Backup programs

Tips & Hints

Backup programs

1 October 2007

Choosing a backup program is as important as choosing the right backup hardware. Here's our rundown of some of the options available.

It's often said there's only one certainty in computing and that is you will lose data. We've covered the types of backup hardware available, but we haven't covered the programs to do it with. There's a massive number of backup programs out there. Getting the right program is essential because the easier it is for you to backup, the more likely you are to do it.

You need a backup that is reliable and easy to use. The better commercial ones have automated scheduling where you tell it when to back up and off it goes. Some of the basic ones either aren't easily scheduled or only work manually.

Built in backup programs


NTBackup is the basic Windows XP back up tool. As the name implies it's been around since the days of Windows NT. It's a very basic tool that works well and will backup your entire system, including your email, address books and system settings if you have the space on your external drive. If you follow the wizards you can set up the program to run at designated times.

The backup utility is built into Windows NT, 2000 and XP Professional. If you are using Windows XP Home, you have to install it from the Windows CD-ROM. Sadly, backup programs in other versions of Windows aren't compatible with this including, unbelieveably, Windows Vista.

Vista Backup

Windows Vista has a different backup system which is sadly incompatible with the older backup programs. It is only designed to backup the entire hard drive and doesn't have a great deal of flexibility. We think the old NT Backup is better.

Vista Home Basic and Home Premium do not come with the backup program which is another reason to avoid these products. We rant about there being too many versions of Vista on the market at our Cranky Tech blog.

Free Backup programs

Because backup is so fundamental to computing there's a lot of free backup tools available. It's worthwhile experimenting with some to see if they work for you. A search on "backup" at Tucows and finds over a thousand different choices, a couple we like include;

Synchback SE

Synchback SE is a nice little free utility which is good for backing up to external drives. The interface is a bit clunky and scheduling is difficult. We recommend it for power users.


Microsoft's Synctoy is a great little backup utility. It's simple to setup but can't be scheduled (we suspect there is a way, but it's too complex to explain). This is also a very good tool for synchronising laptop computers with desktops for home business users.

Silver Keeper

Backup for Mac users is a pain. Apple chose not to include a backup as standard in OSX and steer users towards the service as part of a .mac subscription. Luckily the external storage manufacturer Lacie has their free Silverkeeper software.

Commercial Backup programs

There's no shortage of backup programs to that will do a good job in return for you shelling out a lot of money. Many of them are extremely complex to use and we'd recommend getting hold of a trial version to experiment with before buying it. You may also find a commercial backup program has been included with your backup hardware.

Acronis True Image

Acronis is the upstart in the backup and data imaging industry and True Image is their backup and imaging program. It's fairly simple to setup and use. We would recommend using this with a very big external drive as the standard settings will make a copy of your hard drive.

Symantec Backup Exec

Backup Exec is probably the widest used commercial backup program. Like all programs bought out by Symantec it's become bloated and buggy but it still sets the standard. The pricing usually only attracts professionals and larger businesses.

Offsite Backup

We're not a great fan of backup services. Relying on the Internet is risky and the amounts of data required mean you will be constantly be exceeding monthly allowances. This means either higher bills or slower Internet access.

There's also a question of recovery times, retreiving your entire system can be very slow over the Internet. The fact many online backups are incremental, that is only files that have changed since the last backup, means it takes a long time to restore an entire system. You also have to be sure the right things are being backed up.

The benefit of offsite backup is that it is safely away from your computer so in the case of a fire, flood or theft your data can be retreived Generally we only recommend offsite backup to compliment other onsite strategies.

Next week, we'll look at how to protect your backups.
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