Apple’s long awaited update of its remote desktop management software is a massive upgrade, with tools that will make most IT professionals drool. Whether it is used to manage a few Macs in a small business or thousands of computers at an educational institution or large corporation, Apple Remote Desktop 3 (ARD) is ideal for users who need to support multiple computers on a network. Though it is not perfect, making the jump from version 2 is well worth it.
IT professionals have come to expect powerful remote desktop management features, but most casual Mac users would be amazed at what Apple Remote Desktop 3 can actually do. Want to install application updates, fonts, or templates on 100 networked computers? No problem. Want to show a coworker in Belgium how to use Excel, step-by-step—and you’re in Los Angeles? Ditto. Need to monitor what 30 students are doing in a computer lab? Easy. While I thought the last version ( ) was powerful, many of Apple Remote Desktop 3’s new features are astounding.
The first improvement is the addition of remote Spotlight searching. Most Tiger users are used to searching their computers with Spotlight. With ARD 3, you can search for a file on remote computers running Tiger just as easily as your own. Once you find it, you can copy it to your computer. (However, I did encounter a false warning when I did this—one of the bugs I experienced in my testing.)
Apple Remote Desktop has always let you visually monitor ARD or Virtual Network Computing-enabled computers. Apple has included a Remote Desktop widget with this release that gives you an instant view of remote computers through Dashboard, without even having to launch the ARD program.
In Apple Remote Desktop 2, you could only copy files to a remote computer; it was a one-way street. Version 3 has added Remote Drag and Drop and Remote Copy and Paste functions, so you can now copy remote files by simply dragging them to and from the remote window. This works well once you get the hang of the resistance encountered when moving from the remote computer’s boundaries to your master computer. The first few times I tried to copy files from a remote computer to my MacBook Pro, I found that my file halted abruptly at the border of the remote window. You need to drag a file with authority to break through, not an easy task with the MacBook Pro’s trackpad. However, using a mouse helped. Remote Copy and Paste also lets you add material to the clipboard of either your administrator Mac or the remote Mac, which can be very useful for copying text between computers, for example.
Since the idea behind Apple Remote Desktop is to administer Macs from afar, the prospect of manually setting the ARD permission on each computer seems silly, especially if you are in charge of hundreds of computers. That’s a lot of walking. Now, ARD 3 users can configure the preference settings for managed remote computers and even create new user accounts easily, without ever touching the remote computer.
Apple Remote Desktop 3 adds extensive Automator support, so you can build actions to handle routine management tasks. Over 30 Automator actions are included with the software.
One useful feature, especially when working on a network with many laptops, is ARD’s AutoInstall of software packages. With AutoInstall, ARD loads the software packages in an update queue; online computers are updated immediately, while portable Macs receive their updates when they eventually connect to the network.
Apple Remote Desktop 3 can generate a host of reports on hardware and user logs, and many other reports, which can help IT departments better manage their resources. I found the Application Usage reporting feature somewhat underwhelming, however. I ran a report about a computer I had used for more than 10 hours, running more than 12 programs during that time. Yet, the Application Usage report showed only one application: my screen saver. The usage report logs when an application launches and quits, and since the programs were launched the previous day and remained open, the report was empty. Not all that useful.
For increased security, Apple Remote Desktop 3 can optionally encrypt all communications and file transfers between computers with 128-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption. This naturally slows down data exchange, but it is a necessary safety measure in many corporate environments.
Macworld’s buying advice
Apple Remote Desktop 3 is an essential program for any IT professional who needs to manage Macs remotely. Upgrading to version 3 is a no-brainer. Despite some bugs, and a relatively weak reporting feature, the sheer number of tools available—including Spotlight searching, drag-and-drop copying, and AutoInstall—is amazing.
[ Anton Linecker is a technical advisor and writer based in Los Angeles. He uses Apple Remote Desktop every day to manage more than 40 Macs. ]You can easily monitor the activities of many Macs at a glance.The main screen lets you track the status of all networked computers.