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CrashPlan+ 3.0 Adds Features, Changes Pricing

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 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.


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Comments about CrashPlan+ 3.0 Adds Features, Changes Pricing
(Comments are closed.)

Eric Tiffany  2010-12-08 06:00
And still no menu bar status item for Mac, despite many people clamoring for and the examples of many competing products (like JungleDisk).

The windoze version of Crashplan has a "tray" icon, why not Mac? Because we are still 2nd-class.
Nathan  2010-12-08 11:44
We've heard you! Menu Bar Status is in the works. Release still TBD.
Rolf Schmolling  2010-12-08 12:59
Hi Joe; you should mention that the seed-options (sending in data on a drive; restoring from a drive sent by CrashPlan) are available ONLY to US-Customers (which is a shame btw.…) this really limits the usability of CrashPlan's commercial offerings.

best regards from Germany
You can still seed and back up to spare disk space attached to a trusted friend's computer, which seems preferable to a trans-oceanic upload of tens or hundreds of gigabytes. Everything's encrypted before it leaves your computer, so your backup buddy doesn't see so much as your filenames in their logs.

The new pricing de-emphasizes it a bit, but this peer-to-peer aspect remains Crashplan's most compelling and unique offering, to my thinking. It's even available in the free version.
SkiAddict1  2010-12-13 18:07
Can someone please confirm whether CrashPlan verifies backups after they're written? I can't find anything on their website about this, and I read something in an old TidBITS that staff backups were found to be useless during a major restore.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-12-13 22:37
That's a great concern and question. I don't know how older versions (before 2.x) handled it, but CrashPlan automatically verifies backup files once a day, or on a schedule that you set. Verification, not well documented, uses a kind of signature of local data that's compared against local and remote backups; corrupted data is automatically fixed if it occurs.

The problem we had a couple of years ago with CrashPlan (and Time Machine) appears to have been resolved a while ago.

Nonetheless, Adam Engst recommends checking regularly (at least once a year) that you can restore backups without corruption or missing files or folders.
SkiAddict1  2010-12-13 23:52
OK, that's great news. However, I don't fully understand. Let's say I do a backup of file F this morning, and then I change it (the file). How can the backup be verified later on? The file is different! Surely the signature will be different, too??
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-12-14 06:27
Yes, if you don't verify that you can restore successfully, your backups could be worthless for reasons entirely unrelated to the program. For instance, we once tried to restore an Apache settings file, only to discover we'd been backing up the wrong one. CrashPlan had been doing just what we told it to do, but we'd told it to do the wrong thing.

That's why I've declared every Friday the 13th to be "International Verify Your Backups Day." :-)

But don't wait for that now - just verify your backup today.
Andy Burki  2010-12-13 23:31
I have recently come across which is an alternative web-based backup system. You also pay for storage space, but the software is free. Everything's free if you can offer cloud-storage space on your computer. I've used it for a few weeks now and like it a lot.
Manley  2010-12-14 15:38
For anyone backing up more than two computers or needing the enhanced functionality of the CrashPlan+ software, CrashPlan's Family Unlimited plan is an incredible value. However, there's a curious dead spot in CrashPlan's new pricing. If you are backing up two computers under the new CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited plan, you will be paying almost 20% more than you would if you were using a competitive service like Backblaze or Mozy (assuming you buy your backup services a year at a time). One would think that they'd want to go head-to-head with their competitors in that scenario.

Although I would describe myself as a happy CrashPlan customer, if their pricing doesn't change, I will likely jump ship at the end of my current term. The new software features are simply not compelling enough for me to justify spending all that extra money. And, not for nothing, I feel rather foolish for paying over $50 dollars for software that CrashPlan is now giving away for free. Even Apple tossed early iPhone adopters a bone when they lowered prices. I've seen nothing like that from CrashPlan.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-12-14 16:10
I spent a month testing a bunch of Mac backup software a year ago summer for Macworld, and I have to disagree about the reason to jump ship.

CrashPlan is simply the best Mac backup solution. You can read my review of 15 months ago, and as far as I've seen in the interim, none of the software I reviewed has changed enough to change opinions. My big missing piece for CrashPlan was backup sets, added in 3.0, and which I'm using just fine on my office computer.

The difference in price you're talking about is quite small. Not insignificant. But given that Backblaze and CrashPlan don't have the same featureset, it's hard to argue that they should be priced identically for every scenario.

Finally, as for CrashPlan+, contact the company. They have a variety of deals they're offering to people who paid for CrashPlan+ in the last year, and they said in the forums that anyone who bought it before January 1st who isn't satisfied with what's being offered should simply get in touch.
Manley  2010-12-15 06:48
I agree with you that the feature sets between these products are different and I didn't mean to suggest that CrashPlan was inappropriately priced. But I also believe that not everybody needs the enhanced functionality that CrashPlan is offering. A lot of those people will be looking at price as a key differentiator when deciding which service to go with.

As for my own fate, I've still got several months to go on the old plan, so I have time to make this decision. And, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not unhappy with any aspect of the service. I will also take your good advice and reach out to the company directly before I make any decisions.
Mark Townsend  2010-12-17 05:06
I took the full 4 year CP+ Family Deal and have now discovered not so much a flaw as a shortcoming in the offering.
I can back up all my family members but they all sign in with the same login details and, therefore, all users can access all other users data.
Yes, $3 a month is a good deal but my idea to extend backup support to mother, brother and sister is going to be a much harder sell with no privacy from each other and no way to stop human error messing up everyones' data.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2010-12-24 02:50
I haven't tried this, but reading through the support documentation, I think you could use the 'Private Encryption Key' option. This allows you to specify a different private key for each computer in the account. So everyone in your family could have their own private key. Just make sure no one looses their private key! (One way to make this less likely is to use a key generator so that each family member only has to remember their password. The private key can then always be re-generated from the password.)
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2010-12-23 14:28
Joe, out of interest, what is the "rare, insignificant metadata type" that CrashPlan cannot successfully backup/restore?
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-12-23 14:52
Extended attributes on symbolic links.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2010-12-24 02:20
Interesting, thanks. That is pretty obscure metadata. Are you (or anyone else) aware of instances where xattrs are used on symbolic links? Even with my concern about support for all metadata, I think I can probably live without support for this.

I've also now read up on the security details of CrashPlan, and I have to say that it's sounding very attractive. My two key concerns with network backup are privacy of information and full Mac metadata support. CrashPlan seems to comprehensively address both of these, and I'm also very impressed with the support site and information available.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2010-12-24 02:46
Reading through the details of CrashPlan+, it seems that there is one disadvantage of the new licensing model that isn't mentioned in this article. If one wants the features of CrashPlan+ (continuous backup, backup sets) but not backup to CrashPlan Central, it is no longer possible to pay for CrashPlan+ and use it forever. Yes, one can pay the old cost of $60 and get three years of 10GB online storage thrown in. But after the three years is up, the CrashPlan+ features will presumably disappear unless one pays for another subscription to CrashPlan Central.

I'm not saying that the prices or licensing model are unreasonable, just that this is a notable change. After three years, it is likely that I would be paying for an upgrade to my backup software anyway (especially if new OS features need support). But in the past I did use a version of Retrospect for more than three years without having to pay an ongoing subscription. That option is no longer available with CrashPlan+.
I'm a little late to the party, but I'm wondering if anyone can comment as to how CrashPlan interacts with encryption? For example, I've recently signed up for the CrashPlan Family option, which allows all my household machines to be backed up online to the same account. CrashPlan does NOT apparently allow any type of password protection or ACLs when it comes to these backups.

Is there a way to encrypt or otherwise obfuscate the original data on the machines so that when the various users in the house (wife & kids) open the 'Restore' tab in CrashPlan, they can't see the specific files backed up from each machine--or if they can see the files, at least can be prevented from restoring them to their own machines?

I'm wondering if something like PGP's WDE or SecureDoc would help. What about encrypted images--managed with something like Knox?