A New Era for FTP Software?

Saying that when it comes to FTP software, one size does not fill all, Lexington, Mass.-based Ipswitch today announced the release of both a new home version and an upgrade of the professional version of its popular FTP client software.

With the release of WS_FTP Professional 9.0, Ipswitch said businesses can transfer data and documents more easily and safely thanks to a redesigned interface, increased security features and new customization options.

Ipswitch lays claim to being the first company to offer a two-pane format for file transfer, which provides an easy-to-use approach to moving files from a local computer to their destination. In WS_FTP Professional 9.0, this interface now takes on a Windows XP look and feel.

In version 9.0, Ipswitch has tightened security to go beyond encrypting files during transmission. The previous versions of WS-FTP supported 128-bit SSL encryption, which is the industry standard for securing files in transit. However, now individual files can be encrypted.

“It’s not good enough to encrypt only when the file is being transmitted,” Kevin Gillis, the WS-FTP product manager at Ipswitch, said. “You need encryption before and after.” For example, Gillis said, new regulations such HIPAA in the health industry have made the need for security and privacy more critical.

“In doctor’s offices, files need to be secure once they get there,” Gillis said. With the new key-based security, only authorized personnel with the right password would be access the file.

The new security features are based on Open PGP and encrypts individual files and offers greater control over how files are shared and viewed. (PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, is based on the public-key method. One of the two keys is public and is disseminated to anyone from whom you want to receive a message. The other is a private key that you use to decrypt messages that you receive.)

Gillis said the one of the most significant new features in Professional 9.0 is the capability to view multiple files and servers.
Users can now share and manage data between multiple remote folders and local or home folders simultaneously through a tabbed interface. This is designed to provides users the capability to adapt to working from the office, home or road.

Users can also apply file name conversions to all files in order to satisfy individual naming and icon preferences regardless of whether they have been uploaded or downloaded, according to Ipswitch. This also can be applied for compliance to internal naming convention restrictions that may be enforced within organizations’ IT departments.

Ipswitch WS_FTP Professional 9.0 users can also establish unlimited and simultaneous local and remote connections including FTP sites, network drive and mapped drives. “Previously, the only way to accomplish this was by opening application again in a different window,” Gillis said.

As with previous versions, WS_FTP Scheduler lets you automatically schedule file updates. Synchronize lets you mirror folders and directories between two locations to support local-remote transfers. It also offers scripting and find features and integrates with other applications using its Command Line Interface tool.

Version 9.0 is available immediately for $54.95 at Ipswitch’s Web site or for $59.95 elsewhere. The company says German, French and Italian language versions will be available soon. You can also purchase a service agreement for $34.95 that includes one year of live phone and e-mail support and all major upgrades.

There’s No Place Like Home
While Ipswitch is a veteran when it comes to the business use of FTP software, the company also announced today that is venturing into new territory with the release of WS_FTP Home. The client software is designed for home users who want to transfer digital images, video, MP3 files and other data more quickly and securely than they can with e-mail, peer-to-peer applications and instant messaging services.

FTP hasn’t been widely associated with home market, but it’s a natural, according to Ipswitch. “At one point, e-mail was a business-only tool. While has FTP has been largely a business application, it will be used more and more by home users. The market exists,” Alex Neihaus, vice president of marketing at Ipswitch said.

WS_FTP Home Basics
Thumbnails are designed to make it easier for both Professional and Home users to identify, edit and share images.

“It’s a growing need,” said Gillis. “People want to share information.” However, the company acknowledges that it needs to educate. People may not realize that they probably have access to storage at their ISP, he said. “After they can access the ISP, they can use the available for practically anything.”

Ipswitch also points out that FTP technology is more reliable and convenient file transfer option than e-mail, which is vulnerable to viruses and mailbox size limits.

“Home users who may have been inhibited by the technology’s appearance will now have a significantly greater comfort level due to our interface enhancements,” said Neihaus. “They’ll quickly realize thatWS_FTP Home noticeably speeds the file transfer and Web-publishing process, and that they should have been using this technology all along.”

To make the technology more accessible to home users, the interface — the Menu Bar, Tool Bar, Connection Bar, Connection Pane and Information Window — are designed to complement Windows XP. Ipswitch also reports that it is offering tutorials to help explain the premise of FTP and provide instructions for basic tasks such as connecting to a remote server, transferring and downloading files, and checking transmission status.

The company said it also eases use by providing thumbnail support for identifying, editing and sharing image files. Other features include the following:

  • Active Edit: which works as a browser-based home page that automatically reconnects to the last site visited
  • HotDrop: allows file or folder transfer without launching the application
  • Browser URL integration: designed to accelerate downloads by automatically starting WS_FTP Home when files are dragged from FTP sites to the desktop, folders or applications.

WS_FTP Home Basics
Offering a Windows XP interface and step-by-step instructions, WS_FTP Home is designed to appeal to what Ipswitch sees a new breed of FTP users.

The Windows XP user interface is key to the use for home users, said Ted Morrill, product marketing manager at Ipswitch. The importance of the interface was reinforced during useability testing, he said. “In testing, people weren’t sure where the files were going.”

To address this confusion, Morrill said, the home version offers Viewlets that provide walkthroughs and introduce basics such as connecting to an FTP server, transferring and downloading files, and using FTP to publish a Web site.

Should home users decide to give FTP software a try, they will have no shortage of options — although most aren’t designed with the average consumer in mind. Ipswitch competes with myriad low-cost and shareware products and more directly with GlobalScape’s Secure Server and Cute FTP (which also offers a home version). However, Neihaus is quick to dismiss the competition. “We have been consistently dominant. We invented the two-pane user interface.” As for its Cute rival. “We don’t see them in the horse race at all.”

WS_FTP Home is available only from Ipswitch’s Web site and costs $34.95(or $59.95 with a one-year service agreement).

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com’s Small Business Channel and EarthWeb’s Networking & Communications Channel.

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