Remote Desktop, currently at version 3.1, is also a remote computer management tool made by Apple, available on Macintosh systems. It is commonly referred to as Apple Remote Desktop, with the acronym ARD popping up frequently. The software costs $300 for a 10-administrator license, or $500 for an unlimited license. The client software is integrated into Mac OS X, so all that needs to be installed is administrative software on machines that need it. To enable it, go to the Sharing preference pane in System Preferences; there's a checkbox for Apple Remote Desktop.

ARD (as I'll refer to it) is an extension of VNCVirtual Network Computing — the original remote client management software. In fact, ARD can be configured such that administrators with VNC software can use full VNC functionality to control a Mac without extra software needing to be installed.

In addition to the basic ability to view what's on a remote computer's screen and control the mouse and keyboard, ARD has a number of features that administrators will find useful.

The most basic of these is the computer-selection interface: rather than having to know the IP address (or DNS name) of a machine, detected machines on the local network are displayed in a "scanner" view. This can be configured so that it shows the LAN, a particular IP range, Bonjour computers (Apple's serverless service discovery protocol), or import a listing from a file. By authenticating to machines, additional lists can be created by the user; a master list of all authenticated machines is also maintained.

This interface is also very useful because it displays a lot of information about the computers it can see, including what software they're running, the current logged-in user, the model of the machine, the version of ARD installed, the network interface used to connect to the LAN, and more. Reports can also be generated containing much more detailed machine information. This basically duplicates the functionality of the Apple System Profiler utility, although I've found there are still some glitches: I recently found two machines which ARD thought had the same serial numbers and MAC addresses, although their System Profilers displayed the correct information.

Once a machine is connected, the administrator can simply observe the screen, take control of its input devices (or share control with the user), lock out the screen, install software, force system restarts, shutdowns, startups, or wakings from sleep. The administrator can also copy data back and forth without removing control from the user, change system settings, upgrade system software, rename the machine, or even send UNIX commands (I personally find this most useful for permissions changes, and the "say" command if I'm feeling perky).

There is also functionality to send messages to users, either in the form of a single alert window, or a chat. We get a lot of use out of this warning students to get off the damn Facebook. (We tried some DNS tricks to block off social networking, but it ended up making the fileserver very very unhappy, so we gave up.)

Another very nice feature is that third party software developers can take advantage of ARD in their products. Mike Bombich (maker of Carbon Copy Cloner) makes a package called NetRestore that is a more useful superset of Apple's image deployment software (think Symantec's Ghost, you Windows users), which allows machines to boot from a network image in order to overwrite a hard drive from a template image, perform diagnostics, and so on. Recent versions of NetRestore have added ARD support, meaning that from the comfort of your office, you can set a machine to net boot, then push down an image onto it. Quite handy.

I have a relatively short list of features I'd like to see integrated into ARD, including support for wireless (if the administrator's machine is connected wirelessly, the dropped packets will cause ARD to shut down the connection. So you can only control machines while you're connected over Ethernet), integrated support for Microsoft's Remote Desktop, and the ability to control my refrigerator. But I don't have a networked 'fridge, so this is mostly a pipe dream.

As software without competitors goes, ARD is well made, and highly useful to any Mac administrator.