Are there no backup solutions?

Page Last Revised: Friday, April 28, 2006 01:23 PM


In the "good old days" of real computers and real computer software, as opposed to overpriced toys and programs written by morons with no programming abilities, we had reliable methods of backing up and restoring our computer systems, as well as archiving our data off-line.

All this has been lost in the the past few years of "rapid advancements" in computer technology.

We backed up our disks to magnetic tape, and stored the tape in a fireproof vault, either on the company premises, or at a remote location. The method was simple, fast, and reliable. When we wanted to back-up the entire system to tape, we entered a simple command such as "BACKUP SYSTEM TAPE", loaded one or more magnetic tapes when prompted to do so, labeled them, and placed them in the vault. When we wanted to back-up a single file, folder, or group of files or folders, we could specify something as simple as "BACKUP (filename1, filename2, ...) TAPE", or perhaps "BACKUP *file_list_file TAPE". Differential, incremental, and date-range-driven backups were equally easy to perform.

Restoration was equally simple. One simply loaded the tape containing the desired file(s), and entered a command such as "RESTORE TAPE SYSTEM (or file list)".

In the initial days of the PC, such a backup program was provided by Microsoft, although (in typical billgrates fashion) it was made more cumbersome and less powerful than the technology that had been in use for years. And it was only capable of backing up to floppy disks. A number of private vendors, such as Fastback, PC Tools, and Norton, provided improved backup programs which provided a number of useful features omitted by the MS-DOS Backup facility, such as catalogues of the backup sets, and support for various tape media. All of these excellent products have been purchased and shelved by today's "software giants".

Hardware compatibility was no problem either. Although there were several "standard" recording formats, most tape drives and their software were designed to be able to read all the various formats without error. When new technology produced new tape drives (e.g. when 7-track tapes were replaced by 9-tracks), one could either retain a 7-track tape drive for all eternity, or copy the library of 7-track tapes to 9-track tapes, and sell the 7-tracks to someone who had not yet upgraded. Similarly, when 1600BPI technology was replaced by 6250BPI tapes, the new drives could read and write to either type of tape.

The software did not care what type of media was used, 7 or 9 track, 800, 1600, 6250BPI. It wrote files to the tape which could be read by any program, on any computer with the appropriate tape drive installed.

However, in the past ten years, all previous technology and compatibility has been discarded by a hardware and "software" industry that defines quality by advertising slogans, purchases favorable product reviews and "awards" in the computer media, and doesn't consider compatibility a desireable, necessary or obtainable trait.

The backup program provided with Windows 95 was a subset of a very poorly-written program produced by Cheyenne Systems, later purchased by Computer Associates. It didn't support most common backup media, it crashed frequently, it couldn't determine the lastest version of a file (opting instead to select the oldest version). In short, "it doesn't work worth a damn, and is no bloody use to anyone." The retail version of the program shares all the faults of the bundled version, although it does purport to "support" more varieties of backup media, compensating for this feature with the addition of even more flaws. A more "specialized" subset of this program was also supplied with various HP Colorado tape drives as "Colorado Backup", as well as with the drives of a number of other venders.

The backup program supplied with Windows 98 is a subset of an even more poorly-written program (Backup Executive Desktop 98) produced by Seagate Software (now ironically titled Veritas Software). This program crashes frequently, fails to back-up about 15 % of the most important system files (because Seagate can't figure out how to restore them), has NO documentation (although Veritas does offer at additional cost some poorly written, inaccurate, documentation that was produced for a previous release), is not Y2K compatible, and has more bugs than a Saudi Arabian camel. Additionally there is absolutely NO technical support (by any reasonable definition). Unfortunately, Seagate/Veritas is also the author of the "specialized" backup software now supplied with the drives of virtually every backup media manufacturer, all of which are based on a subset of BED98, with all of its flaws, and a few added bugs for good measure. Seagate purchased the rights to all the other (far superior) backup software that was once on the market, and shelved both the products and their technology.

The "Catch-22" is that the backup media manufacturers refuse to divulge their device specifications (presumably because of concerns related to copyright and "trade secret" infringement). So, it is impossible for someone else to write a decent backup program that will function with anything but a standard Windoze device (i.e. floppy or hard drive). And, of course, the computer media continues to give Veritas wonderful reviews (the text of which is obviously written by Veritas) in exchange for their advertising revenue.

Absolutely Not Recommended:
Tape drives: Sony, Iomega Ditto,
HP Colorado, or Seagate
Removable disk drives:
Castlewood "Orb"
Backup Software: Any Seagate/Veritas, Cheyenne, Computer Associates, or NovaStore software product,

The solution?
There does not appear to be any product currently on the market that will backup and properly restore your computer system. There are a number of fairly complicated work-arounds, in combination with or in exclusion of the aforementioned products. There are a number of shareware products, including PKZIP, which will do a better job of backup and restore than the Seagate/Veritas (monopoly) product, but they are not without their own problems and limitations. Each individual (or company) will have to evaluate the available options and the trade-offs involved, and make their own decisions.

One thing is certain: As long as companies can continue to sell seriously flawed products to a gullible public, there will not be an improvement in product quality, despite such claims in paid advertisements and media "reviews". When consumers stop tolerating such deceptions, and demand that the products they purchase actually perform as represented, things will improve. We may even achieve the blissful status of days gone-by, i.e. well designed software that actually works and performs a useful function without crashing, locking up the system, or requiring months of wrestling with expensive and incompetent "technical support"!