MacFUSE vs. ExpanDrive

MacFUSE with SSHFS gives you Finder-level access to your SSH and SFTP servers. It’s been out for a while and is free and open source. Now it’s being challenged by ExpanDrive, which does much the same thing, but costs $29 (at a special introductory price, no less).

So which one is better?

I’ve been using MacFUSE ever since it first came on the scene in order to access my DreamHost web server. For most tasks, I’d much rather copy a file within the Finder than open a custom client program, log into a server, and deal with upload/download target directories, external editors, etc. So MacFUSE’s SSHfs module has been an absolute dream for me.

Of course, it’s also a bit frustrating. It seems like Interarchy’s always just a bit faster at browsing my SFTP server. Copying files seems to send them back home and out to the server again, so a file duplication in the same filesystem that should take a few minutes takes ten or more! And then there’s the times that it just sort of craps out on me for some reason. Those times are rare, but they happen.

So when Daring Fireball tipped me off to Magnetk’s ExpanDrive utility, I decided to give it a try and run it through it’s paces.

The ExpanDrive developers comment that it’s based on MacFUSE, but has been variously improved with better caching and other “secret sauce.” It also handles reconnects after your computer goes to sleep, and claims to deal gracefully with poor network connections..

I gave it some straightforward tests. I opened and edited files; copied large and small files back and forth (and timed the copies); and then did my best to break things by opening disk images on the mounted SFTP drive, expanding and compressing zip files, and duplicating large files.

The results? They’re the same. Really. The same.

I got some slightly different performance on copying small files from the ExpanDrive rather than through MacFUSE if I’d already downloaded them once. This must be the caching they’ve referred to. But the difference was negligible, since it only applied to smaller files.

Both were horrid at duplicating files, and both crashed the Finder once. (It came right back with the remote SFTP drives mounted in both cases)

Now ExpanDrive is very easy to install and use, which definitely scores some points with me. But MacFUSE is no longer a horrid geeky affair to get SSHFS up and running – just a regular package installer and then an SSHFS application that loads your drive with a double-click. You can also use a utility like MacFusion to give you a nice GUI to mount drives. A bit more complex, maybe, but not bad. (MacFusion also re-mounts filesystems after your computer wakes up)

Based on my tests, I’m sticking with MacFUSE and SSHFS. Mostly I just need it as an alternative to an FTP client, and it works fantastically for that. If I were to keep the remote disk up and running all the time (a la my iDisk), then I might be more interested in ExpanDrive’s incremental improvements over the basic MacFUSE setup. (Although I could use JungleDisk – also based on MacFUSE, but using AmazonS3 instead of SFTP – to do the same thing and enjoy the cheapest online storage out there as well as the peace of mind of having all my remote files encrypted)

Regardless, it’s exciting to see all the interesting projects that have come out of the FUSE and MacFUSE projects. There’s just nothing quite like browsing your web server’s image directories using the CoverFlow view and with QuickLook readily available.

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Written on March 27, 2008