Ask any system administrator and they’ll tell you that remote access is crucial to their work. Whether it’s to install an update on a computer for their boss at their home office or perform maintenance on a web server in Shanghai, remote access via SSH or Telnet is the foundation of maintaining any IT infrastructure and in times when remote access is required, many sysadmins would instinctively reach for their laptop.
Prompt, by Panic, is an SSH and Telnet client for the iPad that lets users remotely connect to computers. Is it good enough to serve as an alternative to the sysadmin’s trusty laptop? Let’s find out.
Prompt’s interface is clean and uncluttered, with each section easily identifiable. If you’ve used Panic’s Diet Coda then it should feel somewhat familiar. When you first launch the app, you’re prompted for some login information (such as server address, username and password) and can then tap Connect. Prompt will automatically save this first connection for you and you can add as many additional connections as you wish.
Cleverly, if your server requires private authentication keys then you can either copy them via the clipboard or, if there’s a number you have saved, import them through iTunes.
Each server can be given a nickname rather than just relying on the server address, though it’s a little hidden within the Settings rather than as an option under Connections.
Once you’ve connected, you can toggle the connections pane to increase the space available to use. As remote connections often rely upon keyboard keys such as Esc and Ctrl, as well as cursor keys, Prompt includes an additional row of shortcut keys above the keyboard. The middle row includes commonly used keyboard characters and swiping along reveals access to F1–F16 and PgUp/PgDn if required. All of these additional keys make entering commands much simpler.
Prompt really shines when used with a Bluetooth keyboard. Whether it’s an iPad-specific one or a standard keyboard for your Mac, Prompt supports the additional keys such as Esc and Ctrl brilliantly. If you often find yourself missing a laptop just for the keyboard functionality, Prompt has you covered.
Once you’ve logged in to a remote computer then Prompt works as expected, allowing you to enter commands into a remote machine via SSH or Telnet. At this point it’s all about your server and Prompt simply provides you with a way to communicate.
With this app, your iPad becomes quite a capable tool to manage remote machines. Whilst using the onscreen keyboard isn’t ideal for prolonged use due to the lack of quick access to all of the special characters, it does mean that for infrequent use or when your without your laptop, you’re still able to perform many of the remote tasks that you would otherwise not be able to do.
Making use of an external keyboard lets you get the most out of the app and with companies such as Logitech manufacturing some great keyboard folio cases, Prompt really can be a useful tool for remote connections.
Prompt includes some options for customisation which includes selecting between either a white-on-black or black-on-white colour scheme. Text size can also be toggled between small, medium and large.
It’s a shame there aren’t any more substantial options for controlling the colour and font schemes. On an iPad mini, I find the smallest text size too small but the middle one a little too large. Being able to customise the colours as well as select a different font entirely would also be a welcome addition but it doesn’t detract from the app in any real way.
You’re able to make more substantial changes to your terminal session with options such as text encoding and specifying the terminal type, all features that can vary depending on what you’re planning to log in to.
As you’d expect from the guys over at Panic, Prompt includes some nice touches.
You can passcode lock the app for increased security so that even if someone was to gain access to your iPad, they aren’t going to be able to mess with your servers.
My favourite feature though is Prompt’s Autocomplete. If you’re often logging in to the same server on a regular basis and using the same commands again and again, Prompt offers to autocomplete them, saving you the trouble of typing them in repeatedly.
Prompt isn’t designed to replace your computer as an SSH or Telnet client — instead its aim is to provide you with the ability to access your remote machines or servers when you’re on the move and in places where you’re not with your primary computer. Whether this is from an airplane, on the beach or even sat in front of the TV, you’re able to easily log in to your remote machines.
As someone who uses the app almost daily, I can say with certainty that you’ll experience a love-hate relationship with Prompt. You’ll love the fact that it works as well as it does but you’ll hate the fact that it makes it all too easy to just launch and start working!
A truly great SSH and Telnet client that should be on the iPad of any system administrator and is just the sort of highly polished app we'd expect from the folks at Panic. Some additional appearance customisation options would be nice to see but overall, I can't recommend this highly enough.10