Apple Remote Desktop 3

I've been using Apple Remote Desktop since the Classic days when it was called Network Assistant. I've always used it in very basic ways — client control, software installation and remote troubleshooting mainly — but it's nevertheless been an invaluable utility in my sysadmin tool belt. And in the last few years it's gotten nothing but better. For one, starting in Panther, the ARD client was included in the OS install, making installation and setup on a group of clients a trivial affair. Version 2 also included the ability to run UNIX commands on a group of clients, which has made my job about twelve million times easier, so that was, and continues to be, great. In fact, it was this feature that made ARD 2 a must-have for me. Not only did it allow me to perform tasks en masse that I simply couldn't perform any other way, it also filled a lot of holes in the software itself. There is a lot you can do with ARD 2 right from the GUI, but there are a lot of things you can't, though you probably should be able to. Things like enabling file sharing or Appletalk come to mind. Ideally, any setting you can make in a computer's Systems Preferences (or at least in the Network prefs) would be configurable from ARD. This is not always the case, but the UNIX functionality greatly mitigated most if not all of this.

Apple Remote Desktop 3 is the newest version of ARD, and it, like its predecessor, offers what look to be some really great improvements. The interface is now two-paned and sports the new "Unified" look, and tasks are listed in the left-hand pane along with everything else. If you want to view a running task, select it in the left-hand pane and view its progress in the main window. Gone is the third pane containing your task history, and you no longer need to view a task's progress in a new window. Hallelujah! Remote management just got more efficient, and that is, after all, the name of the game. This left-hand pane also sports new organizational features as well. Folders let you group computer lists, and Smart lists can be set up as well to keep tabs on computers with certain properties. These little organizational touches go a long way toward enhancing the usefulness of a product like ARD. Believe me, they're important details when you're managing a group of computers, and are welcome additions to the application.

One of the things I always hated about ARD 2 was that if you, as the ARD admin, locked the screen of a client computer, you, the admin, were locked out as well. This has been addressed in ARD 3 with a new feature called Curtain Mode. Curtain Mode allows the administrator to lock the screen of the client computer, just like Lock Screen did in ARD 2. But with Curtain Mode, the client gets a locked screen while the admin gets complete, unfettered access to the computer. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted this feature. Finally, I can lock down computers but still perform tasks in the GUI.

ARD 3 now offers Remote Drag and Drop, enabling an administrator to drag documents directly to the client. This is a nice productivity enhancement that I'm sure most ARD admins have longed for for awhile. Pure Apple simplicity.

Reports have been enhanced too, and now feature the ability to track application usage and user history. This will be great for monitoring which apps get used most and what users are doing to cause problems on their systems.

Probably the most hailed (and rightfully so) new feature of ARD 3 is automation. ARD is now AppleScriptable in version 3 and also comes bundled with a set of Automator actions. It's only right and proper that an application that's made to perform multiple tasks on multiple computers should be automatable in some way. And now it is.

There are a bunch of other new features, but the above are the ones I'm most excited about. Most of these new feature are things I've always wanted in ARD. In fact their absence in previous versions often left me scratching my head and wondering why they weren't included. They seem so obvious and so Apple. So I'm really glad to see them finally rolled out in the new product. And I'm glad to see that Apple is paying attention to Remote Desktop. It's kind of surprising to me to see constant and significant improvements in a product that's probably not a big money-maker for Apple. But it's great to see. I haven't gotten ARD 3 yet, but I'll be ordering it as soon as budgets allow, and then waiting for it with bated breath. If the hands-on reviews are any indication, It looks like a winner.