Review of Whisper FTP Plus
Shawn M. Gordon
In these days of distributed and dissimilar computer systems it becomes more and more critical to find tools that let you manage your heterogenous environments from a single unified program. The big question here is where to draw the line of what you want/need to be able to manage.
I recently came across a product announcment for Whisper FTP Plus, and was confused by what it seemed to be, so I checked out there web site, and downloaded a demo. I must say that I was pleasently suprised.
Whisper FTP Plus is basically comprised of two components. The first is the FTP explorer seen in Figure 1. This allows you to connect as many FTP servers in your network that you want to, and then let’s you “Explore” them, rather like the Network Explorer in Windows 95. The FTP connection setup wizard will walk you through all aspects of getting onto the system. You even have the choice of making this a LAN FTP connection, or one over the internet. What you’ll notice in Figure 1 is that I have 3 IP address connections, which is my local network, and I also have a connection to the MiniSoft FTP site over the internet. All of these connections where active at the same time, which was very convenient.
The FTP Plus client allows you to do both uploads and downloads quit easily. My biggest problem with the other FTP clients I have used was that uploading on the internet was really inconvenient to try to do. The FTP Explorer allows you to change the file layout style to be small, or large icons, sort sequence, etc., just like the Windows Explorer does.
There isn’t much more to the FTP Plus client, other than the fact that you can simply double click on a file and have it pop into the high speed Whisper Edit Plus client. The editor makes use of the FTP connection to quickly download a file into their editor. The Edit Plus client has all the features you need for a basic editor, and has some of the features that you want in a code editor. Take a look at figure 2, this illustrates having 4 different files open across 3 different machines.
I was really impressed with the speed of file saves under Edit Plus. I was able to modify and save a 2,000 line file in about 1 second. Even server based EDITOR takes longer than that sometimes. I imagine the file transfer request is sent to the server and control comes back while the save wraps up. Whatever it’s doing under the hood, it’s screaming fast.
What you will notice by looking at the file in the lower right corner of Figure 2, is that it is a numbered COBOL file. Edit Plus put’s the line numbers out in un-editable region to the left of the code. If you insert a line, the numbers adjust accordingly. There are options to search and replace strings of text as well as the ability to bookmark sections of your document and toggle through them. This makes for a handy code editor.
The tool bar has balloon help, and a status line that gives you more detailed help. The status line is also active for all menu options, which is very handy as well. The client has extensive on-line help, but most of the features are pretty standard so it’s pretty easy to get around.
Usability (also installation)
Installation was a snap, the FTP Plus product installs on your PC in the standard fashion, but makes use of your already existing FTP servers anywhere in your network, so there is no need to install any host files. The product is very easy to use, as I indicated earlier, I never once needed to look at any documentation.
I wasn’t able to cause a problem with FTP Plus, I tried starting the program and shutting down one of the servers. When I tried to access the server, it correctly reported that it wasn’t available. I then tried loading a file into Edit Plus and aborted the FTP server, then made changes and saved the file back. To my suprise, the file saved no problem, but I guess that’s because the FTP client already had a session running on the host. Shows how much I understand how FTP works.
Other than the hang when I tried using the ‘send’ option, I didn’t have any trouble with the software with reliability.
The performance is something that dreams are made out of. I guess it’s due to the effeciency of the FTP server, but I was totally stunned by how quickly I could modify and save a 1000+ line file. It was faster than using a host based editor, no doubt because the file was being transfered over the network at incredible speeds.
The overhead on the host machine is trivial, since FTP is so fast, and you are doing your work locally, you would be hard pressed to find a spike from the FTP server. The PC based editing is also very fast, all screen drawing was very very quick.
Supportability (including Doc)
Since WhisperTech is located in the UK, support for me was via e-mail. The responses were quick enough given the time difference, but if you had an urgent problem you might have a hard time getting a hold of someone. I never actually tried calling because the phone bill wasn’t worth the test.
I don’t know if printed documentation is available yet, but what I received only had online help. The online help is very good, but if you are having trouble getting started, then you won’t ever be able to get to the online help, so it’s a bit of a Catch 22 (what does that mean anyway? I know it’s a book). There is an “Using FTP with MPE/iX Q&A” help file, and this should in general get you going if you are having any problems. I didn’t have any problems, but I already had my FTP server configured and running on the HP.
There are still some minor glitches in the software that I ran into. For example, if you edit a byte stream file it displays in the editor with 1 character per line. The Edit portion of FTP Plus needs to read the file and interpret the null character in the file and properly line break. Since the posix features were new, I assume this will come soon.
The only other thing I would like to see is a drag and drop file transfer between two FTP sites, with the option of dragging an entire group or account and having the accounting structure reproduced as well copying the files. Since FTP Plus is only making use of your standard FTP server, I don’t know how likely this will be too happen.
So with the enhancement requests out of the way, what did I think? Well I loved it, and it seems I say that a lot lately, but I have been looking at some very nice software. I showed this to a colleague when I first go it and his first response was “buy it”, not how much does it cost or anything else. I felt the same way. I found the editing portion of the software to be the best part of it, it certainly was quick and handy to use. So go to WhisperTechs web site and check it out, as long as you have an FTP server running somewhere.
Whisper FTP Plus version 1.0c
Software is priced per client copy ranging from $49 each to $99 each depending on the number of copies. No manual is included, but the online help is extensive.