I never used Remote Desktop for Mac OSX so before buying the software I would like to know if I can fully control my Mac Mini with Lion Server installed without any keyboard or monitor attached.

Basically I would like from my Mac Book Air to use Remote Desktop to see the graphical environment of my Mac Mini server and control it, without a KVM. What I'm concerned, and I didn't find any clue inside Apple website, is the fact that when I'm trying from my MacBook Air to open a Remote Desktop session on my MacMini server some sort of acknowledge is required to the person at the console of that machine, but in my case that machine would be fully unattended and without any keyboard and display.

So I'm asking this question to someone that succeeded in using this software (or other software, any suggestion is welcome!) in this configuration.

Finally, the software admin guide says: "Apple Remote Desktop replaces the need for KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) switches for accessing Xserve computers without a monitor attached.". So it's ok for XServe, but what about MacMini?

thank you

3 Answers 3


Mac OS X Server is designed for remote "headless" administration and even initial setup. Server Admin included with the Server Admin Tools provides a GUI interface for server administration tasks as well as the ability to screen share the server desktop remotely.

Apple provides a guide: Lion Server: Setting up a remote server.

  • Yes, but my case is the opposite. I would like to control my server from my laptop, which mount Lion (not server Lion) without the capability to run Server Admin Tools. In the Remote Desktop guide it is stated that you can use as KVM replacement for XServe, but it's not clear if you can do it or not with a Mac Mini (I know, this is not the Apple's intended use, but this is what I would like to do).
    – viggio24
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 15:09
  • Your case is exactly what I address if your server is running the Server software. You can install the admin tools on your laptop and control the server. If you're running a "server" using the client OS, then the other methods listed will work.
    – jaberg
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 15:34
  • You're right, I tested it. The Server Admin Tools is a quite more powerful tool and screen sharing is basically one of the options it offers. At the end in both cases (OSX Finder or Admin Tools) the Screen Sharing utility is called and the final result is the same. But Server Admin Tools offers a lot of extra options (I didn't know it could be run in the standard Lion OS).
    – viggio24
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 10:31
  • I knew that when I posted the answer, but I'm glad you took the time to explore the Admin tools for yourself. They're a useful addition to the toolbox–especially when the server you're "touching" is six time zones away.
    – jaberg
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 14:14

There's two parts to your question, one part is easy to answer: yes, you can get a remote, graphical session on your server without the server having to have a keyboard or mouse attached to it.

This part of your question troubles me:

before buying the software

What software are you buying? Everything you need to remotely control your Lion server is included in OS X. From any OS X machine you can connect to any other OS X machine and get a desktop session on that machine.

To enable desktop access on a machine go to System Preferences -> Sharing and make sure the Screen Sharing setting is checked. You can configure just exactly who has remote access to the machine from this dialog as well:

Screen Sharing Dialog

With your screen shared on your server, from your Macbook you can open a Finder window and connect to the machine from there. First click on the machine name on the left bar in the Finder window and then click on the 'Share Screen' button on the top of the window to connect to the machine's display:

Connecting to a machine's display

Depending on how you set up screen sharing you may be prompted to enter your user name and password.

The end result is a Apple Screen Sharing view of your remote machine's desktop:

Remote desktop view

(The computer you see up there is an iMac with no keyboard or mouse connected to it)

I recommend the neat ScreenShareMenulet program if you want quick access to screen shares. It sits in your menu bar and gives you one click access to remote screen shares with machines on your network.

  • Thanks a lot! so you helped me to save 79 Eur by using a feature I didn't know to have in my Mac. Great answer and very well detailed! I will play with it tonight. Many thanks again!
    – viggio24
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 15:17

About the only reason to buy Remote Desktop is if you want to monitor several machines at once - such as a score of servers or employees' workflows. For that it's great, but for straight occasional access, the built in screen sharing is enough.


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