By Monte FergusonThe last decade has given rise to an increasingly digital lifestyle. We have more, and more of our personal lives on our computers. Email, music, photos, and digital video take up increasingly larger portions of our spacious hard drives. Precious memories available in a heartbeat. Yet poll after poll shows that less than one in four of us take any measures to safeguard those precious and unique items. Apparently most folks assume bad things happen to someone else.
But bad things do happen to good people. Itís just a matter of time, statistically speaking, until it happens to you. The good news is that by taking steps now you can prevent a lot of anguish later.
Although many people agree that backing up is important, the truth is only a very small percentage do any kind of back up. Quite a few folks might be wondering why you need to invest in a back up program. You can back up by just dragging a group of files to a disk. This method has the advantage of being easy and cheap. But it has a couple of big draw backs. The individual has to remember to do a back up. They also have to copy all of the same files each time they do a back up. Then there is the job of keeping track of which back up has which version of a file.
Retrospect takes a different approach to backing up files. It uses an archival method of backup. This means that, after the initial backup, it only adds changed/ modified files but doesnít erase the previously saved files until you tell it to do so. This means you can have multiple instances of a saved file in your backup. This can save y our bacon if a file gets corrupted. You can restore from a backup session before the corruption occurred.
Backup programs tend to use terminology that you may not be familiar with. Before we go further letís cover some basic terms.
Backup Set: A Backup Set can be a single CD-R disk or it can span many disks, tapes, or a large file on an FTP site. The Backup Set refers to the media that stores your data.
Catalog File: An index of files and folders, usually stored on your hard disk, contained in a backup set. Think of it as a glossary or inventory. It lists the contents of your back up. You never have to worry about which disk the backed up file resides. Retrospect keeps track of that and prompts you for the disk if needed.
Snapshots: This is Retrospectís way of keeping track of different versions of files. Every time you do a back up Retrospect makes a Snapshot of the source and places it in the Backup Set. Itís a like a picture of all files and folders on a volume when it was backed up.
Normal Backup: It is an Incremental backup, which saves time and media space by not copying files that already exist in a backup set. A normal backup copies only files which are new or newly modified since the last backup to the same backup set.
Recycle Backup: Clears the catalog contents (if any) of the destination backup set, so it appears no files are backed up. Then it looks for the first media member of the backup set and erases it if it is available. If the first member is not available, Retrospect uses any available new or erased disk, tape, or CD/DVD appropriate for the backup set type. All selected files and folders from the source are backed up to the backup set.
New Media Backup: Creates a new destination backup set (with a name similar to the old one) using a new or erased disk, tape, of CD/DVD. This allows the original backup set and its catalog to remain intact for long-term storage in a safe place. The new backup set catalog and the new media member (or directory) are each named with a number in sequence, such as ďOffice Net Ē and ď1-Office Net Ē respectively. Retrospect updates references to the old backup set in scripts and schedules.
How It Works
The heart of Retrospect is called the Retrospect Directory. This is the only interface to the back up process. Itís interface is really quite spartan. Youíre initially presented with only four buttons: Backup; Restore, Duplicate; and Run. Any of these buttons will perform an immediate action. But if you want to truly get into the more powerful aspects of Retrospect youíll have to learn to create a back up script.
Youíll find the tools to create Backup Scripts under the Automate button. You have two options once there. You can use the built in EasyScript or roll your own by using the Scripts button. If your needs are pretty straightforward go for the EasyScript option. But if you need to exercise any kind of control over your back up youíll want to roll your own. (NOTE: You also need to be aware that, due to security concerns under MacOS X, by default Retrospect requires an Administrator password and log in for it to run. You can modify the program to run in the background but going into the Security Preferences. I highly recommend doing just that. Otherwise you have to be present for the back up to run.) Itís at this point that Iíd recommend you check out the included tutorials. Not only do they cover the most common scenarios they also save you time setting up and troubleshooting your back up scripts. You can create as many back up scripts as you want, each with itís own conditions and exclusions.
Youíll need to pick out the type of script you want to create. Then designate the source, where the files are being backed up from, and the destination, where the files are being backed up to. You can back up to a tape drive or library, CD/DVD disc drive, FireWire or USB hard disk, or a removable disk drive such as Zip, Jaz, SuperDisk, DVD-RAM, or MO.
(NOTE: If you do not have a backup device, you can still back up to the Internet. You will need an account on an FTP server.)
Your next choice indicates which files and folders you want to back up. Retrospect, by default, backs up all files, but it also gives you many options to fine tune the back up so that it only backs up the files you want. ( You can get as in depth with this feature as you want, ie there are two More Options levels you can use to fine tune the process.) Next choice involves which Options you want to enable with this backup. Initially youíre presented with just a couple of choices but power users will note the More Options button which allows you to customize to your hearts content. Your last decision is to decide what kind of schedule, if any, to set for your back up script. You can choose to run it once a week, or once a day, only one time, or setup an interval of your choosing.
There is one last step I would suggest. Run your new script immediately. That way you can perform any tweaking of your script. After that, assuming youíve set your script to run automatically, just sit back and let Retrospect do all of the work for you.
There are a lot of things to really like about Retrospect. One of them is its speed. Retrospect is much faster than a Finder copy. It only took approximately 2 hours to back up over 50GB to a local Firewire 400 hard drive. It backs up all files the first time itís run. After that it only backs up changed files, to save space and time. The snapshot feature lets you go back in time to retrieve a previous version of a file.
The program runs in the background is very flexible about scheduling. You can also save to all kinds of destinations. The built in log function helps keep track of any errors that might have occurred during an unattended backup. The Backup Server feature allows you to back up two computers, plus the server machine. (It uses a client software program that communicates with the server without you needing to setup any kind of files sharing, mounting hard drives, etc.) Itís also smart enough to prioritize computers that havenít been backed up recently, say a freelancers laptop.
The biggest strike is that the program stores itís archives in a proprietary format. You have to navigate a text heavy tree/folder structure to find files manually. The program is not native for Intel based Macs, though it does run fine under Rosetta. (There is a feature to search through the archive for files by name.) There is a lot of power in this program but itís complicated. This is one of those programs that you spend time reading the manual. (Iíd also recommend checking out the tutorials.) The interface can be a tad too simplistic. It would be nice to have some kind of walk through to get new users up to speed. If you plan on using it as a back up server youíll want to pick the fastest computer of the bunch. Retrospect does tend to hog the processor when itís running.
When you pick a back up program, you want to make sure it has a proven track record of performance and reliability. When it comes to your data you want to make sure its safe and there when you need it. Balancing those needs is tough. Retrospect has a long and well regarded history as a back up program that meets those kinds of demands. Itís not flashy
but it is good at what it does. Itís reliable, efficient, and flexible. It is complicated but, with some forays into the manual and the tutorials, you can be up and running in minutes. To paraphrase a popular commercial: ďAmount spent on program: $129. Time spent figuring and configuring it: 30-45 minutes. Being able to retrieve a pristine copy of a file from your back up that got corrupted: PRICELESS.Ē
Posted: Friday, April 4th, 2008