Review: Steed, an attractive file transfer client for Windows

Utilities like text editors and FTP clients may not scream “sexy!”, but for us geeks who perform actual work with our computers, they’re critical tools. Unfortunately, these tools get so entrenched and build such strongly opinionated followings (people still use vi, for Pete’s sake!) that few developers try to build new, better tools.

A brave (or maybe they just didn’t know any better) trio of Frenchmen, calling themselves FrenchFry, decided that it was time to introduce something new into the stale world of Windows-based tools and just released a new file transfer utility named Steed. Inspired by their bravery, I decided to take Steed for a spin.

Overview

You may be asking “Why does this idiot keep saying ‘file transfer client’ instead of FTP?” Good question, jerk. I’m calling Steed a file transfer client because it does more than just FTP. It manages transfers for Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure as well.

Yes, I named my server Don Johnson. Don't judge me.
Yes, I named my server Don Johnson. Don’t judge me.

Another key differentiator from apps like Filezilla or WinSCP is that Steed’s interface isn’t a collection of seemingly random text fields and buttons. The interface looks to have been heavily inspired by Panic’s Transmit (my file transfer client of choice on Mac). Although not as polished as Transmit, Steed’s interface is clean and coherent.

I liked that Steed supports the sync of server settings via Dropbox and SkyDrive, which sounds like a small thing, but solves a big pain for folks who access lots of different servers. In that same vein, Steed’s bookmark management puts Filezilla’s Server Manager to shame by being much more user-friendly and a lot less Windows 3.1.

The less buttons, the better.
The less buttons, the better.

Most of my quibbles with Steed are due to its newness. FrenchFry tout Steed as being “beautiful” and it is much better looking than their Windows competition, but I don’t think it’s quite there yet. Some of the generic “templatey-ness” that plagues many .NET apps shines through around the edges.

The app never crashed on me, but I did manage to get it to throw some errors while trying to delete folders via FTP. Oddly enough, as soon as I restarted the application, it prompted me to download a patch that wound up resolving the errors I was seeing. So it appears the dev team is actively working on getting things cleaned up.

Final thoughts

I think the comparison to Transmit is an important one. For years, Transmit has been the de-facto file transfer client of Mac web and app developers, and Mac devs who’ve migrated to Windows have been clamoring for a Transmit-comparable file transfer client. Steed isn’t there yet, but it appears to be well on the way. I could see it being very popular in that crowd.

Outside those former-Mac devs, I’m less optimistic. For many developers, the free alternatives will remain “good enough”. If FrenchFry continues building modern features and adding polish though, they might stand a chance of cutting out a bigger niche.

Pricing and availability

Steed is available for a launch-price of $24.99 on FrenchFry’s website. A ten-day trial is also available.

BitTorrent takes on Dropbox with new file-sharing service

It seems that everyone is planning an Operation Overthrow against popular file synching service Dropbox. Earlier this week, it was Insync. This time, the newest member to join the movement is BitTorrent, Inc. with their new desktop app simply dubbed Share. The service allows you to transfer any type of files to anyone with no size limit to weigh you down.

The process is easy and straightforward. After installing and firing up the application, add files by dragging-and-dropping or by browsing for them. Then, enter in your email address, as well as the recipient’s email address (you can have more than one recipient). You can also connect to Facebook and add your friends that way.

After you send the file, the recipient will receive an email letting them know about the file(s) and how to get the Share app (if they don’t already have it).

Your account will automatically be created after you send your first file share and the next window is a list of all the files that you’re sharing and information on who its shared with, etc. Users don’t have to be online at the same time to send and receive files, since they’re cached in the cloud and once the files have sufficiently been shared by peers, they’re taken off the cloud to make room for future files transfers.

Share is clearly still in its early alpha stages, but it will eventually be integrated into the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent, adding even more features to the lightweight program. Currently, Share is only available on Windows, but will be available on Macs via uTorrent in the future.

A free, unlimited file-sharing service this easy simply cannot go ignored. It’s a fantastic alternative to anyone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty with true BitTorrent and makes sharing larger files a breeze.

Let Anyone Send Files to Your Dropbox with JotForm

Let’s say a family member or close friend wants to show you vacation pictures, but 1) There are too many files and 2) Even when zipped, the file size is too large to attach in an email. You suggest they sign up with Dropbox, a free way to sync and share files across any computer. The trouble is, your friend or family member is too stubborn to sign up for a free account (who doesn’t love free?!).

There just so happens to be a web service that gives anyone the ability to send a file directly to your Dropbox. It’s called Dropbox Forms, made by Jotform who provides a wide variety of web form creation tools.

It’s a completely free service with the option to upgrade to premium plans with more available space. However, the free version only allows a max of 100 MB, which was a problem for me right off the bat since I needed to request a 125 MB audio file from a fellow group member in one of my college courses. If you plan on working with files less than 100 MB, you should have no problem.

When you arrive to the Dropbox Forms homepage, simply click “Create a Dropbox Form” to get started. You’ll then need to allow the service to access your Dropbox account. Once that’s finished, you can start creating your form. You have two options for this: Either a direct link to a form hosted on JotForm’s website or embed the form on your own site.

Whenever someones uses the form to send a file your way, it will automatically sync to your Dropbox where you can easily access it!

Another similar service is AirDropper. I found this to be a little more feasible since there isn’t a cap on file sizes. You also have two choice for forms, but it’s a little different from how JotForm does it. You can either create a one-time, one-use form or create a reusable form with a password required. However, AirDropper isn’t a free service. It’ll cost you $12 a month after the 7-day free trial, which is a little more than the $10/month JotForm charges for a premium plan.

Wireless Security Tip: Secure Your Wireless Internet

wireless-security-thumbIf you have your own wireless internet connection, it might be unsecured (meaning that you don’t have to type in a password to access it) or it may be using WEP encryption.  There are several important reasons why you should encrypt your internet (or switch from WEP encryption to a stronger method such as WPA or WPA2):

  • Leaving your wireless internet unsecured lets anybody access your network which can cause slow connection speeds.
  • If an intruder illegally downloads something using your wireless internet, you could be legally liable for their actions.
  • An intruder could potentially monitor your network traffic and obtain passwords or other confidential information.
  • WEP encryption can be easily cracked in a matter of minutes, which makes it only slightly better than an unsecured connection.

This guide will show you how to identify the current security used on your wireless network, and how to better secure it with WPA / WPA2 encryption.

Note: Some older network cards don’t support WPA2 encryption.  If you can no longer connect to your access point after setting it to WPA2, use WPA instead.

Identifying Your Current Security Mode

Most of the time, you can see what type of security an access point uses before connecting to it.  View your available wireless networks and check out your own network to see what your current security settings are.

Wireless Security in Windows XP (WPA and WPA2 highlighted)
Wireless Security in Windows XP (WPA and WPA2 highlighted)

Wireless Security in Windows 7 (WEP and WPA highlighted)
Wireless Security in Windows 7 (WEP and WPA highlighted)

If you see WPA or WPA2 next to your connection – that’s great, you’re done.  WPA and WPA2 provide strong protection as long as you use a good password.  When creating a password, avoid using dictionary words and try to include complex characters like !@#$%^&*.

If you see WEP or no security, it’s time to add WPA or WPA2 to your access point.

Enabling WPA/WPA2

Wireless security options are different for every access point and router, so refer to your user’s manual or check out the device manufacturer’s support information online.  Your device may even come with an installation disc that can walk you through security setup.

In general, you need to locate a Wireless/Wireless Security section in your access point’s configuration and enable WPA or WPA2 security.  With many access points and routers, you can type in the Gateway address of your internet connection in a web browser to access the device’s configuration page.

Note: The Gateway address can be found by viewing your current connection’s details (varies by your operating system) or by pressing Windows Key + R, type cmd and press enter, then type ipconfig and press enter.

Gateway Address in Connection Details
Gateway Address in Connection Details

Gateway Address using ipconfig in Command Line
Gateway Address using ipconfig in Command Line

In my case, my router’s address is 192.168.1.1, so I typed that address in my browser and pressed enter.  This will open the device’s configuration page (you may need to enter login credentials to access this page).  Locate a Wireless Security section (this may be under Wireless, look around until you find it) and enable WPA or WPA2 security, selecting ‘Personal’ if it gives you the option.  Create a strong password and click save.  You will have to re-join your network once this has been done.

Wireless Security in Tomato Firmware
Wireless Security in Tomato Firmware

Wireless Security in Linksys Firmware
Wireless Security in Linksys Firmware

Now that you’ve enabled security on your wireless connection, it will be much more difficult for an intruder to steal your internet access or perhaps obtain confidential information.

Have any tips for better securing your internet connection?  Share them with us in the comments.

How to Add an OS X 10.5 Computer to a Windows Domain

This article will guide you through the steps required to connect a computer running OS X 10.5 to a Windows domain, allowing you to login using your Active Directory credentials. Since Active Directory is so widely used, it is useful to be able to set up any computers running OS X to authenticate through it.

Step 1: Open the Directory Utility tool, which can be found under Applications -> Utilities -> Directory Utilities or by searching for it through the Finder.

osx_windowsdomain_directoryutility

Step 2: Click on the Services tab, and make sure the Active Directory service is enabled. You may have to click on the lock in the bottom left corner and enter local administrator credentials to be able to make changes. Next, click on the Configure button.

osx_windowsdomain_configure

Step 3: Enter in the address for the Domain you wish to connect to, and a name for the computer you are working on. Under the Advanced Options, you can check ‘Create mobile account at login’ and uncheck ‘Require confirmation before creating a mobile account’ if you want the computer to cache credentials locally, allowing users who have previously logged in to login even if there is no network access. Click Bind and enter proper network credentials. The computer should now show up in Active Directory under the name you gave it.

osx_windowsdomain_domain

Step 4: Ensure that the login preferences are set to require a user to type in a username and password. This can be configured by navigating to System Preferences -> Accounts and clicking on the Login Options tab.

osx_windowsdomain_login

That’s all there is to it! Any user logging in will now be authenticated through Active Directory.