Mac Lab Report

Apple Remote Desktop 'Essential' for Managing Lots of Networked Macs

- 2004.06.01

I've been reconfiguring my lab of computers for administrator management for years. For a while I tried using Apple Network Assistant (ANA), the predecessor to Apple Remote Desktop, but I found ANA buggy and prone to crash.

Apple Remote Desktop is pretty much the same thing with a few new features and OS X native code, plus a few different features - but in about a month of use I've had no crashes. It is faster to respond than ANA was and has a nice feature of displaying up to four remote screens simultaneously, automatically rotating through all available machines in your predefined user list.

As with ANA, you can move files to batches of selected clients, do reports on selected characteristics of the computers online, remotely lock the screens, and initiate a text chat.

From a teacher's perpsective, Apple Remote Desktop has really increased my efficiency. Before Remote Desktop, when I walked across the room, the people in the back of the room had to wait for a long time until I could get to them. Students would snag me as I tried to get to a person who had asked a question.

Now I can stay at my desk and have students come by to request help. Instead of going to the back of the room, getting sidetracked, and then working my way back to my desk, I can help three students in the time it used to take to help one - by cutting out the trip time.

The downside is that some students are reluctant to ask for help for whatever reason, and my experience as a teacher tells me the best way to get students to ask for help is to get up and move closer to the students who don't ask questions - invariably they are emboldened to ask more because they don't have to reveal that they need help in such a public manner. So I still get up and move about when the stream of students by my desk tapers off.

I find that I spend a bit of time trying to help students simply find files they saved before or move these files into the server I have prepared for them. (My students access the server through aliases on the desktop that lead directly to the server password prompt, bypassing the need to use the Chooser or have general access to the network.)

The other problem I have been encountering is that students have difficulty understanding that a program can be running without any open or minimized windows. With Remote Access, I can flip to that student's screen and open a new window or document pretty quickly.

The other benefit is that students are well aware that you can observe what they are doing when they are not on task. In the "currently open application" list, I can select a user running Internet Explorer and see what they are doing - then send a screen message reminding the student to get on task, or, if necessary, lock the screen or even quit the application.

And it's really cool to see students freak out when their curson starts moving all on its own.

Another option is the well known product Timbuktu, which some people prefer. I've used an older version of Timbuktu. If you have access to it, that's great. If you're starting from scratch, you have to pay for each Timbuktu user (prices range from $99 for a single user to under $70/user with the 30 user pack). Remote Access, on the other hand, offers an unlimited client option for US$499 - and it can be used with as many computers as fit on your subnet.

While researching this article I ran across an excellent comparison between Remote Desktop and Timbuktu that will help you decide which product is best for your needs. The author advocates using both for their complementary features.

It's a lot easier to manage a lab full of computers with this software than to go around installing stuff with a CD or even from a server.

If you manage a lab full of Macs, Remote Desktop is essential - and worth every penny.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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