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Timbuktu Pro 8.0

Tuesday 5th April, 2005

Until very recently, Timbuktu was the de facto proprietary solution for cross-platform remote control of Macs and PCs. Apple upped the ante with its network-management tool, Remote Desktop (ARD) 2.1 - providing improved management tools, the ability to deal with connections via a VPN, and connections to any remote machine running a VNC compatible client - PCs or Unix boxes, Pocket PCs, and even PalmOS devices. Whether Timbuktu 8 deserves the change in number from 7 to 8 is debatable, but it does offer benefits over ARD.

The first is in its use of secure shell connection protocols - SSH. By supporting secure SSH connections between Macs and PCs, Timbuktu gains a set of feature-list ticks: there’s the security aspect - important, but often overlooked; there’s some compression with SSH, so remote sessions may seem a bit snappier; SSH logins can be authenticated using OS X user profiles, so you can login to your office machine remotely with your normal ID and password.

So what? ARD uses secure connections. Indeed, but remote login gives Timbuktu a foothold on any networked machines that don’t yet have the Timbuktu client installed - you can push-install Timbuktu Pro onto a remote computer on your network, whether or not they’re running a previous version of the product (something that, as yet, ARD can’t). Cheekily, Netopia has incorporated Apple’s Rendezvous technology (soon to be renamed Bonjour) to make finding suitable remote machines easier too.

If push was 100 per cent successful, this would tip the balance. In practice it works, but unpredictably - don’t bother over an AirPort connection, and with ADSL it’s easier for the remote user to download a copy and email them a code. But in cases where there’s no remote user, push gives Timbuktu a clear edge.

Version 8 also uses the OS X user’s file access permissions, making it easier to figure out (and police) which files remote users will have access to. If you’re on the other side of a NAT or firewall, Reverse Connection Support, lets you drag files and folders from the remote machine onto your local desktop. And unlike ARD, Timbuktu’s still peer-to-peer; the real power isn’t just limited to the admin person in charge.

Buying Advice

For a Mac-only network admin with an Xserve, then going for ARD 2.1 should be a no-brainer, especially given the pricing. But if you’re cross- platform, not using it for sysadmin work (and even here Apple’s own forum provides evidence that ARD has reliability issues with admins switching back to Timbuktu), for now stick with Timbuktu.

Get Further Info
Manufacturer Netopia
Pros Peer-to-peer; supports SSH for secure connections; Rendezvous for discovering available non-client machines; push installation.
Cons Push installation not reliable enough.
Price £39; twin-pack, £299; dual-platform twin pack.
Originally Published MacWorld, Tue, 5th Apr 2005