Review of FTP Software Directions
 

WSFTP vs Contribute FTP Software is reaching a crossing point - and who better to illustrate the two choices than Ipswitch's new WS-FTP Pro version 8 and Macromedia's Contribute. "Now wait a second", you might say, "since when has Contribute been considered to be FTP software ?" Well ever since users who moved files around over the Internet using FTP-FileTransferProtocol had the desire to do a quick edit or change to a file located remotely on some Web server. In fact, the current crop of FTP software

providers like BulletProofFTP, CuteFTP, and WSFTP are really responsible for feeding that craving. With their dual file window panes (see above) that make files on a remote server look so readily accessible - users can't help but ask "why cant I just edit that remote file there - README_NW.TXT in which I have to make a few simple changes? After all I can view it with ease - why not change it?" Well two vendors have addressed that very issue in two distinctly different ways - and developers are the better for both solutions.

The WSFTP Pro 8 Solution

WSFTP is in the mold of a classic FTP program. It supports FTP services in a number of ways:

- wizard guided connection list for making quick link to frequently visited websites
- fast connector dialog for one-time only connections
- file transfers controlled through easy-to-use dual window pane interface
- special procs for authorized transfers through proxy servers and firewalls
- secure socket layer encrypted transfers for data that must be protected against snooping
- parallel multipart transfers of large files for faster throughput
- auto compression and decompression with http-compression savvy servers for faster transmission
- auto recovery and resume facilities for transfers interrupted by blockag/downtime at server or client
- batch file transfers by schedule or "hotdrop" to a specific directory triggers background transfer
- sripting capabilities to automate complex file transfer tasks.

Many of these services are common to the best of the FTP programs. WSFTP Version 8 however starts to address the cravings for remote edit in three important ways. First, users are able to see many graphic files as thumbnails - this certainly helps identifying specific graphic files for updates and changes. Second, the drag and drop facility allows users to easily drag files from the remote site directly to the appropriate program to edit the file. WSFTP's new Active Edit allows the file on exit to be immediately uploaded back up to the remote server or batched to together for auto-upload at a scheduled time. Either choice, users perceive the process as simple as local file editing. Or equivalently - the craving for remote file edits is effectively simplified and solved. Very nice and at a price of $55 this is a very attractive new FTP direction taken by WSFTP.

Contribute's Direction

Like the other FTP program Contribute has an easy to setup connection dialog that stores all the information needed to make an FTP connection - so once the connection list is setup, its just a single click to link to a Website by FTP connection. And like other FTP programs, Contribute shows a file tree for remote files.

But the major way for navigating on a site with Contribute is an imbedded browser ccomponent (Internet Explorer ActiveX - one of the reasons Contribute has not ported immediately over to the Mac). Here is the Contribute magic - with an FTP connection made to a website, browsing through the files on that website means any file there can be edited by Contribute either directly (applies to HTML files and .txt files) or it can be editted by a designated program on the users desktop. This latter capability is much like the ActiveEdit feature of WSFTP. However, Contribute takes ActiveEDit 3 steps further.

First, Contribute implements a limited but reasonably effective version control system. This means that no two persons can edit the same website file at the sametime, preventing destructive updates. However, the version control only works if all updates to the site are done with either Dreamweaver or Contribute software. Third party software like Adobe GoLive or Microsoft Front Page or a local web server app could be used - and they would not necessarily respect the Macromedia locks on the website files. Still this is major improvement over completely unprotected sex ... uhhhh ... remote website updates.

The second step is that Contribute is able to use and respect Dreamweaver templates. These templates restrict the edits that a user can make to an HTML file. This means that fragile scripting code or complex frames and tables can be effctively "masked off" from any editting or change by the Contribute user. This is a powerful capability because this means that relatively novice users (from the IT perspective) can work away at a website with the confidence that they cannot do major damage to the supporting coding and layout infrastructure. Enhancing this capability is a the ability to assign different roles to each Contribute user which further delimits and controls exactly what type of updates and changes can be made.

The third Conrtibute innovation has already been alluded to - HTML files can be directly editted within Contribute. Already it is possible through templates and roles to simplify the available edits. But Contribute's web editor has a unique always open "How To Do It" helper window pane. This combination makes web editting almost fool proof. Direct experince on a number of websites has shown that word processing or email savvy people take to simplified Contribute editing very well. So at $100, is Contribute taking FTP software in a new content management direction ? This reviewer suspects that both programs and both directions will prosper.

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