Not long ago, my review of a trio of SSH apps for the iPhone and iPad generated some pointed feedback from readers. Their beef? That my article left out an SSH app that they thought was better than the rest. Now I don’t particularly like getting called on the carpet, but I’m glad I did in this case because Zinger-Soft’s $10 iSSH has since become my go-to remote connection app.
As I mentioned in my earlier SSH app review, I manage several remote Linux and Windows servers and it’s occasionally nice to have access to these when I’m not near a computer. While I still rely on LogMeIn Ignition to remote-control the Windows servers, I use SSH to connect to remote terminal sessions on the Linux machines.
When working with a command line interface on an iPhone or iPad, you definitely need to have a crisp clear display. iSSH gives you the ability to customize the screen so that you can dial in just the right combination of screen color, font, and font size on whatever device you’re using.
The keyboard is also an important component, and iSSH’s operates in three modes: hidden, normal and transparent. While in landscape orientation, the command line is usually at the bottom of the screen, so the normal keyboard annoyingly covers it up most of the time. That’s not such a huge deal for me because I prefer to use the transparent keyboard most of the time anyway. I’ve had to adjust the transparency settings a bit because the default setting was a little too light for my taste. The keyboard, which is also highly customizable, provides a ribbon of useful function keys (arrow keys, PgUp, PgDn, and the like). Many of these are also available via a configurable floating palette (the “Pie Menu”) which you can display and move around the screen.
Besides the screen and keyboard features, iSSH provides a host of other configuration options so that you can tweak the app to function exactly to your preferences.
Unlike similar apps in this category, iSSH lets you maintain multiple, simultaneous connections. I don’t need this feature every day, but when I do, it’s very handy. You can switch among sessions two ways: either tap the plus icon (+) and choose another open session from a list, or, as I prefer, swipe the screen left-to-right to scroll open sessions into and out of view.
I’ve been dying for a terminal app to support Smile Software’s TextExpander, and this feature was recently added to iSSH with the app’s 4.6.1 update. The terminal commands I use most often are stored as TextExpander shortcuts on my Mac (which are synched to my iPhone and iPad) so now I can use those same shortcuts within iSSH. I’m officially in sysadmin heaven!
Perhaps my favorite feature of iSSH, though, is its ability to keep your connections active in the background. (You’ll need to run iOS 4 or later on your iOS device to take advantage of this multitasking.) I find this invaluable since I may need to make a call, answer an e-mail, or search the Web while in a terminal session.
In addition to being a solid remote terminal app, iSSH also supports VNC and X Window System connections. (I used the VNC client and found it worked adequately; I did not test the X server.) And Windows Remote Desktop support is planned, according to the developer.
Oddly, there’s no way to make a quick, one-time connection. You’re forced to store every connection on your device. That’s not such a big deal for me since I rarely connect to a server that I’m never going to connect to again. But I still think this seems unusual.
iSSH is a universal app, so one version works on both the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The app makes efficient use of the iPad’s larger screen and, as you might imagine, is a more pleasurable experience on that device.
iSSH is definitely not an app that everyone needs. But for the iOS device-toting sysadmin, I think it’s an indispensable tool.
[Brian Beam is a web developer and partner with BOLD Internet Solutions, living somewhere near Kansas City.]]