Managing systems isn’t a simple task. Gone are the days of narrowband connections and lax security concerning computers and, to a greater extent, the data contained in them. Adding to the burden is the diversification in the types of devices on the network at any given time.

With strapped budgets and less resources, IT pros have had to contend with providing more support to more devices in less time. These are lean times, and sys admins are expected to be dynamic — everywhere at once — heroes to equally provide support to end users, set up new servers, and maintain existing equipment.

It’s through all of this that my motto “work smarter, not harder” rings loudest. One of the simplest forms of working smarter is to leverage the existing technology infrastructure to create the illusion of being at several places at once. One such magical piece of software is Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) or the native Screen Sharing application built-in to every version of OS X from 10.5+.

Screen Sharing is part of the VNC server/client standard, allowing a client to observe or control a remote computer based on the device’s IP address. This grants a sys admin the power of providing remote desktop support on the fly, without purchasing any additional software packages or add-ons.

With that said, Screen Sharing is limited to observance and remote control of nodes on a LAN. Anything beyond that, such as software deployment or remote administration tasks, like configuring settings, are reserved for Screen Sharing’s more powerful brother, ARD.

However, if your organization already has applications in place to manage the administration of machines and patch management, or if OS X Server is already handling such duties, the Screen Sharing app is the perfect choice for providing real-time remote support. Even if you’re supporting a small business or SOHO environment, Screen Sharing provides everything you will need to get up and running immediately — right from OS X.

Configure Screen Sharing

Here are the steps necessary to configure OS X for use with Screen Sharing.

  1. Launch System
  2. Click on the Sharing preference pane (Figure A).
    Figure A
  3. Check the box next to Screen Sharing to enable the service (Figure B).
    Figure B
  4. Clicking on the Computer Settings… button will open a window to adjust request permissions or to set a password in order to secure the connection to the screen. Check the optional boxes, as needed, and click OK to save the settings (Figure C).
    Figure C
  5. By default, the members of the Administrators group are solely granted access to remotely connect through Screen Sharing. However, by clicking the plus [+] or minus [-] buttons, any accounts you wish to add or remove from the allowed list may be configured.
  6. Accessing Screen is tricky since it’s hidden. Navigate to ~/System/Library/CoreServices/Screen to find the app (Figure D).
    Figure D
  7. Alternatively, using the keyboard shortcut [command]+[K] will bring up the screen to connect to a network service. When using this shortcut, the protocol prefix type for Screen Sharing is: vnc://IP_Address_of_remote_computer.
  8. Launching Screen will prompt you to enter the IP address of the remote computer you wish to connect to. Click the Connect button to issue the request (Figure E).
    Figure E
  9. OS X will then prompt for an account with the necessary administrative privileges to access the remote desktop. Enter the credentials and click the Connect button to complete the handshake and establish the connection (Figure F).
    Figure F
  10. Once the connection is established, the remote computer’s desktop login screen will be displayed. Again, the credentials of the user you wish to log in as will be required or, if connecting merely to observe, the currently logged on user’s screen will be available to view (Figure G).
    Figure G

Screen Sharing offers pretty basic functionality. You could argue that it has singular functionality: the ability to observe or remotely connect to another desktop over the network. It lacks the robust administrative features of other 3rd-party suites and is completely devoid of any reporting and remote command execution features packed into ARD.

Yet, its simplicity is part of what makes Screen Sharing so attractive. Instead of performing several tasks in mediocre fashion, it does one thing really well: remotely connect to other Apple computers for the purposes of providing customer support. And with the future release of OS X Yosemite, the will be capable of Screen Sharing for those with iMessage-enabled devices.

Do you use Screen Sharing to provide customer support in your organization? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.