Apple Remote Desktop

Administering a network can be a frustrating job. End-users can be amazingly inept, and talking them through the simplest things over the telephone can be a real exercise in frustration. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply shove the users aside and get on with it, but not get up from your cosy, weight-calibrated Aeron seat? Well now you can, with Apple Remote Desktop. If you’ve ever seen Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro, you’ll be familiar with the concept of ARD (Apple Remote Desktop). In fact, the two applications match each other almost feature-for-feature. Both applications offer a number of ways to remotely administer a Mac. ARD has two parts: the client (which will run on any Mac running 8.1 or higher), and the administrator (which runs exclusively on X 10.1 or better). Installation is fairly straightforward. You need a password – which is hidden in the manual – to install the OS 9 client software. Once the client software is installed, it can be activated and administered remotely. Big brother
You can observe the remote computer, which is handy for talking people through operations over the telephone. It is also good for spying on people while they slack off and surf the Internet for MP3s and other contraband. I’m not sure how legal this is. Probably not very, because it’s such fun. If you’re administering somebody remotely, and talking to them on the telephone isn’t working, there’s another solution. You can take control of a remote computer. This is especially useful for working on servers, but is also fun for ghost-in-the-machine japes. But joking aside, this is one of the most useful features in ARD. You can either have it entirely take over your screen, or have the remote machine in a floating window. Share and share alike
The next feature is going to be really useful for both students and teachers. The Share Screen option lets you display your screen on remote computers. In a classroom, this has a dual use. Primarily, it can be used to show students what the teacher is doing – but as a bonus, it locks the students out of their computers. This will keep their attention on the lesson and stop them playing Quake while they should be listening. It will also be useful for business-presentations in an all-Mac environment, though this a bit of a rarity. The Lock Screen command does just what it says. It locks any remote screen, so users can’t get in. A Text Chat option allows the administrator to have a conversation via a text panel. This is useful, but the remote users can’t initiate a text conversation. This would be a useful addition that should be considered for the next version. There’s also a button to send remote computers to sleep, and another to wake them up. Not an essential feature, but it should help save a little electricity – and help give co-workers the willies. The Copy Items feature is, potentially, a great time saver. It allows you to copy items to remote computers all at the same time. This is great for installing fonts, extensions, control panels, or anything else you want. You can specify where on the disk the files are copied. This helps make sure everyone in a group is running the correct versions of software, templates, or sets of fonts. It’s bound to save a lot of legwork – especially in schools and training centres. The Software Search tool isn’t as helpful as I had originally thought. I expected it to do a software audit of connected machines. Instead, it’s a Sherlock-like search-engine that looks for documents and applications. This is less useful than a proper software audit, but it must have some uses. Finally, the System Information button lets you poll all connected computers for information on hardware and some system software. This is handy for seeing who needs more RAM or a software upgrade. It would be better if you could actually upgrade the OS remotely, but perhaps that will be possible with version 2. One concern I have is about stability. A couple of attempts to observe or control machines caused the client machines to freeze, at least momentarily, and in one case caused a full-on crash. This isn’t acceptable, and a little more stability is needed before I would feel comfortable using it. But since this review was started, there was already a 1.1 update – which bodes well for quick-fixes to any problems. Any teaching environment will find lots of uses for ARD, and there are plenty of business uses, too. I’m thinking of installing it at home so I can read my email and control iTunes on my G4 from my wife’s iBook via AirPort. Though I don’t expect many consumers to pay over £200 for this kind of privilege.

OUR VERDICT

Apple Remote Desktop isn’t without competition, and it falls somewhat short of high-end products like MacAdministrator (see page 51). Timbuktu Pro is probably closer in features to ARD, and is also available for OS 9 and X. Of course, this is ARD version 1, and not a bad first stab, but there are plenty of areas it could improve on. In the meantime, it’s a relatively cheap solution to some of the problems of network administration.

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