Info about nearly 100 Mac backup apps and a Retrospect 6.x primer!
by Joe Kissell
Welcome! If you want to compare features in Mac backup apps or get help with Retrospect 6.x, you are in the right place. The content here is free to all, but it is associated with a commerical ebook, written by Joe Kissell and published by TidBITS Publishing Inc. The ebook helps you figure out your best strategy for making backups in Mac OS X, and then it covers all the details of set up, testing, maintenance, and restoration.
There are nearly 100 Mac OS X programs one can use to back up a hard disk. On an almost daily basis, I find updates and entirely new backup programs, and developers seem intent on inventing entirely new ways of approaching the age-old problem of keeping your data safe. In Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, I go into great detail about developing a backup strategy, selecting media, setting up a backup system, and recovering data when the need arises. And I also discuss the criteria you should consider when choosing backup software. But there’s no way I could keep the book even approximately up to date with details of every Mac backup program, so instead I’ve listed them in this online appendix. My intention is to update it regularly so that it will be a reasonably comprehensive and reliable resource.
In this section, you'll find interesting features that didn’t fit in any of the other categories, but which may be extremely important to you, depending on your needs: compression, encryption, scheduling, and the like. For a description of what a feature means, click any column heading.
Note: The top portion of the table lists programs that offer bootable duplicates, versioned backups, or both. The bottom portion of the table lists other backup, synchronization, and file copying tools. Enterprise-grade software is not shown here.
Last updated: October 2, 2012
|Restore Feature||Scheduling||Can Wake Up/Turn On Mac||Scanning Aid||Metadata Support||Notes|
|[a] Only for disk images. (In general, any backup program that can use Finder-mounted disk images can use compressed and/or encrypted images.)|
|Arq 2.8.2||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/hour||A+|
|Backblaze 2.0.7||Yes||see note||Automatic on file change, once per day, or manual||Dynamically detects changed files||C||To restore files, you can download a Zip file or request a DVD or hard drive with your data. In all cases, though, you must manually put files back where they belong.|
|Backup Manager Pro 1.0.2||[a]||[a]||Yes||min once/min||Yes||C|
|Backuplist+ 8.0.4||Yes||min once/day||A+|
|BackupRight Pro||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||C||Can restore files from a Web browser. Unable to copy some of the metadata test files.|
|BounceBack Professional 8.2||Yes||min once/day||Unable to test|
|BRU Producer’s Edition 3.0||Yes||Yes||min once/hour||A|
|bruCLONE 1.3.0||None||Unable to test|
|Carbon Copy Cloner 3.5.1||[a]||min once/hour||Yes||A+|
|ChronoSync 4.3.4||Limited||min once/min||wake only||A|
|Clone X 4.2.2||Yes||None||C|
|CopyCatX 5.1||No (see note)||None||Unable to test|
|CrashPlan 3.2.1||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||A|
|CrashPlan+ 3.2.1||Yes||Yes||Yes||Automatic; min once/minute||Dynamically detects changed files||A|
|Data Backup 3.1.3||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/min||Yes||C|
|Déjà Vu 4.2||min once/day||C|
|Depositit||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/hour||Unable to test|
|DiskTools Pro||Yes||Unable to test|
|Dmailer Backup||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||Not tested|
|Dolly Clone||min once/hour||Not tested|
|Dropbox 1.5.10||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||C|
|DV Backup Standard 1.4.5||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Unable to test||Repeatedly crashed during metadata testing.|
|ElephantDesktop 4.8.2||Yes||Automatic on file change||Not tested|
|FoldersSynchronizer X 4.1||min once/min||C|
|ForeverSave 1.1.5||Yes||Automatic when switching applications, or min once/second||Not tested|
|Get Backup Pro 2.5||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||This version not tested; version 2.3.2: B|
|IBackup for Mac 2.0.0||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change or min once/hour||C (see note)||Metadata score based on results for IDrive, which uses the same software.|
|IDrive Online Backup 2.0.0||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change or min once/hour||C|
|Instant Backup 1.7.1||Yes||Yes||A+|
|Intego Backup Express 1.2||[a]||[a]||Yes||min once/min||Not tested|
|Jungle Disk 3.16||Yes||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change or min once/5 min||wake only||Dynamically detects changed files||A+|
|MacTuneUp||Unable to test|
|Memeo Backup 2.5.120||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||C|
|Memopal 1.0||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||C|
|MozyHome 126.96.36.1996||Yes||Yes||Yes||Automatic after file change when computer is idle, and/or scheduled, min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||C||Unable to copy some of the metadata test files.|
|Norton Online Backup||Yes||Yes||Yes||?||?||Not tested|
|NTI Shadow 188.8.131.52||Automatic on file change, or min once/min||Dynamically detects changed files||This version not tested; version 4.x: C|
|Offsite Backup Solutions||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||C||Unable to copy some of the metadata test files.|
|Parachute 1.1||min once/hour||Not tested|
|Personal Backup 10.6.5 (part of Internet Security Barrier X6)||[a]||[a]||Yes||min once/min||Yes||B|
|Prolifix||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||C||Unable to copy some of the metadata test files.|
|QRecall 1.2.1||Yes||Yes||min once/min||Yes||Uses FSEvents||A|
(part of SpeedTools Utilities 3 Pro)
|[a]||[a]||min once/day||Unable to test||No demo version available.|
|Retrospect Desktop 9.0.2||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/hour; schedule-
free operation requires use of Proactive Backup feature
|Rhinoback 184.108.40.206||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||Unable to test|
|RipCord 1.0b15c10||Yes||min once/day||Not tested|
|SilverKeeper 2.0.2||min once/day||wake||B|
|SmartBackup 3.3||Yes||Yes||min once/day (see note)||B||Uses iCal for scheduling.|
|SpiderOak 4.7.9948||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||C||Also lets you selectively and securely share items you’ve backed up.|
|Stellar Drive Clone||Yes||None||Not tested|
|SugarSync 1.9.71||Yes||Yes||Automatic on file change||Dynamically detects changed files||C|
|Super Flexible File Synchronizer
Standard Edition 5.67
|Yes||Automatic on file change or min once/sec||Dynamically detects changed files||A|
|Super Flexible File Synchronizer
Professional Edition 5.67
|SuperDuper 2.7||[a]||[a]||min once/min||Scans and copies in a single pass||A+|
|Sync!Sync!Sync! 5.0.2||Yes||min once/day||C|
|Synchronize Pro X 6.5.1||Automatic on file change, or min once/min||Yes||Optionally uses FSEvents||B|
|Synk Standard 7.0.12||Limited||Live, continuous sync, or min once/hour||Uses FSEvents||B|
|Synk Pro 7.0.12||Limited||Live, continuous sync, or min once/hour||Uses FSEvents||B|
|TechTool Pro 6.0.4||[a]||None||Not tested|
|Time Machine||10.7 only||Automatic; min once/hour||Uses FSEvents||B|
|Tri-Backup 6.3.0||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/min||C|
|Tri-Backup Pro 6.3.0||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/min||C|
|Warehouse 1.1||min once/hour||Not tested|
|Wuala 1.0 ("Hottingen")||Yes||Live, continuous sync, or min once/hour||Not tested|
Synchronization and Copying Products
|Carbonite 1.1.0||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Dynamically detects changed files||C|
|Compare Folders 3.4.3||Limited||None||Not tested|
|DV Backup Lite 1.4.4||Yes||Yes||None||Unable to test|
|EasyRsync 0.1||min once/day||C|
|FilesAnywhere (FA Sync 220.127.116.11)||min once/hour||C|
|FileSync 2.2||min once/minute||Unable to test|
|Folder Backup 3.1||None||A+|
|Get Backup Freeware 2.5||Yes||Limited||min once/day||B|
|GoodSync for Mac 18.104.22.168||min once/min||pre-analyzes using timestamps||Not tested|
|iBackup 2011 (7.4)||Yes||Yes||min once/day||A|
|iMsafe 2.0||min once/day||C|
|LaCie 1-Click Backup 1.2.1||None||C|
|MagicMirror 1.41||None||Unable to test|
|Snap Backup 4.4||None||Unable to test|
|StuffIt Archive Manager 14.0.0
(part of StuffIt Deluxe)
|Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Unable to test||Unable to copy some of the metadata test files.|
|Synchronize X Plus 3.9.1||None||C|
|Time Warp||Yes||Yes||min once/day||Not tested|
|Twin 1.5.1||Yes||Yes||Yes||min once/hour||Unable to test|
|Volume Snapshot for Mac OS X||Not tested|
Compression: When a backup application compresses your files, they take up less room on your storage media—usually a good thing, as that reduces your costs and lets you store backups for longer periods of time before having to reuse your media. Compression is even more important when data is traveling over the Internet, because compressed data takes less time to send, and online storage costs are often much higher than the cost of local media. On the other hand, compressing files taxes your computer’s CPU, RAM, and disk, and having compressed files may add an extra complication when it comes time to restore data.
Encryption: As long as your backup media is under your physical control, encryption isn’t especially important. But if you store backup media offsite in any fashion, or if anyone else (a thief, say, or a nosy coworker) can get access to your backups, you might prefer that they not be able to see all your data. Some backup software can encrypt all the data on your backup media so that you won’t risk your private information falling into the wrong hands.
Restore Feature: A restore feature simply means that, with a button click or menu command, you can instruct your backup program to return files that you previously backed up to their original location (or better yet, another location). Quite a few programs expect you to simply switch the “source” and “destination” and, essentially, redo your backup. That’s not too bad when you’re restoring all your files or just a single file, but what if you’re restoring a bunch of files from different folders all at once? Wouldn’t you like your backup software to be smart enough to put them all back where they belong, and save you the tedium of manually configuring everything? That’s why a restore feature is a good idea. It’s most important with backup programs that store multiple versions of your files, because otherwise, sifting through a lot of different file versions by hand is going to be a real pain.
Scheduling: Traditionally, most backup programs have used a fixed schedule: you set a time (once a day, twice a week, or whatever—maybe in the middle of the night) and the software does its thing only at that time. For software that uses a fixed schedule, this column lists the most frequent option available (such as once per hour or once per day). Increasingly, though, backup programs offer some form of automatic operation (either by default or as an option), such as backing up files as soon as they change or running in the background every hour. In general, if a program can run once an hour or more frequently and it offers some sort of scanning aid (see just ahead) so that it needn’t do a full scan with each run, you can think of it as being effectively schedule-free. On the other hand, some backup programs don’t support any kind of scheduling—they run only when you activate them manually.
Can Wake Up/Turn On Computer: For backup software that runs on a fixed schedule (once a day, say), it’s handy for it to be able to wake up your computer if it happens to be asleep then, or even turn it on if it’s off. These capabilities, though rare, save you from worrying that a schedule won’t run properly because your computer didn’t happen to be on or awake at the right time.
Scanning Aid: Some programs use Mac OS X’s FSEvents (file system events) framework to find out almost instantly which files have changed since their last run—dramatically reducing the time necessary to scan all your files manually each time your backups run and, in some cases, enabling continuous, real-time backups as your files change. A number of programs watch your file system for changes (“Dynamically detects changed files”) but don’t publicize whether they use FSEvents to do so. And some backup software scans and copies in a single pass, arguably a more efficient approach (depending on your needs) than scanning all your files and then making another full pass to copy them.
Metadata Support: Even though a file may appear to copy correctly, some important information about the file may be missing or incorrect—things like ownership, permissions, modification date, Finder flags, access control lists, and many others (collectively known as “metadata”). Theoretically, backup software should copy every piece of metadata perfectly, though in practice, many types of metadata are so insignificant or seldom used that no harm is done if they’re missing in your backups. Faithful copying of metadata is most crucial when making a bootable duplicate.
I used a tool called Backup Bouncer to test metadata support for as many of these programs as I could. Backup Bouncer checks a great many attributes (though not every kind of metadata), but it divides its results according to how significant the developer feels each one is: “critical,” “important,” and “other.” Instead of listing all the gory details here, I’ve used the Backup Bouncer results to assign a “grade,” as follows:
Although metadata is in some cases very important, I urge you to take these test results (especially the “C” grade) with a grain of salt, for two reasons. First, because of the way Backup Bouncer groups its results, a fairly insignificant problem can sometimes result in a failed test in a “critical” category. (For example, if a single file were copied with an incorrect Finder label, that would result in a failing grade for the “critical” Finder Flags test, though in real life such an error might not even be noticed, let alone cause any problems.) And second, depending on the way a given backup program is designed and used, it may be irrelevant that certain attributes (such as file ownership) aren’t always copied correctly. And the difference between an “A+” and an “A” is effectively meaningless. So basically: don’t freak if your favorite program gets a less-than-perfect score—but do consider contacting its developer to suggest that they look into using Backup Bouncer to improve its metadata support in the future.
Where you see “Unable to test” in this column, it could mean any of several things: the software may not be compatible with the version of Mac OS X on my test machine; it may be designed in such a way that it can’t work with Backup Bouncer’s test suite; or I may not have had access to a version of the program suitable for testing.