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Backup and File Synchronisation Software for Apple OS X

For a background on how this review came about and on some of the nuances of using these backup and file synchronisation utilities in stress testing, please see my post on Input/Output Errors in OS X during Back Up.

Backup and File Synchronisation Software for Apple OS X Major Players

SuperDuper! – super when it works. Gets best of breed in a highly technical review of these backup utilities (well worth reading). Priced right at $28. Quality demo (only SmartUpdate not available). Every reason to use and buy. Will not succeed against I/O errors however. Helpful and friendly support. No draconian license policy. Highly recommended.

Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) – Freeware. Extensive documentation. But seen better days as creator Mike Bombich was hired by Apple a couple of years ago and can’t spend as much time on it as he used to. At its best with OS 10.2.

ASR (Apple System Restore) – Freeware. Perhaps this is what Mike Bombich has been up to while at Apple. A very good and robust solution that only seems to fail with I/O issues and that it creates only disk images rather than bootable volumes (except as a 2 step, image and then volume). Here are Apple’s instructions for use:

For backup quality and speed, it’s hard to beat Apple Software Restore (ASR). This is the program used to build software restore CDs on HFS+ volumes. To use ASR, make an image of your disk using Disk Utility (use Create Image From Directory, not Create Image From Device); this backup can then be restored onto other disks, or even the same disk. ASR can restore in place, or by reformatting a disk and copying files onto it. In many cases, the latter usage is much faster, but of course it does remove any existing files.

Synchronize! Pro X – $100 – can do folder synchronization, incremental backups and will not fail against bad sectors and I/O errors. Any drive reporting bad sectors and I/O errors should be retired from service anyway, not repaired. Original license policy very reasonable – personal license for personal comptuers. Ridiculous license policy implemented around version 3.4 driving many users from the product: license valid for a single computer. Subsequently modified to allow a full version on one computer (with scheduling) and occasional use from a secondary computer. Unfortunately developer is aggressive and snarky. On the telephone he asks questions like “Do you even know how to read?” If he would fix his attitude and his license policy, the product is utilitarian and excellent. Reading through the entire VersionTracker section, alas it seems unlikely that Qdea’s Mr. Sontag will ever be a nice friendly man. To some people, this issue may be unimportant. There is also some risk with a one man operation in such a specialilsed sphere with a comparatively expensive product that Mr. Sontag may leave the software business (by inclination, by illness, by death). Or he wouldn’t like your questions and decide to cut off support and rescind your license (I believe he’s done that at least once). Of course for a single copy that is less of an issue but with a site license, I would be concerned.

InTech QuickBack. Part of a whole suite with a reasonable overall cost of $90. InTech Speed Utilities come in an non-upgradeable version with lots of hard drives (where I discovered it). I haven’t successfully used the QuickBack part of the suite but based on MediaScanner and Quickbench performance, I have no reason to doubt that it is as effective as any other bootable backup utility apart from SuperDuper who have their own and superior engine.

LaCie SilverKeeper. Free. Not very attractive but very effective. Reasonably quick. Maintained regularly (current version 1.1.4 updated for 10.4). Highly recommended alternative low cost solution. It is a backup utility not a file sync utility unfortunately.

Unison. Free. Open source. A pain to setup. You need to create sets, you cannot just work on the fly. Very good tracking of changes though. A true industrial sync solution. Programmers and command line junkies should look no further.

Recommended arsenal for backup:

High Cost – $308:

Synchronize Pro X – $100 – for folder synchronisation and backups of non-boot disks InTech Speed Utilities – $90 – for checking for and repairing bad sectors with MediaScanner SuperDuper – $28 – for whole drive and bootable backups DiskWarrior – $90 (including shipping) – you shouldn’t be backing up drives without checking, cleaning and repairing directories

With the above artillery, you are ready for almost anything, but the cost is huge. In principle, this package is just a single computer/user license!

Middle Cost:

Solution 1 – $100:

Synchronize Pro X – $100 – can do folder synchronization, incremental backups and will not fail against bad sectors and I/O errors. Any drive reporting bad sectors and I/O errors should be retired from service anyway, not repaired. Single computer and a half license.

Solution 2 – $118: InTech Speed Utilities – $90 – for checking for and repairing bad sectors with MediaScanner SuperDuper – $28 – for fast whole drive and bootable backups LaCie Silverkeeper- free – for folder synchronisation

This package in addition to the extra tools allows you to run the package on all of your own computers and remain within licensing terms.

Low Cost – $28:

SuperDuper – $28 – fast whole volume backups, extremely accurate copies of boot drives LaCie Silverkeeper- free – for folder synchronisation

Alas, in case of bad sectors, you are tanked. Or at least have another $90 ready to run out and get InTech Speed Utilities when it does happen Free:

Apple ASR (part of 10.4) – will allow restorable disk images to be created (I prefer bootable backups) CCC – bootable backups LaCie Silverkeeper- free – for folder synchronisation

Additional Backup and File Synchronisation Software not recommended:

Synk – $20 (personal use). Very slow and clunky for larger sync jobs. Review based on an earlier version. Does get positive feedback on VersionTracker.

Retrospect – $120 to $800 (personal to server versions). Expensive, unreliable, large learning curve. I owned a licensed version way back which failed to restore any data at all after a hard drive failure. Your data is encrypted into some proprietary algorithm so salvage isn’t even possible. I would still have antipathy for this company, but Dantz happily enough has ceased to exist and is now part of emcinsignia where it looks like you will get even shorter shrift when the product fails. Unless you are part of 200 desk install. No, no thanks. These guys make Hugh Sontag look like Archangel Gabriel.

ChronosSync – $30. Folder sync only. Parent company sells a lot of junky software. Does not inspire confidence.

Additional Backup Software not personally evaluated:

Déjà Vu – $25/$35 (household license). Scheduling. Incremental backups. Issues with accuracy of boot copies. Comes free with Toast 6. Well worth investigating. I laud the household license policy.

FoldersSynchroniser – $40 (single computer license, non-portable). While FoldersSynchroniser apparently can handle I/O errors and is apparently fairly priced, that’s just on the surface. You can only run it from a single machine. The developer argues that in the case of multiple machines you can do a remote login and run it from the second machine. Very intrusive and troublesome licensing scheme (file on your hard drive, phoning home, uninstalling and reinstalling to use it on your secondary machine). Based on the licensing scheme, Softobe has just lost a customer. I also don’t like their About page one bit. Not a word about who they are or where they are. Just some anonymous claptrap about software planning. Hide their identity in WhoIs as well. Pity, as I might try and buy their iPassePartout utility as well if their licensing were a little more user friendly and less draconian. Lorenzo Puleo manages to exceed even Hugh Sontag in his licensing bloodlust. Apparently he is a more friendly correspondent once you are on board.

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