(Updated April 12, 2006)
(Updated June 14, 2007)
If you use a UNIX-based remote computer and need command line (shell) access, you can use Telnet. However, Telnet is not a secure application; anybody listening in can see all of your input and output — including your password. To combat that, the Secure Shell was developed. SSH is an application allowing access to the Secure Shell. There are many implementations of SSH available, including a free one called PuTTY.
Before I even got my Pocket PC, I had heard people asking for SSH applicatons. While some Pocket PC implementations were available, they either cost money or weren't very good from what I hear.
However, a Pocket PC implementation of PuTTY is now available called Pocket PuTTY. It was created as an academic project by a student apparently in the Czech Republic. How well does it work? Let's find out.
UPDATE: Since this review was written, the developer has released a new version. It is still considered a development release, though, so it may not be stable. I haven't used it yet, but some of the information here may still be useful.
You can skip to any section of the review here.
This review is of Pocket PuTTY 0.1. It is described as pre-alpha software, meaning that it is not nearly in final form and may have bugs. So why review it? Because, as I mentioned, many people have been looking for a free Pocket PC SSH implementation, and I wanted to get the word out about this one.
The testing was done on my iPAQ 5550 running Windows Mobile 2003.
Features in the release include:
- Support for Telnet, SSH1 and SSH2 protocols
- SSH compression
- Session buffering
Setup consists of simply installing the program; there is no registration or configuration needed. To install the program, you simply unzip the executable and copy it to your Pocket PC, preferably in the Program Files folder. You should see the following.
Program Files Folder
Once there, you should probably use a file explorer to Copy the program and Paste a shortcut in the Start Menu\Programs folder to make it easier to run the program. I also recommend renaming the shortcut from PocketPuTTY.exe to Pocket PuTTY, but it's not necessary. That's all there is to installation.
If you do that, you'll see Pocket PuTTY in the folder, as shown in the following image.
Pocket PuTTY will work on Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003. The author is working on creating versions for Pocket PC 2002 and Pocket PC 2000.
Pocket PuTTY takes about 413 KB of storage memory on a Windows Mobile 2003 device. When running, it took about 840 KB of program memory after I logged in to a host.
When you start the program, you'll see the Open New Connection dialog below.
Open New Connection Dialog
Just type in the domain you want to connect to, select the connection type (SSH1, SSH2 or Telnet) and tap the OK button to connect. If you want to scroll back in your session, ensure Show vertical scrollbar is checked.
One thing I don't like is that you have to try to connect to even look at the program. If you just want to see the About dialog, you have to put something in the Open New Connection dialog. I'd rather see the program start up and have a Connect... action to log in to an account. As other users may prefer the way it currently works, there should be an option to select whether you get the Open New Connection dialog first or not.
Another thing that I don't like is that you can't save session profiles; every time you start Pocket PuTTY, you have to type in the domain and select your options. There should be a way to save them and access them via a drop-down list.
If you're connecting using SSH for the first time, you'll see a message asking if you want to trust the service and cache the host key.
SSH Key Warning
If you trust the service, tap the Yes button; if you don't want the key saved in the registry, tap the No button; if you don't trust the system at all, tap the Cancel button.
Assuming you decided to connect, after a little while, you'll get prompted to log in to your account.
That "after a while" is another problem. It seems to take a while to connect and disconnect from a session. I didn't experience any delay while using the PC version of PuTTY.
Once you've logged in, you can start executing commands.
You can enter commands and scroll back and forth in your session. The following figure shows the output of a long ls command; I could scroll back to see part of it, but not all of it, so the session buffer is limited.
Scrolling Through The Session
You can also use fullscreen programs, like the PINE mail client.
Fullscreen PINE Session
One obvious problem is that the display isn't the standard 80 characters wide, so some of the soft help buttons are truncated.
One problem with either command line or fullscreen programs is that the Soft Input Panel (SIP) will block the input area, as the following figure shows.
Input Panel Blocking Input Area
This means that you can't easily see what you're typing. Not only is this a violation of Microsoft user interface guidelines, but it's incredibly annoying in an application where you have to do a lot of typing.
Other than those issues, I only found one minor bug. The program doesn't seem to have a small icon. This normally isn't a problem; programs like Resco Explorer will show the top left part of the icon in a list view, as an earlier image showed. However, if you have an iPAQ, it causes iTask to not display any icon in its menu, as the following image shows.
iTask Icon Problem
The menu system of Pocket PuTTY is very limited, consisting only of a Tools menu.
The About action just displays the About dialog.
You can view the license or visit the Web sites for PuTTY and Pocket PuTTY (although the Pocket PuTTY button goes to the old site, which redirects you to the new site).
The Close action closes the program. The program does not close when the session ends, which seems odd with no Connect... action.
It would be nice to be able to configure the program more. For example, the ability to change fonts and the text and background colors would be very nice. I found the default font a bit small, but I realize that making it larger would cause more line wrapping and adversely affect the usability of fullscreen programs. Adding a Preferences... action that displayed a settings dialog would allow this.
Also, as I mentioned above, I would like the ability to not have the Open New Connection dialog displayed when the program is run. That last option would also require the addition of a Connect... action to display the dialog.
No documentation or help is available (at least in the pre-alpha version), but very little is really necessary. There is an online forum at http://pocketputty.net.
Because Pocket PuTTY is part of the developer's academic project, he may not be as responsive as a commercial developer. Also, there is no guarantee of new releases. The developer has said he's hoping to release a new version in June, though.
Pocket PuTTY is available for free download at PocketPutty.net.
Problems are features that don't work as described, crashes or hangs, confusing user interface elements, problems in the documentation or help or anything that detracts from using the program. Suggestions are for features that work as described but could be better or new features that the program could implement. These will be covered in the next two sections.
I found a few problems. The following list is roughly in order of importance.
Displaying the input area hides the bottom part of your session, including the area where your input is displayed. This is by far the worst problem, as it makes using the program for more than a short session annoying. Not only that, it violates the Pocket PC user interface guidelines.
The program seemed a bit slow connecting and disconnecting.
The program doesn't have a small icon, causing iTask to not display any icon for the program.
The Pocket PuTTY button in the About dialog goes to the old Web site. That does redirect you to the new site, but that wastes bandwidth.
There are several things I would suggest to improve the program.
Allow saving session profiles. You should be able to save session details (the computer you logged into and any options). When connecting, you should be able to load a saved profile instead of having to enter all the details each time.
Add an option to prevent displaying the Open New Connection dialog when the program is started. You can't do anything else in the program unless you're connected. While this makes sense most of the time, it means you have to log in just to view the About dialog, for example. If the program ever supports more global configuration, having to log in would just get in the way.
There should be a Preferences... action in the Tools menu to set global configuration information. One option would allow displaying the Open New Connection dialog automatically for those who prefer that.
If that option was not selected, the program would display a blank session window when started. There would also need to be an action to display the Open New Connection dialog, of course. I would suggest adding a Connect... action to the Tools menu.
This would also allow logging in to multiple accounts more easily. Currently, you have to close the program and restart it to start another session. Having a Connect... action would avoid having to exit the program. To be fair, though, that is exactly what the PuTTY Windows program does, too.
Support changing the font. The current font is very small, and I found it hard to read. Allowing the user to select a font and size would make things better.
The downside is that a larger font would make lines wrap more often. It would also likely make fullscreen programs less usable.
Support changing the text and background colors.
Support landscape mode. This would alleviate some of the problems with fullscreen programs. It would also make using larger fonts more reasonable in some cases.
Of course, this will probably have to wait for Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition to come out. Otherwise, the input panel would be very awkward to use.
Support other devices. The developer has said he is working to support Pocket PC 2002 and Pocket PC 2000 PDAs, but no betas are out yet.
Smartphone support could also be useful, but the small screen size might make that impractical.
UPDATE: Some of these suggestions have been fixed in the new release (I specifically noticed that you can now chnage the font size).
Despite the problems mentioned above, the program works well enough for short sessions. The input area resizing bug would get very annoying in longer sessions, though. However, as this really isn't an official release, bugs are understandable.
Rating the program on the typical five-star scale, I give it 3.0 stars. If the author fixes the input resizing bug and adds session profiles, it would significantly increase the rating. Once this is done, Pocket PuTTY should be a valuable tool for anybody needing UNIX shell access.
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NOTE: This review was originally written for pocketnow.com.