Backup to basics

Introduction

Dantz’s Retrospect family may now come with a full version 5.0 moniker, but as upgrades go, this one seems fairly minor. 4.5 might be more appropriate – even if you take into account the software’s added support for OS X, really the only significant new feature. We looked at two of those applications – Express and Desktop. The others, Server and Workgroup, have been created for large networks. Retrospect Express is the junior member of the Retrospect family, aimed at individual users who don’t need the administrator-oriented features of Dantz’s standard package, Retrospect Desktop. Express is a cut-down version of Desktop: its user interface is identical to that of the more advanced product, minus a handful of features and options. Retrospect requires users to define back-up Sets – combinations of storage media such as CD-RWs, Zip disks, external hard-drives and Internet sites, that together store your archived files and folders. Express, says Dantz, supports most media, but only “some entry-level” tape drives. It couldn’t see our Imation Travan 20GB drive, even though Retrospect Backup could – despite there being no indication on Dantz’s Web-based list of compatible devices that this “entry-level” drive isn’t supported. Express maintains separate Catalogue files that locate files within each Set, allowing you to restore anything from entire volumes right down to individual documents. The archived files are subsumed within large back-up files. These may be compressed to increase a medium’s effective capacity – which is good. But it means you can use Retrospect onlyto extract your data – which isn’t. Anyone who doesn’t want to risk forgetting to back-up data manually can tell Express to perform back-up runs automatically according to a schedule defined by the user. The system is smart enough to run even when you’ve logged out, so there’s no need to expose your documents to prying eyes simply in order to perform unattended back-ups. Desktop dealings
Retrospect Desktop builds on Express’ basic feature-set with broader back-up hardware support; the ability to back-up networked Macs (if you’ve paid extra for the necessary client software); administrator-oriented reporting and AppleScript facilities; and a finer degree of control over which files and folders need to be backed-up. Only the last of these is worth upgrading for if you aren’t on a network – though £110 more for just one feature seems excessive. Express forces you to explicitly include the folders you want to back-up – if you want to archive 20 folders out of 25, you have to add each one rather than simply exclude the five you want to ignore. Desktop takes the same approach, but at least allows you control over what it calls Selectors – essentially filters that define which files and folders should be included or excluded. This is essential for anyone who hasn’t an unlimited supply of back-up media – a handful of Zip disks, for instance – and wants to make sure that only essential items are archived. Still, it isn’t an intuitive process, and Dantz misses the obvious tricks. A list of files and folders is displayed in a tree-structure, but selections made to mark what will be backed-up aren’t remembered. Use it to stop a folder being backed-up once, and you’ll have to do the same the next time. Both Express and Desktop may run natively under OS X, but neither are true OS X products, as the default list of Selectors shows: all refer to Mac OS 9’s special folders – for example, Extensions, Scripting Additions and System Folder, Apple Menu Items – but none of their OS X equivalents, such as the Library folder. Equally, the software puts great emphasis on filtering files by their label – an OS 9 technology that didn’t make it to OS X. It would be unfair to criticize Express and Backup as OS 9 applications that just happen to run under the new operating system. Their support for OS X’s Unix elements, specifically hidden files (usually those prefixed with a full stop), and Unix’s file-permissions system (by which the operating system protects a user’s documents), shows they’re not. Dantz describes the work to support OS X as “Herculean”. Maybe, but the company could have done more to demonstrate that the OS X release is more than the interim solution it feels like. If Adobe can do it with Photoshop, Dantz can do it with Retrospect. Despite these failings, Retrospect Express and Desktop remain solid back-up tools, even if they aren’t perhaps the easiest or most intuitive Mac utilities out there. Certainly, Dantz doesn’t follow Apple’s human-interface guidelines religiously – leaving novices wondering whether ‘Forget…’ is the same as ‘Delete’ (it is) and where all the Save buttons are.
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