You’re a teacher, and your rambunctious sixth graders are paying attention to everything but the task you want them to be doing. Or you’re an IT help-desk staffer, and your end users don’t know the cursor from the Finder, so they’re not about to configure their own software installations. For situations like these, Apple Remote Desktop 1.0’s unique combination of features provides remote control of client Macs, the ability to distribute files over a network, and some well-conceived tools that let classroom instructors explore new teaching methods. But these features come with some problems: Apple Remote Desktop suffers from some annoying peculiarities in setup, and it’s missing essentials that would allow it to live up to its potential.
The Dirty Work
Planning an Apple Remote Desktop deployment is straightforward, provided you take some time to read Apple’s documentation. First, you’ll want to make sure your network fits Apple’s specifications. Apple Remote Desktop works on networks composed of workstations running OS 8.1 to OS X 10.1 or later, and it requires a Mac running OS X 10.1 or later for administration. For many functions, such as observation or control of remote workstations, Apple Remote Desktop requires either a wired Ethernet or wireless 802.11b network. (Apple recommends a wired connection for the administrator Mac.) Furthermore, if you plan to carry out functions that require more bandwidth, such as transferring files, Apple Remote Desktop will perform better on a switched network than on a shared one.
Also note that if your TCP/IP addresses are assigned via a DHCP server, as most are, Apple Remote Desktop will not let you add clients by using their host names–you must use their IP addresses or specify a range of addresses to search for a particular client.
Apple Remote Desktop comes with administrator and client software on the same CD. To set it up, you must install the client portion on each desktop and the administration application on an OS X workstation. We had no trouble with installation on any of the OS 9 machines we used during our test, but installing the OS X client was aggravating. A bug prevented the client software from installing properly, and once installed, it wouldn’t load at start-up until we had created an additional user with administrative privileges on each OS X client.
To keep the number of clients from becoming unwieldy, the program lets you create groups to manage them. These groups come in quite handy, because you can include a client in more than one group (such as physical location, function, and hardware type).
Apple Remote Desktop lets administrators interact with other Mac users on your network through their workstations, execute operations on remote workstations, and generate reports about those workstations. Apple organizes these functions into three menus: Interact, Manage, and Report.
To use Apple Remote Desktop’s features, you simply select the name of the target workstation from any Apple Remote Desktop window and click on the corresponding icon–Observe, Control, or Share Screen, for example–in the customizable toolbar at the top of the window. But you’re limited in how many features you can activate simultaneously (for example, you cannot observe some workstations while controlling others), and you can’t adjust the size of the window that displays the screen of a remote workstation.
The program’s Interact functions are quite similar to those in Netopia’s mature Timbuktu Pro 6.0.1 (mmmmh; Reviews, March 2002), which allows you to remotely observe and control another computer, as well as perform file exchanges. But Apple Remote Desktop extends the notion of control to include sharing your screen with that of anyone on the network, viewing the screens of as many as four users simultaneously, and locking students’ screens when you want to focus their attention elsewhere. Using Apple Remote Desktop, for example, a teacher can demonstrate a task and then observe the desktop of one or more students as they perform the task on their own. And since instructors can control students’ desktops, they can provide help without leaving the front of the classroom.
Apple Remote Desktop also includes Text Chat, which is similar to instant messaging, and Broadcast, which lets you send a text message to more than one desktop. We found the chat feature helpful and easy to use, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as alternatives such as AOL’s Instant Messenger. Broadcast proved troublesome, especially when running in OS 9.1, where it sometimes caused application crashes.
Not Quite Software Distribution
Apple Remote Desktop also allows you to copy or delete files on remote workstations, but these tasks are not quick and easy, as Apple claims. In a classroom, you can use the Copy Items feature to replace a folder of documents used during a class with a fresh set of files. But if you want to update an application that relies on files spread throughout the file system, you will have to go through the tedious process of placing them manually, because Apple Remote Desktop cannot interpret installation scripts or packages. You can copy a folder of files from a location on the administrator’s workstation to the same relative location on a managed remote Mac, but if you need to update many files, this isn’t helpful.
What’s on Those Machines, Anyway?
When you need to find out what software is installed on your client Macs or count how many you need to upgrade, Apple Remote Desktop’s reporting feature comes in handy, allowing you to collect hardware information and a limited amount of software information from your network.
Built-in reports with set parameters are included to help the administrator identify particular workstations for follow-up or troubleshooting. If you need to know which applications need updating, the Software Version Report shows the various software versions installed on the administrative workstation and on one or more network workstations. However, you can only compare the versions on client Macs with those on the administrator Mac–Apple Remote Desktop will not let you create an inventory of all the applications installed on a computer. And although you can search for specific items on a remote desktop, you cannot browse the file system (as you can with Timbuktu Pro), so locating applications or files can turn into an unnecessarily time-consuming hunt.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With its combination of remote-control, management, and reporting features, Apple Remote Desktop 1.0 brings together management tools that network administrators won’t find in any other single application at such a reasonable price. But due to problems with OS X-client installation, limited ability to manage software on remote desktops, and imperfect reporting capabilities, this initial iteration needs improvement before it will meet network administrators’ standards.