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FTP Clients

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a common and efficient way to download files from the Internet. To use FTP, all you need is a client application. Most Web browsers come with FTP support, but it's often sluggish and limited in features. FTP clients allow you to drag and drop files to and from FTP servers, they often come with preinstalled bookmarks, and they can perform feats such as resuming interrupted downloads. We rounded up five popular FTP clients to see how they compare.

These programs run the gamut from plain to elegant. Fetch 3.0.3 has a rather dated interface—with the look and feel of System 7—but it does make use of a simple, easy-to-read pie chart that shows you the status of each transfer. In contrast, Transmit 1.6 (formerly Transit), NetFinder 2.1.2, and the Vicomsoft FTP Client 3.1.2 have much more modern, Mac-friendly interfaces. Interarchy 3.8 (formerly Anarchie) also has a familiar, Mac-like interface, but it opens up a new window for each directory of the server you go through, which can quickly lead to screen clutter. Of the five, Transmit is the only one that has a Carbonized version to run natively with OS X beta and beyond.

Fetch has been a long-standing FTP contender, but it hasn't been updated in a few years. It only supports "simple" proxy servers (those with the format "userid@host"). But to help get you started, Fetch comes with bookmarks for several useful FTP sites, which is a very helpful addition, especially if you're new to FTP—you won't have to guess the names of servers. The only other client that offers this is NetFinder. Interarchy is actually more than just an FTP client—it also has Telnet, which allows you to run AppleScripts from across the Internet; and Finger and WHOIS components, which can help you to gather information on Net addresses and locations. On the FTP side, it has a few helpful touches, such as support for AppleScript. Being the cheapest of the bunch for the full version, Transmit certainly has a draw. But it's also the most difficult to get up and running; aside from lacking preinstalled bookmarks, you must also download the manual separately. And you probably won't realize you're missing the manual until you need it.

Transmit and the Vicomsoft client can resume interrupted downloads and redial busy connections, which is very helpful. NetFinder can resume interrupted downloads, but we weren't able to test how it handles busy connections. We also weren't able to test how Interarchy handles interruptions. With Fetch, interrupted transfers can only be resumed during the same Fetch session.

Transmit presents the remote server alongside your own desktop.

Vicomsoft has a flexible, customizable interface that can be as simple or as complex as you want.

NetFinder uses a great-looking hierarchical file system that lets you peruse a server in "list" view. The Vicomsoft client also makes it easy to get around—it presents FTP directories as Finder-like folders. Interarchy, the most expensive client, makes navigation more cumbersome—going through Apple's info site ( ftp://ftp.info.apple.com ) choked our screen with all the windows it opened. To avoid this scenario, you can hold down the Option key as you double-click on a folder, which hides the previous window when the new one opens, just like in the Finder. But, we found it limiting to only see one window on the server at a time.

Does this look familiar? NetFinder makes browsing through FTP servers as simple as navigating your Mac.

Vicomsoft's FTP Client was a real treat to work with—its flexible interface lets you customize the main window with the features you use most often—and it's free. You can, of course, upgrade to the Pro version for $30, which allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections, but we were quite satisfied with the compis gratis version, though it restricts you to five simultaneous connections. Fetch also allows for an unlimited number of connections (or as many as memory will allow). The other clients don't specify how many simultaneous connections they allow, but with each of them we were able to set up ten at one time, more than most people will need. The Vicomsoft free client has another minor limitation: there are about ten older, more obscure hosts that it does not support, such as IBM OS/2.

Each of these programs performed admirably, except for NetFinder, which had a tendency to crash when initiating a download. Fortunately, the developers are aware of the problem, and the documentation contains a successful workaround: creating a specific download folder with a specific name in a specific location.

FTP Client Rating Pros Cons List Price Company
Fetch 3.0.3 Uses easy-to-read pie chart; has useful, preinstalled bookmarks. Outdated interface; limited features. $25 Dartmouth College
Interarchy 3.8 Mac-like interface; supports Applescript. Opens new windows for each level; lacks bookmarks. $25 Interarchy
NetFinder 2.1.2 Intuitive, Mac-like interface; useful controls; can resume interrupted downloads; includes many helpful bookmarks. Need to create a special folder for downloads. $35 Peter Li and Vincent Tan
Transmit 1.6 Carbonized version available; can resume interrupted downloads; very easy to use; well thought-out interface. Not as easy to set up as other clients, lacks bookmarks. $25 Panic , 503/296-2185
Vicomsoft FTP Client 3.1.2 (Free Version) Customizable, Mac-like interface; can resume interrupted downloads; easy to install; easy to use. Limited to 5 simultaneous connections and a subset of hosts; lacks bookmarks. Free (Pro version, $30) Vicomsoft , 800/818-4266
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