By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
Running a Web site remotely just got easier. So did checking on new files at your favorite Internet file server and sending stuff to another computer on the Net.
This is all done by ftp, the file transfer protocol. Normally, you have to use an ftp program to handle everything. But if you have Windows 95 or Windows 98, you can do all your ftp transfers the easiest way imaginable—by dragging files onto a drive icon or typing a simple "copy" command in a DOS window.
This is made possible by an outstanding new program from Riverfront Software called WebDrive. The software costs $40. A trial version can be downloaded from http://www.riverfrontsoftware.com/. (The trial version stops working after a few weeks. When you buy WebDrive online, you get the full version.)
I bought WebDrive 1.0 as soon as it came out, and have since upgraded to version 1.3. In the short time I've been using it, WebDrive has become one of the four or five essential programs on my PC.
Why? Because WebDrive takes all the hocus-pocus out of ftp. If you've used a standard ftp program, you know how the procedure goes: You fill out the address and password information for the remote computer, click something to log on, wait while you are authenticated and then navigate through a list of remote folders and files in a sorta-kinda window. (Some ftp programs make this easy, but most make it hard.)
Downloading from an ftp server with a normal ftp program is a self-contained operation. You select the files in one window of the ftp program and after a while they show up in another window in the program. Uploading works the same way, in reverse. You're always clicking somewhere inside the ftp program's windows.
WebDrive makes that seem totally dumb. When you install WebDrive—an easy thing to do, thanks to Riverfront's excellent setup program—you enter the server information and that's all. When you click on an icon for a particular server, a standard Windows folder window opens up on your screen. When I say "standard," I mean just that. It's not a more-or-less standard file-and-folder window, or one that is tricked into looking like a standard one. It's the real thing.
That's because WebDrive reaches under the operating system and convinces Windows 95 and Windows 98 to treat ftp sites as if they were drives. You can choose a drive letter for various sites (I use "M:" for Microsoft's ftp server, for example), or you can let WebDrive use a free drive letter of its own choosing. Either way, it works great.
WebDrive's manipulation of Windows is so complete that even DOS cooperates. Open a DOS window, type the letter of the drive mapped to an ftp site, and you can use all the DOS commands you know and love—DIR, COPY, DEL and so on. One of my favorite tricks is to log onto my own site (http://www./dreamscape.com/afasoldt/) and open a DOS window, then edit one of my Web pages using my trusty old DOS file editor. (Sorry, Windows fans; DOS will always be faster than Windows at everything.)
Having a Road Runner Internet connection makes WebDrive almost sinful. I can copy to and from a remote ftp site (using DOS or the Windows Explorer) just as fast as I can copy to and from the other PCs on our little network at home. Sending a dozen new HTML pages to my Web site takes less than five seconds.
Because remote sites are real drives to Windows and DOS, you can even skip the file-transfer stuff and just use the site like you'd use your C: drive. Here's an example of something I do: When I've finished writing something in Microsoft Word, I just use "Save as" and pick the W: drive (my Web site) and type in a name. I've also set up my standard, no-brainer backup program to copy new and changed Web documents to the W: drive each day. (And, yes, all you DOS fans will be glad to hear that you can use XCOPY on a remote site, too.)
$40 isn't much for a good piece of software these days. For a program that changes Windows so radically, I'd say it's a steal.