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BackupBuddy for Palm OS and Windows 2.0
Posted September 2004 by Tanker Bob

Palm OS developers have provided literally thousands of great options and enhancements for our devices. The best of these generally make someone’s “Essential” list at some point in time. One program perches atop Tanker Bob’s Essential list and has since his very first PDA— BlueNomad’s BackupBuddy. No matter what happens to your PDA, BackupBuddy can have you up and running in minutes, even on a replacement device in the event of total destruction. No cliché intended—I cannot begin to count the number of times that BackupBuddy saved my bacon. When BlueNomad released this new version, I jumped right in without reservation.

 

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BlueNomad created this new version from scratch, as a quick look will verify. Instead of being file based and essentially only being able to reconstruct the last backup, the new version uses a standard database approach to the backup process much like most PC and network backup programs. This allows the user to recreate a previous configuration on their PDA in case a software installation produced a currently corrupt system. Like Windows XP, you can return to specific checkpoints set before major changes if things don’t work out as planned. This ZoomBack feature provides the powerful capability to restore your PDA to an earlier state even if it has not been hard reset. BackupBuddy presents a list of files to be overwritten and/or removed for your approval before proceeding. Built-in PIM databases will not be overwritten by default, as BackupBuddy assumes that you only want to lose changes you've made to them since the backup you chose. This can be overridden, though.

The main screen lists all files from the PDA’s RAM along with its type, creator, size, status, and what will happen to each file at the next backup. You can change what will happen to individual or groups of files during backup or ZoomBack by selecting them in this window and either double-clicking them or clicking on the Change Action button at the bottom. BB2 excludes all a68k files and the built-in Palm PIM databases automatically, as the latter back up to their dedicated databases on the desktop anyway. Most users will do the bulk of their business from this screen. By selecting the appropriate backup from the list box at the top, you can restore much earlier versions of files.

Another nifty feature subtly hides in the Restore Application button. Using this, not only will the application itself be restored, but its databases as well. I assume the BB2 uses the CreatorID to determine what belongs to whom. As such, it won’t completely restore programs that store their data under a different CreatorID (neither will any other program). If the user chooses Restore DB, then individual files will be restored without consideration for their associated files.

 

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Behind reliability, flexibility distinguishes a good backup program. You can set all aspects of the backup process from one screen. Backup periodicity may be scheduled; backups may be scheduled to occur automatically at a certain time; maximum number of backups saved and log content specified; and whether to sync the PDA’s clock to your desktop’s time.

Specific files and folders on the card may be excluded from here. The defaults appear in the illustration. Not syncing the MP3s and Palm/Backup folder saves a huge amount of time on the initial HotSync. Choosing to backup the memory card here will save you from having to check it every time during the actual HotSync, but individual may have reasons not to do this every time as it can add considerable time to the HotSync. I'll give you another good reason to consider at the end of the review.

 

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Since the totality of the backup configuration resides in the main program, the conduit itself represents pure simplicity. With apologies to the great bard: To backup or not to backup, that is the only question. In case you've changed your mind about a setting, you can always launch the main program from the conduit window. Personally, I always backup so I set and forget this one.

 

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While running, BackBuddy keeps you informed of its progress through a new display window. Palm’s HotSync won’t win any speed contests, and BackupBuddy must live within this context. Therefore, expect card backups especially to take a while. This time may be decreased by excluding files that never change.

All the fancy database features of BackupBuddy 2.0 apply only to your RAM files. Backups of your card execute in much the same way as previous versions of BackupBuddy. Clicking on the Card Backups button on the main screen brings up Windows Explorer with the card’s root directory active. The Palm OS conduit system doesn't support transferring files from the PC to anywhere on the card except the /Palm/Launcher directory. If you want to restore your card, you'll need a card reader or a program like Softick’s excellent CardExport.

BackupBuddy 2.0 comes with BackupBuddyVFS:Lite, which you can use to backup your PDA RAM to your memory card. The Lite version works well but only allows full backup/restore of your entire RAM. The full version (currently 2.15) allows the user to include/exclude individual files from backups and restores, supports the encryption of data files, and can be scheduled to run automatically. I set the full version to run automatically every morning before I wake up.

I must comment on the outstanding new manual. I'm not a big manual reader, and that's a major understatement. However, this one reads easily and Denny Atkin packed it with great tips. It spans only 27 pages, so do yourself a favor and devour it early in your BackupBuddy 2.0 experience.

So, how does BackupBuddy 2.0 work? In general, very well. The extra flexibility that comes with the new database approach doesn't cost much in terms of performance, and brings outstanding power and flexibility to the user. The ability to recover easily from a bad or buggy software installation or upgrade simplifies the novice user’s experience. Previously, users had to manually delete what they thought might be the offending files from the Backup directory on the PC when restoring. Now, the user just uses ZoomBack to a backup point prior to the problem appearing and all proceeds smoothly. I welcome this ease-of-use improvement even as a power user. I personally wouldn't be without BackupBuddy.

Now for the bad news. I upgraded to and tested version 2.0.14, the initial release. During normal use, I discovered a serious flaw in the card backup routine. I noticed that a large number of my card files were backing up every HotSync, and some are quite large (>25 MB)! Some investigation indicated that the card backup routine doesn't handle file names longer than ~21 characters properly, nor directories more than three deep in a tree. I believe that this causes BackupBuddy to not recognize them as already backed up. It could also potentially lead to files not being backed up at all depending on the exact failure mode. Version 1.54 of BackupBuddy did not exhibit this problem. I contacted BlueNomad with this information and they are investigating, but as of this writing the problem remains. If card backups are important to you, check the BB2 version number and update history to ensure this bug has been squashed before proceeding. This problem doesn't appear to affect RAM backups.

Unrelated to BackupBuddy 2.0 itself, you may also encounter problems on initial install if you have a moderately complex USB configuration and use USB HotSync. I have a USB 2.0 card and USB 1.1 ports built-in to my WinXP Pro box with a number of USB devices connected. After installing the upgrade, I completely lost the ability to HotSync. I regained it by disconnecting the USB cradle, cycling the power on my PC, and then reconnecting the cradle after WinXP Pro completely loaded my configuration. After some troubleshooting, it seems that my USB BlueTooth setup may have been at the root of the problem. This proves once again that Mr. Gates’ Plug n' Play is really Plug n’ Pray. This wasn’t BackupBuddy 2.0's fault, but you need to be aware of the possibility of USB conflicts and how to recover from them.

Since BackupBuddy 2.0 represents a complete rewrite of the program, BlueNomad charges for the upgrade. The upgrade from 1.54 to 2.0 runs $14.95 until July 8th, about half of the full registration price of $29.95. Personally, if I were buying from scratch, I’d go with the BackupBuddy 2.0 and BackupBuddyVFS 2.15 bundle for $34.95. In my extensive experience with information technology, including PDAs, I've learned that if you don’t invest in a good backup system, there will come a day when you will wish you had—at any price.

Note: If you're interested in backup up to and SD card rather than a PC, check out our review of BackupBuddyVFS Professional 3.

 

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