for your own actions.  One way or another, you get a few last frantic popups asking for spare change or to meet their sister who is lonely, and it says "you're now on the web."  Type or something you know what it looks like.  If it looks like that, you're done.  

Click the Cisco VPN button
If there's a path to the internet, it will show you a small introductory window, looks like a skinny lady on the beach (properly attired, which is Cisco porn I suppose), and then ask for account and name.  You type that in, it consults its inner child, and then comes back with a new popup that says that your company owns your computer, your soul, and your sense of self.  You agree to that, as I always do, and the window goes away.  

Then there you're left with this this Cisco window, just hanging around on an otherwise clean screen.  Hit Command-h (it's the "hide" shortcut; "Command" is the "Apple" button, or the "four-leaf clover" button; there's not a clear Windows analog to it and it took me a while to figure out when I first started using the Mac).  The Cisco window will now tuck itself into the toolbar, wherever you've put it on your screen.  If you want to see the Cisco window again, such as to log out of VPN, you can either click that thing at the bottom right or Command-Tab your way through the currently operating programs (do you know that Command-Tab shortcut?  it's really handy) to get to it. 

You're now on your corporate network, courtesy of Wozniak, Jobs, Chambers, Morgridge, and probably 10,000 talented Silicon Valleyers who actually did the work.  Welcome!

Leaving Cisco VPN
When you shut down your computer or disconnect from the web, it's cleanest if you bring the VPN window back up and click "disconnect."  Otherwise a complaint pops up and you have to close that too.  I had some problems with laptop restart in the past, under earlier versions of VPN, but that doesn't seem to be an issue anymore.  

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