Apple has announced an upgrade to Apple Remote Desktop, its asset management, software distribution and help-desk support software. Version 2 sees "dramatic improvements in screen sharing performance", Apple said, as well as "over 50" new features for managing Mac OS X systems.

However, Apple has ignored OS9, which many users still run. Following the last version update, many admins were particularly unhappy that they could not use the product to access older machines.

Apple said the software is capable of running a host of desktop-management tasks, including installing operating systems and applications, running hardware and software inventory reports, and executing commands on one or more networked Macs. The product's built-in real-time screen sharing means helpdesk professionals can provide online assistance by observing and controlling the desktops of any remote Mac or VNC-enabled computer, including Windows and Linux systems.

Additional features include:

Task lists
These offer an at-a-glance peek at the status of running, queued and completed tasks. Such tasks can also be saved to run later on with different parameters, if required.

Remote shell scripts
These make it easy to run Unix scripts or Unix commands simultaneously on multiple Mac OS X systems. Apple Remote Desktop 2 includes new command-line tools for setting network, energy saver, date and time system preferences.

Remote Control
This means administrators can perform common Mac OS X functions such as opening files and applications, emptying trash, logging out and locking the screen simultaneously on multiple Macs.

Network Scanner
This simplifies the discovery of Mac OS X systems on the network. Administrators can search for computers using Rendezvous, by specifying a range of network addresses or by importing a list of machines from a text file.

Offline Reporting
Allows administrators to include mobile systems in hardware and software inventory reports even when such systems aren't connected to the network.

User Access Mode
Administrators can delegate a subset of Apple Remote Desktop tasks to standard (non-admin) users.

Remote Boot Disk Selection
This lets admins set the local or network start-up disk for networked Macs remotely (when used in conjunction with the NetBoot and Network Installation features of OS X Server).

Apple senior VP worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller said: "With Apple Remote Desktop 2 we’ve delivered a powerful suite of IT management tools that includes high-performance, real-time screen sharing. It's essential for anyone managing a group of Macs."

Apple Remote Desktop will be available in July through The Apple Store and Apple authorised resellers and will cost £199 for managing up to ten systems and £349 (both prices inc. VAT) for managing an unlimited number of systems. Special education pricing is available.