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Apple Remote Desktop 1.0.1

Sunday 5th May, 2002

Desktop Administration is often a headache for companies, or educational establishments with a large number of Macintoshes. Down the years there have been a number of solutions aimed at simplifying the housekeeping tasks involved in the day to day running of a computer lab. All have had their faults. Some have been too expensive to license (Timbuktu), others have been Mac only solutions (MacAdministrator), and some have really only been available as part of a server product (Apple Network Assistant, part of the AppleShare IP Suite - to which Remote Desktop bears an uncanny resemblance). With the release of Apple Remote Desktop 1.0, Apple is trying to solve at least two of these problems -standalone availability, since you can now buy shrink-wrapped product, and pricing, which we’ll get to in a jiffy.

Remote Desktop runs on the standard client server model. All the software comes on one CD that contains installers for both the Server software, which only runs on OS X, and the client software (an extension and setup application - Remote Desktop Security), which runs on anything later than Mac OS 8.1. You install a server application on (at least) one machine, and client software on all the other machines on the network. Having installed the software, each client must be individually enabled via the control application. This allows individual users to decide just how much remote control the want to hand over to the network administrator.

Remote Client Setup Remote Client Setup Each machine on the network can individually set administrator privileges

At this point, it’s a good idea to consider exactly who Apple’s target audience is: the aforementioned educational establishment running a lab full of iMacs, all of whom are connected to an Ethernet network. Unlike other remote control applications, (let’s face it, Timbuktu) the ‘Remote’ in ‘Remote Desktop’ is fairly narrow in definition. It doesn’t mean ‘at the other end of a telephone connection’ (whilst it does support AirPort networks, there’s no direct dial up support), it doesn’t mean ‘over an AppleTalk network’ (since client connections are via TCP/IP only), and it probably isn’t meant to include ‘via an internet router’ since the manual goes to some lengths to stress that this may lead to poor quality connections (in case you wondering/actually use a firewall, Apple have reserved port 3283 for client communication). So you can’t use it fix a friend’s iMac via a modem connection, or use it to log in remotely to the company’s network server. That said, what it does do, it does very well.

Remote Mac list select Remote Mac list select You can select which Macs you want to control

When you first fire up the Server application post installation, you’re asked to build a list of computers you want to control. You can do this via a simple IP search of the local network, by specifying a single static IP address of a machine you know you want access to, or via a range of IP addresses. Once you’ve built your list you’re then shown the Computer Status list. In order to control machines in the list you’ll need to log in as an administrator via an OS X ‘Click lock…’ button, using the default administrator password (xyzzy - see, Apple can be traditionalist).

Once you’ve logged in, provided you set the correct access privileges on your client machines (you can define these for multiple, different administrators on the same machine), the machines on your local network are yours to command. You can restart, shutdown, sleep, and wake remote machines You can observe users screens (up to four at a time), control their mouse and keyboards, chat to them via a text interface, even install and configure software. One of the nice touches is that you can display your screen on all the Macs in the lab (great for demonstrations), and you can even choose to display another machine’s screen to everyone else (good news for teacher’s pet, bad new for the class clown).

Remote observing Remote observing Remote Desktop allows you to observe up to 4 Macs at a time

Despite the teaching applications, Remote Desktop is definitely designed as the lab technician’s friend. For day to day use it also includes the ability to copy entire hard disk images around (for resetting machines at the end of the week, or term) and screen locking, so that carefully set-up machines can’t be tinkered with before a class starts. For long term use, a complete suite of semi-interactive reports lets you do bulk inquiries for a list of machines: compare application versions, search out which fonts are missing on which machine, and produce a system information report - a sort of network-wide Apple Profiler. There are two hard disk reports (for devices, size, free, space and drive verification), a network performance report, and an admin access report to see who’s decided to opt out of the whole process. You need fear the clipboard touters no more.

System Info Report System Info Report No more scrabbling around the morning before the auditors arrive.

As an application, it has all the hallmarks of an OS X thoroughbred - customisable toolbar, and great ease of use. In terms of pricing, Remote Desktop comes in two versions: a 10-user licence at £249, and an unlimited user licence at £429. A 10-user licence for Timbuktu, which provides ‘proper’ remote access to both Macs and PCs is £589, so although it’s not a give-away, it is keenly priced.

Get Further Info
Manufacturer 37signals
Pros Low per seat cost, useful features addressing real admin problems.
Cons TCP/IP only, Mac only.
Price 10 user licence at £249, unlimited user licence £429.
Needs Server: Mac OS X; Client: G3 or G4 running OS.
Originally Published MacWorld, Thu, 10th Feb 2005