TweetFollow Us on Twitter

An Apple Remote Desktop Critique

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Programming

Patch Panel

An Apple Remote Desktop Critique

ARD is Much Better in Version 2.1, But Still Needs A Lot of Work

by John Welch

As you can tell from the title, this article is going to be a critique of Apple's remote system management tool, Apple Remote Desktop, or ARD, to the, well, ARD cognoscenti. While it is, especially in version 2.1, a much improved tool over earlier versions, (it's actually useful to more than just K-12 lab Admins now), it still has a few critical areas that need work if it is to move into the next level.

Packaging

ARD needs to be bundled with Mac OS X Server, period. To sell a server that can handle thousands of clients, and then give no way to manage those clients without laying out another few hundred dollars is silly. If I'm buying an Xserve, I need client management tools. It's not like Apple has to license it, and there's no problem with selling it separately, but it needs to be shipped as part of Mac OS X Server. I still see people on mailing lists trying to do things manually, when ARD would be a great help, but after having spent money on Server, there's sometimes a bit of a hurdle getting another P.O. approved because Apple doesn't' think you need client management tools as a part of their server. Compare this to Active Directory, which ships with basic client management as part of Windows Server. Bundling ARD with Mac OS X Server would fill a basic need of network administrators everywhere. (Yes, Apple does ship SSH with Mac OS X, and they do have excellent command line tools. However, the documentation for those tools is a bit...shall we say light.)

Even better: integrate ARD in with Server Admin and Workgroup Manager. This would allow an administrator, when setting up a remote client or user in Workgroup Manager, to easily bring up the client in an ARD window, and test out the various login settings, MCX settings, etc. Integration with Server Admin would allow administrators to better deal with various tools that work better when you can see the screen, or allow administrators who are not yet comfortable with the command line to not have to start swimming in the deep end of the pool, with the drain suction on 'high'.

Another issue for the enterprise is the pricing. At first glance, ARD is one of the cheapest tools out there. However, that's more for if you have a single, or very limited number of administration workstations. In a large network, or an enterprise setup, that's not always going to be the case. If you need multiple administration machines, ARD's price starts to go up in $500US increments. What is needed is perhaps an "Enterprise" version that would allow for unlimited administration workstations in a root domain, so for example, you could have unlimited administration workstations for company.com, and that would include all the subdomains a company might have, like nyc.company.com, etc. This could be based either on DNS, or (more logically), Open Directory domains.

Automation

Another area where ARD suffers is in automation. True, you can now run shell commands directly on clients, but that's a rather manual process. There's no provision for kicking off other commands based on the results, because the ARD itself cannot be scripted, via shell, or AppleScript. Which means that while I can run softwareupdate -l on 500 Macs, I can't have the results of that kick of any automated update process. Automation is critical to administrators, because as your client base goes up, your workload tends to increase by multiples of that increase. A tool that almost lets you automate, or forces you to have manual steps with what little automation it allows you to do is almost a hindrance, not a help.

ARD needs full OSA and shell support, so that automation can happen independently of language provisions. Mac OS X is living in a world of shell, AppleScript, python, Perl, and . While it would be ridiculous to expect Apple to create interfaces for a dozen different languages, full OSA support, (including the ability to directly use shell as an OSA language, something long overdue in OS X), would create the interface so that administrators could use whatever language they feel most productive with, or need to use for their specific workflow.

By implementing OSA support in AppleScript, ARD would become a much better, and more capable tool. If you look at almost any other administration tool on any other platform, they're all scriptable. In fact, there are sites devoted to custom implementations of things like Active Directory tools, Nagios, MRTG, etc., and almost all of them are collections of scripts that someone else decided to donate to a larger community so that their work could benefit others. This kind of community is critical to administrators using those tools, but there's no way to do this kind of thing in ARD.

Directory Service Integration

Mac OS X Server is based on Open Directory, so is Mac OS X. Open Directory is at the heart of everything Apple does for managing machines, yet ARD is resolutely ignorant of Open Directory. Again, yet another way that ARD makes life harder than it should be on its users. There needs to be, as part of integration with Server Admin, a setting that allows you to assign usage privileges to ARD based on user and group settings. So you could create an ARD administrator group or groups, each having different levels of access. This way, creating a new ARD user is a matter of drag and drop in Workgroup Manager. This doesn't require the upcoming ACL structure in Mac OS X 10.4, aka Tiger. Those of course, would make it simpler, because ARD privileges could be a separate ACL setting, which could be applied across a directory.

This is not to say that ARD should require an Open Directory setup to function. That would be just as big of a mistake in the opposite direction. But the need for a client management tool to plug into the client management infrastructure is too obvious to ignore.

Interface and Functional Issues

The rest of any problems with ARD are interface/functional issues. For example, while copying files from the administration workstation to clients is quite simple, copying files from the client to the administration workstation forces you to do a find, find the files you need in the result of the find, click copy, then pick the destination. While this is great if you need to copy one or two files from a couple hundred workstations, that's not how that particular operation works in a large percentage of cases. (Where you see that particular model used the most is in a lab setup. However, Apple networks aren't just for K-12, or Higher Ed labs anymore, and tools like ARD need to reflect this.) For a single file, or folder, ARD should just let you drag it from the client workstation to the administration workstation the same way that you would move files and folders from a network share to your local hard drive. This is also where a scripting interface would be more than a little handy. Being able to use the Unix locate or find tools with ARD would not make administrators cry.

While it's great that Apple is using VNC as the low-level protocol, they haven't done a lot to help ARD users who are not familiar with VNC to more easily get ARD talking to Windows or Linux boxes running VNC. Again, the mailing lists are full of the same kind of question, which shows the difference between merely making a feature available, and making it useful. Spending a little more time to make using the VNC feature easier would pay off quite well.

ARD also needs to talk to other installers. Yes, in a perfect world, (or at least Apple's definition of one) we all use drag and drop disk images, or Apple's Installer. However, in the real world that we all have to work in, we don't. For example, since Installer VISE is cross platform, and Apple's Installer is not, it makes little sense for a company like Adobe, where you have a great deal of similarity between the Mac and Windows versions of their software, to not use an installer technology that saves them time and money by allowing them to use one tool for all their installer needs. Apple needs to recognize this, and either integrate both Allume's Stuffit InstallerMaker, and MindVision's Installer VISE into ARD, or build a plugin architecture into ARD with a proper API so that third parties can extend ARD as needed. (The plugin architecture, while not the best short - term solution, ends up being the better long-term solution for this problem, and every other problem that we haven't even encountered yet. Just ask Adobe and Quark about how beneficial plugins are.) The "just install and image" or "just install, then repackage" arguments are workarounds for NIH, not solutions for the enterprise, (whatever your definition of 'enterprise' is. I worked at MIT, I'll put their network up against any similarly sized corporate network any day of the week. '.edu' does not mean 'tinkertoy'.)

Another issue is security. ARD needs to be able to connect through SSH tunnels as a basic functional part of the client and the administration workstations. SSH ships with Mac OS X, and should be integrated into the connection setup by default. Any kind of administrative connection across a network of any kind needs to be secure by default, and by known, trusted measures. Since Mac OS X and Mac OS X server ship with multiple secure authentication and encryption methods, (SSH, SSL, Kerberos), and Apple uses SSL in its other administration tools, such as Server Admin, there's little reason for not having ARD plug into these methods as well. It's one thing to say "It's secure, trust us" and another thing to say, "It's secure, here are the industry standard methods we use". (Note: Yes, I'm aware that you can manually tunnel ARD or anything else through SSH. That's not the point. It shouldn't require manual or even shell scripted setup. It should be an enabled-by-default checkbox on the install, enabled by default in the client and administration configuration, and enabled by default in the usage. Secure modes of operation need to be the unconscious default, not the manual option.)

Conclussion

Again, ARD has steadily improved throughout its history, and the features in version 2, now 2.1 are enough of an improvement for me to switch over to it from Timbuktu. The integration with VNC was brilliant and obvious, and I'm glad to see that Apple agreed with everyone else on this.

Most of what I base this critique on are things that constitute the "last 20% of excellence". (From the idea that the first 80% of work on a product make it functional and 'good enough', but it's the last 20% that make it "insanely great". Microsoft is the master of the first 80%, but Apple is the master of the last 20%, and that difference shows in almost everything they do.) ARD is so close to being one of the top - notch client management tools on any platform (and on every platform with VNC), and with just a little massaging, it'll get there.


John Welch (jwelch@provar.com) is an IT Staff Member for Kansas City Life Insurance, a Technical Strategist for Provar, (http://www.provar.com/) and the Chief Know-It-All for TackyShirt, (http://www.tackyshirt.com/. He has over fifteen years of experience at making Macs work with other computer systems. John specializes in figuring out ways in which to make the Mac do what nobody thinks it can, showing that the Mac is a superior administrative platform, and teaching others how to use it in interesting, if sometimes frightening ways. He also does things that don't involve computertry on occasion, or at least that's the rumor.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Garmin Express 7.0.0.0 - Manage your Gar...
Garmin Express is your essential tool for managing your Garmin devices. Update maps, golf courses and device software. You can even register your device. Update maps Update software Register your... Read more
ClipGrab 3.8.12 - Download videos from Y...
ClipGrab is a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and many other online video sites. It converts downloaded videos to MPEG4, MP3 or other formats in just one easy step Version... Read more
VMware Fusion 11.5.5 - Run Windows apps...
VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro - virtualization software for running Windows, Linux, and other systems on a Mac without rebooting. The latest version includes full support for Windows 10, macOS Mojave... Read more
Civilization VI 1.3.0 - Next iteration o...
Civilization® VI is the award-winning experience. Expand your empire across the map, advance your culture, and compete against history’s greatest leaders to build a civilization that will stand the... Read more
Google Earth 7.3.3.7721 - View and contr...
Google Earth gives you a wealth of imagery and geographic information. Explore destinations like Maui and Paris, or browse content from Wikipedia, National Geographic, and more. Google Earth combines... Read more
Corel Painter 20.1.0.285 - Digital art s...
Corel Painter lets you advance your digital art style with painted textures, subtle glazing brushwork, interactive gradients, and realistic Natural-Media. Easily transition from traditional to... Read more
iTubeDownloader 6.5.19 - Easily download...
iTubeDownloader is a powerful-yet-simple YouTube downloader for the masses. Because it contains a proprietary browser, you can browse YouTube like you normally would. When you see something you want... Read more
OmniFocus 3.8 - GTD task manager with iO...
OmniFocus is an organizer app. It uses projects to organize tasks naturally, and then add tags to organize across projects. Easily enter tasks when you’re on the go, and process them when you have... Read more
Hazel 4.4.5 - Create rules for organizin...
Hazel is your personal housekeeper, organizing and cleaning folders based on rules you define. Hazel can also manage your trash and uninstall your applications. Organize your files using a familiar... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.5.7 - Monitor and con...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Dungonian is a card-based dungeon crawle...
Dungonian is a card-based dungeon crawler from developer SandFish Games that only recently launched as a free-to-play title. It offers an extensive roster of playable heroes to collect and enemies to take down, and it's available right now for iOS... | Read more »
Steam Link Spotlight - Signs of the Sojo...
Steam Link Spotlight is a feature where we look at PC games that play exceptionally well using the Steam Link app. Our last entry was XCOM: Chimera Squad. Read about how it plays using Steam Link's new mouse and keyboard support over here. | Read more »
Steampunk Tower 2, DreamGate's sequ...
Steampunk Tower 2 is a DreamGate's follow up to their previous tower defence game. It's available now for both iOS and Android as a free-to-play title and will see players defending their lone base by kitting it out with a variety of turrets. [... | Read more »
Clash Royale: The Road to Legendary Aren...
Supercell recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and their best title, Clash Royale, is as good as it's ever been. Even for lapsed players, returning to the game is as easy as can be. If you want to join us in picking the game back up, we've put... | Read more »
Pokemon Go Fest 2020 will be a virtual e...
Niantic has announced that Pokemon Go Fest will still take place this year although understandably it won't be a physical event. Instead, it will become a virtual celebration and is set to be held on 25th and 26th July. [Read more] | Read more »
Marvel Future Fight's major May upd...
Marvel Future Fight's latest update has now landed, and it sounds like a big one. The focus this time around is on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and it introduces all-new characters, quests, and uniforms for players to collect. [Read more] | Read more »
SINoALICE, Yoko Taro and Pokelabo's...
Yoko Taro and developer Pokelabo's SINoALICE has now opened for pre-registration over on the App Store. It's already amassed 1.5 million Android pre-registrations, and it's currently slated to launch on July 1st. [Read more] | Read more »
Masketeers: Idle Has Fallen's lates...
Masketeers: Idle Has Fallen is the latest endeavour from Appxplore, the folks behind Crab War, Thor: War of Tapnarok and Light A Way. It's an idle RPG that's currently available for Android in Early Access and will head to iOS at a later date. [... | Read more »
Evil Hunter Tycoon celebrates 2 million...
Evil Hunter Tycoon has proved to be quite the hit since launching back in March, with its most recent milestone being 2 million downloads. To celebrate the achievement, developer Super Planet has released a new updated called Darkness' Front Yard... | Read more »
Peak's Edge is an intriguing roguel...
Peak's Edge is an upcoming roguelike puzzle game from developer Kenny Sun that's heading for both iOS and Android on June 4th as a free-to-play title. It will see players rolling a pyramid shape through a variety of different levels. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Sale! $200 off on select 2020 13″ MacBook Pro...
Amazon has select 2020 13″ MacBook Pro configurations on sale today for $200 off Apple’s MSRP. Shipping is free. Be sure to purchase the MacBook Pro from Amazon, rather than a third-party seller, and... Read more
June 1 only: $100 off Apple’s iPhones at Boos...
Boost Mobile is offering Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max models for $100 off MSRP with service. Their discount reduces the cost of an iPhone 11/64GB to $599, iPhone 11 Pro to $899 for... Read more
Sams Club Sales Event: $100 off every Apple W...
Sams Club is discounting all Apple Watch Series 5 models by $100 off Apple’s MSRP through June 3, 2020. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices for online orders... Read more
New 16″ MacBook Pros now on sale for up to $2...
Apple reseller DataVision is now offering new 16″ Apple MacBook Pros for up to $255 off MSRP, each including free shipping. Prices start at $2194. DataVision charges sales tax for NY, NJ, PA, and CA... Read more
Apple now offering Certified Refurbished iPho...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished iPhone Xr models in the refurbished section of their online store starting at $499. Each iPhone comes with Apple’s standard one-year warranty, ships free,... Read more
Sale! Get a 10.2″ 32GB WiFi iPad for only $27...
Walmart has new 10.2″ 32GB WiFi iPads on sale for $50 off Apple’s MSRP, only $279. These are the same iPads sold by Apple in their retail and online stores. Be sure to select Walmart as the seller... Read more
Apple resellers offer new 2020 Mac minis for...
Apple resellers are offering new 2020 Mac minis for up to $50 off Apple’s MSRP with prices available starting at $759. Shipping is free: (1) B&H Photo: – 2020 4-Core Mac mini: $759 $40 off MSRP... Read more
Sprint is offering the Apple iPhone 11 free t...
Did you miss out on Sprint’s recent free iPhone SE promotion? No worries. Sprint has the 64GB iPhone 11 available for $0 per month for new lines when you trade-in a qualifying phone in any condition... Read more
Apple has clearance 2019 13″ 1.4GHz MacBook P...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 1.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available today starting at $979 and up to $440 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is... Read more
Apple restocks 2019 MacBook Airs starting at...
Apple has clearance, Certified Refurbished, 2019 13″ MacBook Airs available again starting at $779. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a standard Apple one-year warranty, and is... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Mac Desktop Support - Global Dimensi...
…Operate and support an Active Directory (AD) server-client environment for all Apple devices operating on the BUMED network + Leverage necessary industry enterprise Read more
Surgical Technologist III, *Apple* Hill Sur...
Surgical Technologist III, Apple Hill Surgical Center - Full Time Tracking Code D5.29.2020 Job Description Surgical Technologist III Apple Hill Surgical Center Read more
Security Officer - *Apple* Store - NANA (Un...
**Security Officer \- Apple Store** **Description** About NMS Built on a culture of safety and integrity, NMSdelivers award\-winning, integrated support services to Read more
Transition Into Practice Program (TIP) - Sept...
…Academy-Transition into Practice (TIP) Residency program at St Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, CA. **We are seekingRegistered Nurses who are:** + New graduate Read more
Essbase Developer - *Apple* - Theorem, LLC...
Job Summary Apple is seeking an experienced, detail-minded Essbase developer to join our worldwide business development and strategy team. If you are someone who Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.