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Apple Remote Desktop 3, Part 2: Interacting with Users

After you have Apple Remote Desktop installed, you can use it to interact with users by text chat or one-way messages and alerts. Find out how to respond to user problems, observe one or more remote computers, and take control of Mac workstations remotely to improve security, enhance classrooms, and improve teacher/student interaction or help desk operations. It's all part of Ryan Faas' series on learning how to use and get the most out of the robust features of Apple Remote Desktop.
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Part 1 of this series discussed how to install and configure Remote Desktop within a Mac network. This second article looks at its most recognized feature—observation and control of remote computers—as well as other ways that Remote Desktop enables interaction with remote users. Some of these unique features include the capabilities to observe the status of remote computers, to send messages to users or initiate text-based chats, to use remote workstations as a presentation tool, and have users request attention.

Before we get to specific features, let’s briefly review Remote Desktop’s main window (shown in Figure 1). As described in the previous article, the main window contains a list area and a sidebar. The sidebar contains computer lists, saved tasks, scanners for locating computers to manage, groups that can be used to organize the preceding items, currently active tasks, task history, and available task servers. When you select a computer list, it displays a wealth of information about each computer in the list area. This list includes the computer’s file sharing name, current status, currently active application, user who is currently logged in, IP address, and version of both Mac OS X and Apple Remote Desktop. If you have assigned labels to computers, the label color is used as the background for each computer.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Remote Desktop main window

This provides you a quick snapshot of the activity of each computer in the list. You can easily tell which computers are turned on, which are actively used, who is using them, and what they are doing. This can be useful for checking the status of remote offices or classrooms in general. For teachers it can also be a quick way to ensure that students are using an appropriate application instead of surfing the web or a game. The current status enables you to know whether a computer is online, in use, offline, asleep, or powered off; and it also makes it easy to determine which users might be requesting attention.

The current user can display both local and network users. When a local user is logged in, the long or full name is displayed. However, when a network user account is used for login, only the short name of the account is displayed. For example, my user account on a local Mac would display as something like Ryan Faas, whereas a network user account might display as faasr (depending on the account naming scheme in use).

Observing and Controlling Remote Computers

Of course, the snapshot displayed in a computer list barely scratches the surface of observation that Apple Remote Desktop can be used to accomplish. To fully observe a computer, simply select it in a computer and then click the Observe button in the toolbar. To control a computer, select and then click the Control button. You also have the option of controlling using curtain mode by clicking the Curtain button. Curtain mode locks the screen of the remote workstation so that the user cannot interact with it or view what you are doing.

When you observe or control a computer, a new window (like the one in Figure 2) will open, containing the contents of the computer’s screen. Depending on how you configured the Remote Desktop client on the computer, the user might see the Remote Desktop icon in their menu bar change to indicate that they are being observed.

The observe window contains a toolbar with a number of buttons. Going from left to right the buttons do the following:

  • Toggles between observing and controlling the computer
  • Determines whether to share control of the mouse with the remote user or whether to limit the user from mouse control while you are controlling the computer
  • Fits screen in window, which scales the remote screen down or displays it full size with scroll bars (the screen will auto-scroll as you move the mouse if you are controlling the computer)
  • Toggles curtain mode on or off
  • Takes a screenshot of the remote computer’s screen (useful for documenting users’ actions if you notice they are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing)
  • Views full screen, scaling the remote screen to fit your display and replacing the screen of your computer
  • Gets and sends clipboard contents (this is a new feature that is great for copying and pasting text or other material between your computer and the remote computer that you are controlling)

At the rightmost edge of the toolbar is a slider that enables you to adjust the color depth of the remote computer from black and white to millions of colors (aka 32-bit color). This is a useful feature when observing or controlling a computer over a slow network connection because increased color depth requires additional bandwidth to transfer data between the two computers. If you find that screen movements are choppy or that control of the workstation seems sluggish, you can try reducing the color depth to improve performance.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Observe and control window

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