Start Screen Sharing or Apple Remote Desktop Sessions with Spotlight

Screen Sharing is a really useful tool in Mac OS X. Most people use it locally and select the Computer from the Sharing area in the Finder sidebar. You can also connect Screen Sharing to a remote host. In Finder select “Connect to Server” from the “Go” menu and enter

vnc://host.example.com/

which will connect Screen Sharing to the address.1

You could add the vnc URI to the favorites in the “Connect to Server” dialog, but there is a better way: Screen Sharing remembers the last connections in ~/Library/Application Support/Screen Sharing/. There you will find the hosts you have connected to as .vncloc files. Find the host(s) you use most frequently and copy them to the Desktop or your Documents folder.2 Then rename them to just the hostname or another descriptor. You can now double-click to initiate the Screen Sharing connection. But even better: you can invoke Spotlight, start typing the hostname and the vncloc file should be right there. No matter what you are doing the remote session is just a few keystrokes away.

However, if you prefer to use Apple Remote Desktop over Screen Sharing, this will not work. ARD does not open vncloc files. However, ARD is scriptable, so we can build a workaround. Even better ARD supports Automator, so we don’t even need to write code.

  • open Automator. From the template chooser, select “Application.”
  • add the action “Choose Remote Computer” and select a computer to connect to.3
  • add the “Observe Computers” action next.4
  • you’re done. Save this Automator applet and give it the name of the computer.
  • you can start this applet by starting to type the computer’s name in Spotlight and you will a remote observe session in Remote Desktop.

Create more applets for each host you frequently use. if you select multiple computers in the first action, you will get the nice “multi observe” window in Remote Desktop. Or you can replace the “Choose Remote Computers” action with a “Choose Computer Lists” action.


  1. It will use VNC on TCP port 5900 in case you have connection issues.
  2. anywhere Spotlight will index
  3. The computer has to be already known to the local Remote Desktop to appear in this list.
  4. curiously enough there is no “Control Computers” action, but switching from observe to control is only a single click. This may be so you cannot accidentally invoke a remote control session.

Enable Some Extra Services

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US. To keep you happy with minimal effort on my side I’ll give you a whole bunch of services to explore, without me (or you) having to write any of them.

Open System Preferences, select the Keyboard preference pane, select the Keyboard Shortcuts Pane and then from the list on the left select “Services.”

There you will find a long list of pre-installed services many of which are disabled by default. Go through the list and enable those that sound promising. “Get Result of AppleScript” and “Add to iTunes as Spoken Track” are two of my favorites.

Any services you have built yourself will also appear in this list. You can disable or re-enable them to keep your context menu trim.

This pane is also where you assign or change keyboard shortcuts. So if there is a service that you use frequently you can further optimize your workflow with a keystroke.