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Secure File PDA Backup for Palm and Pocket PC
Posted August 2004 by By Tanker Bob

Are you a victim of the dreaded hard reset? Do you cringe at the mere thought of your battery dying? The vast majority of Palm OS users never experience these thrills, but beta testers and early adopters more than make up for the difference. Either way, it’s best to be prepared with a regular, full backup of your RAM. MDM sets itself apart in the backup market by offering a literal Plug-and-Play functionality with a combination hardware/software solution for both Palm OS and Pocket PC platforms. This sounded too good to pass up a chance to see for ourselves, so MobileTechReview.com took Secure File PDA Backup for a test drive.

The hardware part of the solution used a 64 MB Hitachi Multi-Media Card (MMC) in the package we received. This provides a wide sphere of compatibility on both Palm and PPC devices, but not the better performance of a Secure Digital card. Formatted for this function, the MMC holds 61 MB of data, of which the included software occupies 3.8 MB. That leaves 57.2 MB to hold the backup set. I tested on a Palm Tungsten|T3, which has 52 MB of user RAM. Thus the secure backup card had more than sufficient space left to backup my packed T3. Judging by the file list on the card, it supports English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese (I think), and French. Although I point out below that Backup Plus supports the new T3 and TE PIM database structures, it does not support the full 320x480 screen of the T3.

 

screen shot

 

The Palm OS backup program bundled with the card turned out to be an older version of Botzam Backup 1.1 (version 2.04 is current as of this writing). One unique feature of Botzam Backup appears in its use of plugins for both encryption and compression. The provided security uses TEA (Tiny Encryption Algorithm) encryption, a powerful yet small cryptographic routine. An RLE (Run Length Encoding) module provides the compression capability. The help file warns that the use of compression may result in a longer time to backup your data. The program automatically requires deleting the existing backup set (if it exists) any time either of these options is changed. I advise planning ahead. This software does not support multiple backup sets. Subsequent backups after the initial run are incremental, backing up only changed files to same time.

The Basic mode starts up as the default, and performs a complete backup of the RAM contents minus the a68k files under OS 5, which the system will recreate upon restore anyway. The Restore button performs a complete system restore. The context-sensitive menu system offers little customization in this mode. The context-sensitive help explains all the settings in every tab. This context-sensitivity in the menus and help provide just what the user needs to know when they need to know it—a very nice touch.

 

screen shot

 

The Selective tab brings up the opportunity to allow users to select the files to be backed up or restored. Simply tap on the dots on the left side of the display to toggle selection. The context-sensitive menu allows selecting all or none, deleting, beaming, full backup/restore, and removing orphans.

 

screen shot

 

The PIM tab offers the opportunity to backup the built-in Personal Information Manager (PIM) applications. As you can probably tell by the names in the display, the new Tungsten|T3 and TE PIM structures are supported correctly. This can be a handy way to quickly preserve large changes in your contacts or calendar during a work day. Encryption and compression will conform to the settings on the Basic tab.

Operation couldn’t be simpler. Inserting the card causes an autorun program on the card to load the backup program. The backup app executes immediately, the first time in Basic mode. The user only has to press the Backup or Restore buttons to roll. I couldn’t test the PPC version, but the backup program is called either Pocket Backup or Sprite Backup (program and directory had different names). The screen shots on the package indicate that it works in much the same way as the Palm app.

Performance came out to what one would expect on an MMC. My test backup weighed in at 555 files occupying 39,391K. I ran a full backup under each possible setting, with the results as follows:

 

Setting

Time (min:sec)

Size (K)

Left on card (MB)

Default

7:00

39,391

18.0

Encrypted

12:50

~39,391

~18.0

Compressed

9:33

37,458

19.9

 

The MMC limits the expected performance compared to an SD card. For instance, a full backup came in at 3:46 on my Panasonic SD card vice 7:00 on the MMC. RLE compression constitutes the most basic scheme, compressing only repeated characters. The net result on my mix of apps and databases proved almost negligible—about 5% compression. The encryption added far more time to the backup than the compression in my tests, but that will vary depending on your mix of apps and databases in RAM. Since the compression provided such little value, I didn’t bother to test the mix of encryption and compression.

Secure File PDA Backup furnishes a handy, easy-to-use backup solution for the Palm OS and Pocket PC. Just plug in the card and away you go with a secure backup if you enable encryption. With 57.2MB free space (or more if you delete the stuff you don’t need), it will backup just about any PDA. Covering six languages, chances are you’ll be able to read one of them. I’d steer clear of the compression, though, as it proved of negligible value. Once again, MDM has offered a useful product with wide applicability across the PDA community. There’s no excuse not to be backed up!

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