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