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Mar
7

Graphical SSH Clients group test

Posted by Oliver Hill

We put four graphical SSH clients under the microscope to see which one came out on top with regards to the best service and most useful features.

PuTTY

A well-known solution for accessing SSH-compatible systems via a graphical interface, PuTTY is regularly used by Windows users as Microsoft’s operating system unfortunately does not natively support the protocol. It also runs well on Linux, and we’re going to test it against the other contenders.

Download: bit.ly/1jsQjnt

ClusterSSH

An easier solution than PuTTY, ClusterSSH enables you to manage multiple SSH windows at a time and send commands to all of them at once, allowing for faster and better maintenance of multiple servers and systems. Is it a little too simple, though, compared to the rest? We find out.

Download: bit.ly/1RnUTXt

SecPanel

SecPanel has a strong emphasis on the secure side of SSH, not only enabling users to take control of the management of multiple SSH windows and clients at once, but it also has a focus on SCP. This secure copy protocol is based on SSH and allows for file transfer between host and client.

Download: bit.ly/1O3hIK3

Secure Shell

Also known as HotSSH (as Secure Shell is just the full term for SSH), Secure Shell is the interface for SSH in the GNOME family of apps. As is the case with a lot of GNOME software, it’s got a very simple interface, but only in comparison to the other apps in this test. We see how it performs.

Download: bit.ly/1eYTiFS

PuTTY

The SSH client everyone knows, but is it worthy of its notoriety?

putty1

Connection options

The options offered to you for connecting to an SSH client are extremely basic, only allowing you to put in an IP or hostname, along with a port. You’ll need to manually add a user once you hit Connect, although at least it won’t assume you’re trying to use your current Linux username. The details can also be saved for another time.

Multiple connections

You can perform multiple connections at once, but it doesn’t have the best way of handling it. As the entire SSH connection side closes once you launch an SSH window, you need to start up PuTTY again to launch a new connection, which it will happily do at least. There’s no way to do multiple commands through it, though.

Other features

PuTTY looks like it has a host of features you can use to make the SSH experience better – however, it’s mostly to do with logging and appearance and how the windows should behave when you’re using them. The logging is a nice feature at least, and you can save connections, but you can’t have it send commands on connection.

Ease of use

PuTTY is really designed as a quick and easy way for Windows users to connect to something via SSH; while it may not be immediately apparent how to do this, once you figure it out it’s very simple to just type in or launch an address to connect to the remote client.

Overall

PuTTY is very functional and does the very basics to get you connected, however it doesn’t handle multiple connections well and is more suited to a Windows system than a Linux one. 6/10

ClusterSSH

Create a cluster of SSH connections to manage all at the same time

cluster1

Connection options

Once you’ve hunted down where exactly it is you need to add a connection, you can use it to connect to a remote client. However, it won’t remember which ones you’ve connected to and requires you to make sure you add a username while you are connecting. Annoyingly, there’s no history function or way to create custom connections.

Multiple connections

As ClusterSSH’s main feature is the ability to handle multiple connections, it does so quite well. You can add multiple connections one at a time, perform individual commands in each or send commands to all of them. It keeps track of how many connections are open and closes them all when you close the main window.

Other features

Cluster has some interesting abilities to find out host and client names, do a test, and some other quite random commands. There’s also supposedly an ability to create your own macros, but we frankly could not figure out where to do this. Otherwise, it’s very light on useful features outside the basics.

Ease of use

Finding the place to launch a connection on a first go is a little tricky. For reference, it’s under Hosts and add Hosts/Clusters, or you can access it by hitting Control, Shift and ‘+’. Knowing the shortcut will at least make it quicker and easier, but otherwise the interface is not well labelled.

Overall

ClusterSSH serves a very utilitarian purpose – it lets you connect to multiple clients and run commands on them at the same time. It offers very little in aesthetics or ease of use outside of this. 4/10

SecPanel

Enables SSH and copying of files between client and host

secpanel2

Connection options

You can create custom connection profiles for different and numerous clients, give them custom names, have custom usernames for them all and even pass a command when launched, along with other options. Launching this goes straight to a new, external terminal window as well, so you can use all your normal shortcuts on there.

Multiple connections

Interestingly enough, SecPanel enables you to connect to multiple connections at once by opening them in ClusterSSH. This lets you to create several profiles to connect at once through SecPanel, and then use the great functions of ClusterSSH to control them. This makes it a lot better than ClusterSSH on its own.

Other features

Instead of SCP, SecPanel has now upgraded to using SFTP via FileZilla. Again, it lets you use the profiles you’ve set up, and as long as FileZilla is installed it will connect via that. You can also manage any hostkeys, choose protocols and external programs to use and much more.

Ease of use

SecPanel is quite straightforward and usually lets you know why something isn’t working if it’s obvious (like actually needing to create a connection first or installing FileZilla to get the file transfers working). The interface is clean and well laid out, with more advanced options filed away for when you need them.

Overall

SecPanel, while delegating a lot of the SSH work to external sources, is a fantastic way to manage SSH connections and clients so that you can then use other, more familiar ways to control those aspects. 8/10

Secure Shell

Is the GNOME-standard SSH graphical interface as simple as its apps?

secureshell1

Connection options

Secure Shell simply enables you to connect to an SSH client using a few steps to establish the IP, the username and password. It’s the only one in this test that will remember the password, and it does store it fairly securely in your system. It opens up a terminal-like window and will auto-connect from the remembered searches.

Multiple connections

Secure Shell is not natively supported because the interface opens up and stays in the terminal, so you’ll have to run another instance of the GUI to open up another connection, like you have to do in PuTTY. Only with this, it’s no different from having multiple terminal windows open that you could access yourself.

Other features

Aside from saving the password and keeping a list of connections to use, Secure Shell is a basic piece of software. Sure, you might just need a handy list of connections, but when you have all the extra features from SecPanel and even PuTTY, it seems very sparse in comparison.

Ease of use

It’s generally good, as it’s a piece of GNOME software, but it’s extremely buggy and won’t always work. Installing it from source and using the pure GNOME desktop is a better way of ensuring that it runs smoothly, but on other desktops and using repo binaries it will likely leave you stranded without a working app.

Overall

When it works it’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t really offer much more than a convenient way to connect to SSH clients, which you can get elsewhere in this test and with much better features in case you need to do a little more. 5/10

And the Winner Is…

SecPanel

secpanel1

It cannot be denied; SSH’s usefulness never truly goes away. In a world that’s full of increased bandwidth and easier ways to share or broadcast screens, there is always going to be plenty of demand for remote connections that don’t require anything more from its users than simple command line usage. Admitedly, the general state of these SSH clients isn’t the greatest as the kind of people that need to use SSH are doing so in the command line anyway, however SecPanel offers an excellent solution for admins who work in a desktop environment to work on SSH.

The real beauty of SecPanel is that it provides many excellent features for people who have to deal with a lot of remote computers, from simple multi-connections to being able to transfer files as well. It may act more as a manager rather than a full interface, but it works a lot better for it, offering more familiar interfaces to use these features. This helped it claim its winning status.

PuTTY was quite a disappointment when you look at the whole package. It’s very much made so that Windows users can actually access SSH clients (something the OS will soon allow natively), but this fact means that it is left slightly behind compared to SecPanel and the full powers of SSH.

The same can be said for SecureShell and ClusterSSH – although at least Cluster tries to do something different, however it’s generally better to use a terminal or anything else if you want to do achieve anything other than multi-client control.

It seems then, that the best SSH graphical interface only manages SSH for other interfaces, however it does so extremely well.

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