Review of the Flow FTP Software for Mac OS X

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FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is so last decade. Despite the fact that FTP is an insecure method of file transfer, FTP continues to be the standard for transferring files, especially by developers transferring files to web servers. Sure, there’s SFTP, using a Secure Shell to encrypt the FTP protocol, but face it, FTP is a technology that has run its course.

One look at the Flow, the new FTP client from Extendmac, and you’ll almost forget that FTP should have died a quick death back in 1998. With Flow’s use of Mac OS X technologies, especially Leopard technologies and features, it’s an example of how a good developer can even take a technology that’s as long in the tooth as FTP and give it new life.

Flow is Feature-Rich with Leopard Tech

Flow is Leopard-only and wisely hooks into Leopard core features. For Leopard users taking advantage of the QuickLook feature, Flow is a godsend. Using QuickLook, Flow users can view images, audio files, PDF’s, video files, text documents and web pages with the ease of clicking the spacebar. How is this feature such a godsend? If you’ve ever rifled through a directory of .jpg’s on an FTP client looking for a file, downloading or having to parse the file to a web browser, the Flow QuickLook feature will be worth its weight in paypal gold.

One feature that web developers will love is Flow’s built-in editor. The built-in editor allows for tabbed editing with syntax highlighting for HTML, PHP, XML and CSS. The editor features a two-window pane for live previews of your editing. Of course you can also associate your files with an external editor such as BBEdit, Dreamweaver, or the editor of your choice, available with a ctrl-click.

Multiple File Transfer Protocols and Clipboard URLs with Flow

Flow’s other features include Bonjour connections, SFTP, WebDav (including the MobileMe iDisk) and Amazon S3. I even tested Flow as an SFTP client to transfer files to my Ubuntu Virtual Machine running on VirtualBox, negating the frustrating and seemingly endless task of trying to get the VMTools to compile for folder sharing with every kernel release.

But wait, there’s more! Flow automatically copies the URL of an uploaded file to your clipboard. Big deal you say? Sure Cyberduck and other FTP tools handle this behaviour, but with Flow the link copied is the hypertext URL, not the FTP link. This nifty little feature will save web designers a lot of time and trouble changing paths and protocol handlers. Flow also features a Dropmark feature, just drag a bookmark to your desktop and you’ve got a bookmarklet that can handle ftp transfers to the directory bookmarked with a simple drag and drop.

Flow is a New Kid on the Block, So You Might Find a Few Bumps

So is Flow the best thing since sliced bread? I did have a couple of gotcahs’ when testing the application. On one site I tested, directory updates were so slow that despite the great features of Flow, the application was nearly unusable. I found that despite my love of Flow’s features, I was switching back to Cyberduck to get the job done. I contacted the developer and within a couple of weeks he shot an email back announcing the bug was bagged, and sure enough Flow was zipping through directories as quickly as Cyberduck. I’ve also yet to figure out how to get Flow to save the password when a server is bookmarked.

Flow Rating (4 out of 5)

The biggest issue I have with Flow is the price. As a casual FTP user with very light use, I just couldn’t justify the price tag of $29. As much as I love the beauty of this application and its knock-dead Leopard integration, you can’t beat Cyberduck or Fugu’s pricetag, $0. Still, if you’re a web developer handling a lot of FTP duties, $29 is a very small price to pay for an application as well designed as Flow. The cost of Flow will pay for itself for FTP heavy-lifters in hours, not days or weeks.

Flow Screen Shots

Flow FTP Browser

Flow Built-In Editor

Flow QuickLook Feature