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Apple Remote Desktop 3, Part 1: How You Can Plan a Remote Desktop Installation

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Most users recognize the power of Apple Remote Desktop for observing and controlling remote Macs and Mac OS X Server, but that is only a small fraction of the features and capabilities offered by this powerful tool. In this first article in a five-part series, Ryan Faas shows you how much more Remote Desktop can be used to accomplish; and how to plan, configure, and deploy Apple Remote Desktop efficiently and effectively in a Mac network.
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Simply put, Apple Remote Desktop is a powerful remote management tool for Mac OS X computers. However, that description does not really do it justice because it implies that it is merely a tool for controlling or observing computers remotely. Although this feature is very well-known, Remote Desktop goes far beyond simply being able to see what users are doing and taking control of their workstations for technical support or other reasons.

Remote Desktop includes a rich feature set designed to be a complete network management tool. It enables administrators to configure a wide range of Mac OS X features, to deploy applications and files to workstations across a network (either immediately, according to a schedule, or when the computer is next connected to the network or powered on), to instantly view the state of a managed workstation, to interact with users for support or educational purposes, and to collect an immense amount of data about the computers in a network and how they are used in easy-to-understand reports that can be used to manage inventory and track computer usage and status. Remote Desktop also has a range of non-IT uses, including being used as a powerful educational tool by enabling teachers to monitor student computer usage during classes, to provide individual feedback, and to use individual workstations as presentation tools. Remote Desktop even has the capability to be of use in traditional business settings because it offers new levels of remote collaboration and presentation options for all manner of projects.

Earlier this year, I provided a series of three pieces that illustrated the potential uses of Apple Remote Desktop beyond the basic observe-and-control functionality ("Stop Counting Macs! Use Apple Remote Desktop and Never Do Inventory Again," "Use Apple Remote Desktop to Install and Update All Your Macs (Without Leaving Your Desk)," and "How to use Apple’s Remote Desktop for Presentation, Instruction, and Collaboration"). In the time since I wrote these articles, Apple has released Apple Remote Desktop 3, which provides a number of new and improved features that make it an even more powerful network management tool. In this five-part series, I’ll provide an in-depth look at each of the feature sets available from Remote Desktop and how to deploy it within your network to take advantage of all the management and presentation options available.

What’s New In Version 3?

Apple Remote Desktop 3 includes several exciting improvements over previous versions. One of these is a streamlined approach for scheduling tasks using dedicated task servers. This approach enables you to not only schedule tasks but also to take advantage of several new software and file distribution functions. File distribution is also dramatically improved by network copying that is up to 11 times faster than version 2.2. Remote Desktop 3 also offers encryption for all data transfers and exchanges in addition to keystrokes and mouse movements. And the interface for file copying has been updated to support drag-and-drop copying between managed workstations and administrator computers.

Remote Desktop has also been updated to take advantage of several features in Mac OS X Tiger (10.4), including support for Spotlight searches of remote workstations—which is an incredible boon to locating data across a network. It also includes a Dashboard widget for simple monitoring of computers in a network. Finally, it includes the ability to create smart computer lists that (like smart playlists in iTunes) base the computers they manage upon whether they meet specific criteria at any given moment. Automation features have also been improved by the inclusion of Automator actions and the ability to create custom Automator workflows.

Reporting and remote management features have also been improved. Reports now include additional reports for software usage as well as which users are using which workstations. The use of task templates for the Send UNIX Command feature also makes management easier for users who are not fully familiar with using Unix commands to configure Mac OS X environment options. And last, but certainly not least, Apple Remote Desktop is now a universal binary that can be run on both Intel and Power PC Macs.

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