WS-FTP Pro Makes File-Wrangling Easy

It may have started out as a plain-vanilla utility for FTP transfers, but new features make it an all-around winner for managing and moving files.

November 2, 2006

5 Min Read
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For years, I carried a version of WS-FTP around with me on a diskette, and installed it on every new PC I set up. I'm wondering now why I stopped, because the new version, WS-FTP Pro 2007, has both reminded me how good the program was and opened my eyes to how much better it has gotten while I wasn't looking.

If you've ever used WS-FTP, you'll remember its sheer usability. It wasn't fancy, but it did what you needed to do, which was get files from here to there. It did it in an interface that set a new standard for "plain vanilla," and it never seemed quite comfortable being a Windows app -- it always seemed to want to slip back into DOS text mode.

The new version hasn't changed all that much on the surface. It's still a plain, utilitarian interface with a pane for "Here" and a pane for "There," and two arrow buttons to move files from one place to the other. But it's a real Windows interface at last. You can drag-and-drop between panes, open multiple "Heres" and "Theres," and display the contents of each pane with all the flexibility that Windows provides: as a single-column list of files with details, a multiple-column list of filenames, small or large icons with labels, or (best of all if you work with graphics a lot) as thumbnails.

WS-FTP Pro 2007 is in fact a Windows-only app -- 2000, XP, or Server 2003. Befitting its plainness, however, it requires a mere 32MB of RAM and 32MB of disk space.

The Real Changes
It's under the hood that the real changes have been made -- and those changes have moved WS-FTP from Smallville to Metropolis. It has acquired industrial-strength features for automation, security, and management that make it a true enterprise tool. WS-FTP Pro definitely addresses several types of users, and just listing the features important to any one of them could fill up the rest of this review.If you're a business IT person, you'll most likely be most interested in WS-FTP's security and automation features. It does 256-bit AES transfer encryption over SSL / FTPS, SSH / SFTP and HTTPS connections, and also offers PGP file encryption, file integrity checking, HTTP proxy support for SSH, and logging of transfer activities, transfer history, and connections. WS-FTP Pro is advertised as meeting the encryption requirements for HIPAA transactions and file transfers. Obviously a lot of effort has gone into making WS-FTP Pro ready for the compliance marketplace.

And automation? You can program one-time or recurring file transfers, backups to local or remote storage (including USB or DVD drives, network directories, server connections, FTP sites or Internet hosting services). You can synchronize to any location and to virtually any device, drive, or server. It will send e-mail notifications when it completes scheduled tasks, and there's a scripting utility to make all these things easier to set up. Oh, and did I say it will automatically compress files before uploading?

Also For Individuals
If you're an individual user, perhaps in a small business or some kind of professional practice, the mention of automated backups and synchronizations should have gotten your attention. The fact that you can do them to any local or remote directory or device is actually more impressive than it sounds, because it also means that you can not only use WS-FTP Pro for FTP transfers, but as a local file-manager, too. (If you (like me) remember Norton Commander with fondness, then you'll understand what a compliment I'm paying when I say that WS-FTP is the Windows file manager that Commander should have been.)

Another new feature amplifies the value of its file-manager role: integration with desktop search. If you run Google Desktop, Copernic, or Windows Search, WS-FTP will use it to run a search and list the files containing hits in a new local pane.

Its use of thumbnails are also more useful than I would have thought. It's easy to spot two or three images you want to transfer if you can see thumbnails of all the files in a directory -- and thumbnails are configurable, so you can display them for local directories, but don't have to wait for them to build for remote directories.

Configurability Is The Keyword
In fact, configurability is one of the keywords of WS-FTP 2007. There's a configuration choice for just about every feature of the program, and things that I remember being hard-wired or annoying in earlier versions are now easy. I can delete non-empty folders. I can decide what double-clicking on a file does: Transfer it? View it? Or execute it?There's a nice "linked folders" feature that means when I'm working in a local directory structure that's mirrored on the remote site, I can navigate from folder to folder locally and the remote pane will change accordingly -- a feature that might mean I will never overwrite the wrong index.html file again.

And if you have a lower tolerance for plain vanilla than I do, you can customize the interface -- several skins are built into the program -- or you can create your own look from scratch.

The engine that drives all these features is well up to the task. My totally unscientific testing indicates the file transfers are very fast, and performance is helped by WS-FTP's ability to manage as many simultaneous connections as the remote server will support. Failed transfers are automatically retried as well, and the program's information window not only displays the status of each file in real time, but gives you the ability to pause, delete, or restart individual file transfers on the fly.

Incidentally, while the Pro 2007 version under review here is intended for individual users, there's also a Server version. And if you need to save a few dollars, the $39.95 Home version has much of the same functionality without most of the automation and notification features.

File Transfer Protocol is not the most exciting topic you could bring up at a dinner party, and WS-FTP has never been what you'd call glamorous software. However, WS-FTP Professional 2007 might just give you some things to get excited about.

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