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Apple Remote Desktop 3, Part 5: Automating Remote Desktop

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Once you know how to use Apple Remote Desktop to manage workstations, deploy software, interact with users, and generate detailed inventory and system reports, you might think that's the extent of this powerful tool. But Apple has given Remote Desktop even more power and flexibility by making it completely scriptable and including easy-to-use scheduling and automation features. In this final article covering Apple Remote Desktop 3, Ryan Faas shows you how to schedule individual tasks and create automated workflows from combinations of tasks and reports, and provides an introduction to further programming Remote Desktop using AppleScript and the Mac OS X Automator utility.
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In the course of this series, we’ve explored how to configure and use the various commands and features of Apple Remote Desktop 3. In this final article, we’ll look at how you can automate many of these features. Remote Desktop offers three major ways to automate tasks. The first is the ability to save almost any task for later use or to create a task template. The second option builds on the first by enabling you to schedule saved tasks to be run once or on a recurring basis. Finally, in version three, Apple introduced the ability to integrate Remote Desktop tasks with AppleScript and Mac OS X’s Automator utility, enabling you to create complex automated workflows.

Saved Tasks

Most Apple Remote Desktop commands are configured by using a task dialog box. Although there is a wide variation between the task dialog boxes, depending on what features you are using (running a report, renaming computers, installing packages, and so on), all the task dialog boxes include certain common features. For example, they include a listbox containing the target computers for the task. This listbox is initially populated by the computers that you select before issuing the command, but additional computers can be added by dragging them from a computer list or report window into the listbox, or computers can be removed by selecting them and pressing the delete key on the keyboard.

The bottom of each task dialog box always includes three buttons: one to execute the task immediately (the name of which will vary depending on the task), one to save the task for later use, and one to schedule the task. The top of each task dialog box also includes a pop-up menu labeled Templates (see Figure 1). We touched on the templates menu in the last piece in this series when discussing the Send Unix Commands feature and we’ll discuss its relevance to other task dialog boxes shortly, but first, let’s look at the Save button.

Figure 1

Figure 1 A typical task dialog box

The Save button enables you to save a task for later use. To use it, simply select one or more computers and then choose the command and feature that you want to save. In the task dialog box for the command, configure it as appropriate to what you want to accomplish and then click Save. You will be asked to give the saved task a name that will help you identify it and where you want it to be saved. You can store saved tasks either in the sidebar of the Remote Desktop main window (along with scanners, computer lists, and so forth) or you can store them in any group that you create.

Groups function much like folders, and you can store computer lists, scanners, or saved tasks in them. This enables you to store related tasks together or to store tasks together with the computer lists for which they will be used. As you can see in Figure 2, the Save Task dialog box presents a pop-up menu containing your groups and the sidebar itself for determining where tasks should be saved. You will need to create the groups before saving a task. Alternatively, you can move items from the sidebar into a group or from one group to another after saving them.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Save sheet for a task dialog box

To run a saved task, simply double-click it in the sidebar or inside a group. The task dialog box will be displayed, configured as it was when you saved it. You can then run the task or schedule it as it is or you can change the target computers or other parameters. To delete a saved task, simply select it and press Delete on the keyboard.

Saved tasks can be helpful in any number of ways. They enable you to create a library of custom, preconfigured actions that you can quickly call upon whenever needed. They can be helpful for having easy access to specific report criteria, for sending common messages to users, or for modifying any number of options about a computer’s configuration. You can call upon them at any point, either in response to the results of a report, in response to a user message, or as a result of whatever actions you might be observing or other tasks you may need to perform. They can also be tied together using Automator to create workflows of multiple saved tasks that accomplish a number of actions.

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