When the new FTP client Flow was released, I decided it would be a good idea to compare three of the many FTP clients available for Mac OS X today. I ended up with Transmit, Interarchy and Flow. Transmit is the FTP client I use myself. Interarchy was my favourite for a long time until I found out about Transmit. When Transmit was released some years ago, I found Interarchy lacking the interface quality I looked for. And now, Flow seemed to take over from Transmit. When I saw the screenshots on the developer’s web site, I thought this must be the new Transmit.
Unfortunately, it worked out a tiny bit differently. Let’s start with Transmit. Transmit is Panic Software’s FTP client and over the years it has evolved into a file moving client that can handle much anything you throw at it. It transfers files fast and efficient, and with a minimum of errors or retries.
Transmit is not only fast, it also knows about most protocols, supports some very technical functionality all in the GUI and lets you perform tasks that normally are only possible using the Terminal. Transmit uses the two-column approach, whereby one column has your local files and the other the remote files. You can set up your connection in such a way that the columns are synchronised. Furthermore, all columns are fully customisable—you can drag their order, and add or remove columns with information as required.
Life as Command-Driven ToolColumns can be seen in list view or in column view. Transmit was probably the first FTP client to support FTP-Droplets, but also DockSend and even sending files from the Dashboard.
Interarchy began life as a much more “command-line” driven tool. The current version of Interarchy by Nolobe, still has such command-line capabilities, but most users will probably use the GUI instead. Whereas the last version that I had seen (some 3 years ago) was a bit awkward to use, the version I got for testing certainly wasn’t any more difficult or ineffective to use than Transmit.
The only thing that you can say about Interarchy’s user-friendliness now, is that it uses a different approach than Transmit, which makes the choice between Interarchy and Transmit more or less one of taste. For example, Droplets also exist in Interarchy, but are not as obvious as in Transmit, while Net Disks are prominent. Actually, Net Disks are more powerful as they work in both directions.
Another feature to compare Transmit Droplets with is probably Auto Upload. Here, you can tell Interarchy to link a local folder to a remote one. Dropping a file in the local folder while Interarchy is running, will automatically upload it to the remote folder.
Interarchy also has scheduled bookmarks. Some features, like Net Disk, allow users to schedule a file transfer operation such as a synchronisation. The Scheduled Bookmarks category in the sidebar gives you direct access to all scheduled connections.
A good one that I have only seen on Interarchy is the history. Just like Safari, Interarchy keeps a history of your file transfers. For the rest, Interarchy has a window that works just like a Finder window, with the ability to see folders and files as icons, lists, or in column view. There’s a Bookmark bar that works like the one in Safari, and the columns in list view are just like Transmit’s: you can add or remove columns at will and sort order them, or change them from position.
Go With the FlowThe last client I’m discussing is Flow. Flow is brand new, and the developer wanted to create a totally new concept. On his web site a hype was created that promised a lot of power and some unique features.
One truly unique feature in Flow is URL Copying. When you set a Base URL when bookmarking a link, Flow will automatically copy the web-browsable URL to the clipboard as soon as an upload process ends. This allows you to immediately and directly open the URL in a web browser by simply pasting it in the address bar.
The interface ExtendMac has given Flow must be one of the best looking on any FTP client I’ve seen. The browser is divided in a sidebar and a list view—no other view types are supported—with an information area below. The information area gives some info on the remote folder or file selected, and gives access to some information that can be edited, such as permissions.
Flow has tabs, just like Transmit has them, but its column view is hampered by the lack of options. You can’t add columns, you can’t remove them. You can only change sort order and drag columns to a different position. A very important reason to have all Finder type columns available in a browser view of remote files is that you can quickly sort your files the way you want to.
For example, if I want to select all JPEG files quickly, I can only scroll through the whole list in Flow and command-click the files I want to select. That’s no good, and it is downright puzzling to me why ExtendMac hasn’t implemented such a basic functionality.
On the plus side is the Transfer window where you can quickly see the Progress on files that are transmitted. The design of that window is the best I’ve seen. Unfortunately, Flow isn’t exactly a finished product and so, you may have to reload a folder several times before you will actually see the contents being transferred.
The same buggy nature of Flow pops up its ugly head when creating new tabs while the Transfer window view is active. New tabs won’t be seen until you click the Transfer button again… a couple of times.
While transferring files, Flow becomes totally unresponsive and just hangs. Nothing gets transferred as soon as you start using the program’s multi-threaded functionality. Instead, with Flow 1.0x you should patiently wait until a transfer process is over before doing anything else in the application. That’s not how modern Mac OS X applications are supposed to work.
Which of these three is now the best FTP client? It’s hard to tell. Flow certainly doesn’t make it to my short list in its current version. ExtendMac should definitely invest a lot of time in this program before it will be a good file transfer application. A lot is lacking, and a lot os simply not working.
The choice between Interarchy and Transmit is more difficult to make. They’re on par with regards to features and robustness, so I think it’s a matter of taste whether you’ll prefer the one over the other. Both are equally fast in their current versions.
Perhaps Transmit will be faster with a new major version; I know Coda—Panic’s Award-winning web site editor—is faster at uploading and downloading files than Transmit is, but that could also be a wrong impression.