ssh.com vs openssh

A few months ago, I wrote a brief entry on how to set up shared key authentication with OpenSSH.

With my current job as a Flash developer, I’m kind of stranded in a Windows world where I am stuck using different ssh clients. The two most popular ones out there (that I am aware of) are PuTTY and SSH.com‘s client. I was introduced to SSH.com’s client back when I worked the support desk at the University a few years ago and wasn’t all that impressed, but it has improved since then, and I like it quite a bit more than PuTTY now.

~funny story

Not to say that SSH.com’s client is perfect. In fact, the commercial release was downright unstable when I tried it out. They let you do 30 day trials of the program. I downloaded the trial of their 5.0 client, installed, and fired it up. Right away, I noticed three things:

  1. It doesn’t really look all that different (or seem to offer major feature enhancements that the average customer would be interested) from the free 3.x line.
  2. It installs some sort of random system tray application (probably for management of keys, headless sessions, or something else along that vein) in addition to the normal client. I never figured out exactly what it did because…
  3. The system tray application is very flaky and likes to blow up at the slightest provocation. Like firing up the client or mousing over the tray icon or looking at the monitor or breathing. But it’s apparently not even necessary to normal function of the application anyways.

So… I decided I’d be nice and give it half a week to shape up. It didn’t. And I honestly couldn’t find any features that were different from the 3.x version that I normally use, except the possibile something that might have been hiding in the system tray but crashed any time I tried to investigate šŸ˜€

So, I uninstalled and returned to using the older, free version (which you can download from them here) with no backward glances or sense of loss.

A month passes and I get a phone call from a sales rep. He asks me if I am, in fact, the person who signed up for an evaluation of their commercial client program. I admit that I am, and that I returned to using the older version after less than a week because of general flakiness. I go on to explain that I’ve been a loyal user of their free client for the past several years and that I was a bit amazed that the 5.x client didn’t work reliably.

And he, in turn, admits that there were known problems with that version šŸ™‚ What followed was a bit more pleasant conversation that ended in his asking me to give it another try when the next version rolls around. *grin*

Given the lack of visible improvement between the 5.x and 3.x lines, I really see no reason to do so. I’ll continue using the older version until something incredibly better comes along.

using ssh.com’s key pairs to auth against an openssh server

My biggest (and really only remaining) problem with the SSH.com client is that their public keys don’t work with an OpenSSH server (the only thing I really ever log in to)… without some minor tweaking.

The procedure for getting key based auth working between the two goes something like this:

  1. Create a key using their client. – Go to “Edit -> Settings -> Global Settings -> User Authentication -> Keys”. Click “Generate New…” Follow the prompts and watch the cheesy little entropy animation. The default options are good. Just remember that if you’re doing this to be lazy, don’t specify a password.
  2. Upload the key to the server. – If you’ve got an active connection to an ssh2 server, there’ll be a big button that will magically copy the file to the server for you. The default location is under ~/.ssh2. Note that OpenSSH stores its keys in ~/.ssh, so you shouldn’t have problems with overlap.
  3. Convert the file into a format suitable for OpenSSH.

    This will give you a file that you can then append to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys so your server knows to let you in.

It is also possible to take an existing OpenSSH public key and convert it for use on an SSH.com server… (just invert the ssh-keygen call by using -e to export the openssh.pub file in stead of -i to import the ssh.com.pub), but who’d want to do that? šŸ™‚ What you can’t do is use ssh-keygen to convert an OpenSSH private key to an SSH.com private key. You have to create your key on the same platform as the client you’re planning on using.

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