When I initially wrote up my recommendation to buy CrashPlan+ as a gift (see “TidBITS Gift Guide 2010,” 6 December 2010), I checked the CrashPlan Web site to confirm the software’s price—$59.99. But a few days later, as we were preparing the article for publication, I noticed that the product had disappeared entirely from CrashPlan’s online store. When I wrote to Code 42 Software to find out what was up, I learned the company was just hours away from releasing an entirely revamped CrashPlan+. The new and improved product, CrashPlan+ 3.0, is now available, and for most people it will provide significantly more features at a lower overall cost (but read on for some qualifications).
By way of background, CrashPlan is backup software that runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You can use it to back up to a local hard drive, just like most other backup programs; and as with competitors such as Mozy and Backblaze, you can also send your files to secure, cloud-based storage for a modest monthly or yearly fee. However, CrashPlan’s most distinctive feature has always been that you can also back up your files to any other computer on the Internet that’s running the CrashPlan software and has granted you permission—that could be another computer in your home or office, or a friend’s computer around the world. The basic version of CrashPlan was, and still is, completely free.
Previously, the company had two main paid offerings for consumers. First was the CrashPlan+ software; that $60 investment got you continuous (rather than once-daily) backups and stronger encryption. Separately, you could—with either version of the software—pay for CrashPlan Central, the company’s online storage service. Prices varied depending on whether you were backing up just one computer or all computers in a household, and decreased for purchases of multi-year subscriptions, but on the whole worked out to be a bit cheaper than most competitors.
With the new announcement, CrashPlan+ and the CrashPlan Central storage service have essentially merged. That is, rather than selling CrashPlan+ as standalone software, it’s now included free with any subscription to the online storage service (which now bears the name CrashPlan+ instead of CrashPlan Central). At first, I was a bit put off by this news—even though I have a multi-year family subscription to CrashPlan Central myself, I know a number of people who want the continuous backup feature of CrashPlan+ but not the company’s online storage, so for them it seemed that this would amount to forcing a purchase of a service they wouldn’t use.
In reality, the facts are much more benign, as well as more interesting. Because the range of subscription options has broadened and the CrashPlan+ software comes free with all of them, you can actually get the software for considerably less money than before—as little as $1.46 per month (with the purchase of a four-year, 10 GB plan). So, to make an apples-to-apples comparison, for the same $59.99 you would have paid previously just for the software, you now get the software, three years of online storage for up to 10 GB of data (which you can use or not, as you prefer), and any upgrades to the software that appear during that time—previously, some CrashPlan+ upgrades were paid. You might pay a bit more or less depending on what options you want, but on the whole you’re most likely saving money.
What’s that, you say—a 10 GB plan? Before the recent announcement, all CrashPlan Central subscriptions were for an unlimited amount of data—either from a single computer or multiple computers, depending on which plan you chose. The unlimited options are still offered, but are joined by a 10 GB plan for people with tight budgets, who don’t expect to use the online storage, or who want to back up only a small subset of their files online.
And that in turn leads me to the biggest new feature in CrashPlan+, backup sets. Previously, although you could back up to as many different destinations as you wanted, you had to back up the same set of files to each. Now, you can pick and choose. For example, back up every last file on your disk to a local FireWire hard drive, back up your home folder to another Mac on your network, and back up just your most crucial documents to CrashPlan+’s cloud storage. In addition to choosing which files are backed up where, you can also manage backup schedules for each set separately.
For those who do plan to back up lots of data online, the Individual Unlimited and Family Unlimited accounts offer attractive prices—they’ve increased a bit, but they now include the CrashPlan+ features, which formerly required a separate software purchase for each computer you wanted to back up. The Individual Unlimited plans let you back up as much data as you want from a single computer; the Family Unlimited plans apply to all the computers in a household. As with the 10 GB plans, you can pay month-to-month, but you get deep discounts if you pay for one or more years at a time, with discounts increasing along with the subscription period. For example, the Family Unlimited plan costs $12 per month, but you can buy a full year for $119.99, the equivalent of $10 per month; pay for four years up front and it costs only $287.99 ($6 per month—half the month-to-month rate). (You can find full details on all the pricing options at the CrashPlan Store.)
Although the merger of CrashPlan+ with CrashPlan Central and the addition of backup sets are the biggest news in CrashPlan+ 3, several other significant changes are worth mentioning:
You can now easily reconnect a backup archive with a given computer. Previously, if you replaced your hard drive or migrated to a new computer, even if all the data was the same—for example, copied from a bootable duplicate—CrashPlan tried to restart your backups from scratch, and only an obscure, awkward procedure could enable you to tell the software, “Hey! This is the same data! Just connect this “new” machine to the same archive!” Now it takes just a few clicks.
You can limit backups to certain days of the week, and can specify with greater granularity when scheduled backups should happen.
More Mac metadata is handled correctly—in my tests, all but one rare, insignificant metadata type restored perfectly.
A long list of other features, interface changes, and bug fixes can be found in the release notes.
If you had the previous version of CrashPlan or CrashPlan+ installed, it should already have been updated to version 3.0 automatically (or it will be when it next activates). If you were a CrashPlan Central subscriber—whether or not you used CrashPlan+—you get all the new features automatically, with no price increases until the period for which you’ve already paid elapses. Those who want to switch their accounts to one of the new plans, or who had a CrashPlan+ license but no CrashPlan Central subscription, can get various deals on upgrades depending on exactly what they’re moving from and to; customers are invited to contact email@example.com for details.
CrashPlan 3.0 (a single application that includes both the free, feature-limited version and full CrashPlan+ functionality for those with paid subscriptions) is a 13.5 MB download.