OS X Journal: Apple Remote Desktop


Week 2
10:26PM up 1 day, 12:33, 2 users, load averages: 0.68, 0.36, 0.23

I've been having some SMTP problems and I needed to reboot the Mac a few times. I think I got it nailed, but I want to do a little more testing. Look for working with sendmail to be the topic of next week's entry.

Remote Desktop

Last week Apple announced Apple Remote Desktop. I'm kind of excited about it, but I still have some reservations. I think remote desktop is desperately needed for OS X, but I think Apple may have missed the mark for my uses.

First a little basics for the beginners. Remote desktop allows you to connect two computers, one remotely and one locally, so that the local computer controls the remote machine. So say for example, if I had a Mac at home and at work, I could do things on my home computer as if I was sitting at home.

This differs from file sharing, for example, because when you double click an application, you are actually running it on the local computer, rather than the remote one. Using remote desktop technology, when you double click an application on a connected computer, it runs on the remote computer.

As an example, lets say you're at work, and the latest monster 50+ MB update for X-Plane comes out and you want to start downloading it now before the servers get clogged as time goes by. The problem is, you want to download from home - maybe because of some paranoid IS people, or maybe because your work Internet connection is crappy. With remote desktop, you could log into your Mac at home, even over dialup, fire up your web browser and start downloading the file at home. When you walk through the door, it'll be finished and waiting.

OS X Remote Desktop

Pretty much since OS X came out and Apple started talking up its Quartz 2D graphics layer, I was thinking it'd be pretty cool if Apple could build in a remote desktop. There're a few option out there for remote desktop, Timbuktu is the best I've seen, plus some others including some Linux programs. That's great and all, but I was hoping Apple would do its own and integrate it into the OS X package. Microsoft has something similar, which I believe is called Systems Management Server. Off hand, I'm not sure if what OS's include it, but I do know that it is considerably more expensive than ARD as an add-on.

Anyway, instead of a built-in system, we got Apple Remote Desktop. Apple really geared ARD for lab/IS management, which makes it look awfully similar to the old Network Assistant that was bundled with Apple's serving suite. While I'm not really familiar with it, Apple's Network Assistant appears to be pretty similar to ARD, except that ARD has OS X support. The good news is that ARD works on both OS X and OS 9 for clients and admins. Also, ARD is available as a stand-alone package for those just wanting its functionality.

What does ADR do? Basically ADR allows an administrator to observe, control and distribute software to single or multiple Macs from a single workstation. Some cool ideas could be to show a single desktop on multiple computers for instructions, installing software on multiple machines simultaneously, or observing terminals for inappropriate behavior. While the lab-type features are cool, I'm only interested in connecting to a single computer. Ideally, I could use remote desktop to log in to my Mac when I'm away or do maintenance on my folk's machine and avoid the often-painful lets-call-Mike phone support.

Apple Remote Desktop offers the key feature of controlling the remote Mac, but it appears to miss some other features, such as text copy/paste between machines found in similar third-party options. My biggest complaint with ARD is how Apple is selling it. You can pick up a 10 license (control 10 computers) for $300 or unlimited clients for $500. This is actually a fair price considering the third party options, but what if I just want to control one computer? I'd really like to see just the control and file copy functions added to Mac OS X itself, allowing any Mac OS X machine to connect to another.

Realistically speaking, it seems transparent that Apple is looking to generate some cash on its software development, and there's nothing wrong with that. But why do I have to pay $300 to connect two computers together? Oh yeah, and did I mention I just want to connect two computers?

I'll hold out hope for a remote desktop feature in 10.2, but I'm not sure I should hold my breath.