Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Copyright 1991 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
1400 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 1
Berkeley, CA 94709
415/849-0372 (tech support)
9 Penguins out of a possible 10
Summary: -- Retrospect is possibly the most powerful backup and archiving program available for the Mac. It is relatively easy to set up, and once set up, a breeze to use. Powerful features like custom file selectors, a flexible calendar for automated backup, numerous views of the file listing, and the ability to work with many popular backup devices add to its appeal. A separate add-on, Retrospect Remote, provides powerful network backup capabilities for networks that have no file sharing software already in use. I highly recommend Retrospect, especially for networks and for people who like to have a lot of control over what gets backed up.
User Evaluation: (on a scale of 0 to 10)
Number of responses: 15
Ease of installation: 9
Ease of learning: 7
Ease of use: 8
Power & usefulness: 9
Technical support: 8
Overall evaluation: 9
Hardware Requirements: -- Retrospect works fine on any Mac with a minimum of 1 MB of RAM. It will be slow on the older Macs, though, and prefers 2 MB or more under System 6. Under System 7, 2 MB is the minimum, and Retrospect will probably run much faster with 4 MB or more. Retrospect supports a large number of tape drives and DAT drives, as well as removable hard drives and optical cartridge drives. Call Dantz if you want to check on a specific device.
Price and Availability: -- Retrospect is widely available from dealers and mail order firms, and MacConnection sells it for $148. Retrospect Remote (with 10 users) costs $265 and an additional Remote 10 Pack costs $148. (Note that we quote the MacConnection price in recognition of its industry-leading efforts to use ecologically-conscious packaging and its overall excellent service.)
Adam C. Engst, TidBITS Editor
One word on Retrospect 1.3 - powerful. My impression of Retrospect after using it for a while is that it can handle anything you throw at it terms of backup conditions. It may not be the fastest (though I don't know what is, offhand) and it may not have the best interface (though it's pretty good), but as far as features go, nothing tops Retrospect.
Two words on backups - do them. I know you don't do them as often as you should. You can't hide secrets like that very well. Unfortunately, it isn't usually a good time to tell that to people who have just lost everything on a hard disk. I've observed that people often consider a hard disk a member of the family and view its passing with similar grief.
Three words on archives - think about them. Yeah, I know you don't think that you will ever need that stupid file again, but my mother works as an archivist and she says that you will. How's that for citing an expert? Seriously, an archive helps to clear up disk space on your tiny (or so it seems most of the time) hard drive without losing the files for good. Besides, even if you truly never want to see the file again, you never can tell when your supervisor will - being unpredictable is often part of being a supervisor.
Those three paragraphs don't begin to do Retrospect justice, but they should give you an idea of what Retrospect is about. It is a true archiving program that now has options to do "plain old backups and restores." Retrospect has an incredibly powerful file selection mechanism and remembers what you have done in the past. It has good compression capabilities that can reduce the size of your archive by 50% or more and can run automatically in the background. What more could one ask for, other than a backup administrator to make sure everything runs correctly?
Retrospect is a hard program to pin down when it comes to usage. On the one hand, it has a myriad of features designed to make your life easier in the long run, but which can be a tad confusing right off the bat. On the other hand, once you've got Retrospect set up or if you decide that you don't want to do complex archiving, it's terribly easy to use.
The program starts off with a window containing four buttons, Backup, Archive, Restore, and Retrieve. Since the difference between backing up and archiving, as well as restoring and retrieving, isn't all that clear, Dantz nicely explains them in that window. Backup is a plain and simple backup that copies all the changed files on your hard disk to the backup disk(s) each time so that you can always Restore the complete hard disk to the exact state that it was in before. The main purpose of Retrospect is to Archive files, but primarily selected files, to backup media, and then to Retrieve individual ones when you need them later. Dantz added the Backup and Restore capabilities to Retrospect in version 1.2 because people complained that they didn't want to do complicated archiving all the time, and while I think the Backup and Restore work well from that point of view, archiving is a much better and more flexible method of protecting your data, as I'll show later.
Backing up a hard disk is a simple process. Run Retrospect (that step should be obvious). Click the Backup button (still pretty clear here, no?). Select a Source, the hard disk that you want to back up and click Next (not getting much more difficult yet). Select an Archive, or, if none exist, create one. Selecting an Archive is easy, a matter of a click. Creating one is a tad harder, since you have to click Create New..., select the media type (there are usually two choices, Combined File, which is good for backing up onto another large hard disk, and Macintosh Disk, which is what you normally use with floppies. Any tape drives you happen to have attached will appear here as well.), name the Archive, and save it. Note that the only confusing part of this is dealing with the two main types of archives, Combined File, with which you save the Archive on the disk the Archive will be on, and Macintosh Disk, with which you save the catalog to the Archive on any volume other than the one you will be backing up to. It's slightly confusing but makes sense after a while. Once you've created and selected your Archive, click Next and watch Retrospect list all the files that it will back up in a nice hierarchy. This being the first backup, Retrospect selects all of the files, although future backups from the same disk won't duplicate files on the backup. Click Next and check the Options, which are Verification (compares the files after copying them), Compress Files (self-explanatory), and Always Full Backup (backs up all files each time). Finally, click Execute Now and watch it go. If you use floppies, be prepared to feed the disks into the drive and OK the erasure. New disks format automatically.
Restoring an entire volume is equally as easy and simply reverses most of the steps. First you select the Archive to restore from, then select the Snapshot, which is what Retrospect uses to keep track of exactly what your drive looked like before. Then select the Destination disk, and finally the files you want to restore, although the program selects all of them for you automatically. If you've backed up several times and have multiple versions of the same file (modified at different times), Retrospect automatically makes sure you only see the latest versions. Neat eh?
True archiving keeps all the various versions of a file accessible at all times so that you can always go back and retrieve the file you want in the state that it was in on Wednesday, even if you've archived twice more since then. The main differences between Backup and Archive then, are those that make it easier to deal with more complex operations and multiple files. Selecting a Source and an Archive is exactly the same process. Selecting files isn't any different, but you are more likely to want to individually select which files go into an Archive than you are for a Backup.
The easy way to select which files will go into the archive is manually. If you click once on a file, it hilites, but this does not mean it will be archived. To go into the Archive, it must be marked with a check, which occurs when you double-click (which also removes checks on pre-checked files) or when you choose Hilite Marks from the Browser menu. Retrospect supports the standard Mac methods of selecting multiple contiguous files with a shift-click and multiple non-contiguous files with a command-click. In addition, double-clicking on a folder either hilites or unhilites all the files in that folder, so manual selection is painless. It's a bit harder to set up a Selector to select files automatically, but once you do it, it's always there. Retrospect ships with a number of standard Selectors that cover many situations, and you can create your own custom Selectors to take care of any other situations you may find. The standard Selectors include All Files, Graphic Files, Modified in Last Week, No Change in 2 months, No Change in 6 Months, No Change in One Year, No Files, Only Applications, Only Documents, and Only System Folder. I'll cover the sort of things you can do with custom Selectors later on.
Once you have selected the files that you want archived, you come to the Options screen again. It looks mostly the same as the Options screen for Backup, but also has a check box for Move files (which means that after it archives the files it will delete them). In addition, you can switch the screen to the Extended Options, which includes even more useful options. The first two, Scan To Compare Source To Archive and Don't Add Duplicates To Archive are checked by default. The next one, Only Match Files In Same Folder, is useful if you move a file after it has been added to an archive. If this option is checked, Retrospect will consider it a new file and will archive it again, even if it hasn't been otherwise modified. The next checkbox, Store Snapshot, allows you to Restore an entire hard disk even if you created the archive with Archive instead of Backup. I generally use this because it would be a pain to have to manually select the latest versions of everything and place them all in the correct folders after the fact. You also end up with files that were archived and then erased if you don't use the Snapshot. The next bunch of options are less useful, and I'll admit to never having used them much. You can have Retrospect set the backup time for volumes, folders, and files, which can be useful for working with Selectors, but since other Mac applications sometimes change that backup time, it isn't necessarily reliable. You can have Retrospect report open files rather than archiving them, store archived files separately from already existing files in the Archive, and finally, when moving files, you can have Retrospect delete empty folders, a nice touch. The final item in the Extended Options is an important one. It is a pop-up menu with Selectors, both Custom and Standard, that affect what Retrospect will compress. I'd always ignored this until I started using DiskDoubler heavily. It took Retrospect a long time to deal with compressed files, and if anything, they might have become slightly larger when it tried to compress them again. So I created a Selector which tells Retrospect not to try to compress any files created by DiskDoubler, Compact Pro, or StuffIt Deluxe. That saves time and space, both of which I'm lacking in sufficient quantity.
OK, so you've figured out how to Archive files for later Retrieval. Let's see how you would go about getting a file back if you wanted to see an earlier version or if your two-year-old accidently erased it. First choose Retrieve from the main window, then pick the right Archive, and the right Destination. Then you come to a file Browser that's almost like all the others you've seen. The only difference is that you have to pick which session to get the files from as well, since that's how they are organized in your archive. Once you select a session (which is just an entry in a scrolling list to the left of the file list), you can mark the files in that session that you want to retrieve. Of course, if you want, you can create a Selector to pick the files for you, although I'll warn you that you have to think carefully about the logic involved in a Selector to retrieve files. You also have to check the Search Parameters to make sure that Retrospect is using your Custom Selector and that it is looking at the correct session or sessions. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but it's not difficult once you've done it once or twice. After you've selected the proper files, you get to the Retrieval Options. These options primarily affect how files will be stored on the Destination volume and whether or not you want to replace existing files. You can also customize the retrieval and use a finer filter on what you want to happen. I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that you can achieve just about any effect you desire in terms of how and where the files go.
You should be starting to get an idea of Retrospect's power by now. The next few items make up the core of Retrospect's power. The most powerful feature Retrospect has, in my opinion, is the ability to create custom Selectors. As an example of how I use custom Selectors, consider my hard disk. I own a number of disk recovery packages, all of which like to create invisible files on my hard disk to keep track of what files I have deleted and other hard disk technicalities. Those files can get quite large and there's absolutely no reason why you would want to store them in your backup set. An organization I know that uses Retrospect also uses TOPS, which has a nasty habit of creating Desktop files in any folder that is mounted as a volume, thus littering the hard disks with tons of invisible Desktop files. Originally, we created a custom Selector that looked for files called Desktop and specifically avoided them. Then we realized that those files, like all the disk recovery files on my hard disk, are invisible, so we switched to using a Selector that avoided all invisible files. Similarly, I had the custom Selector set to make Retrospect not compress already compressed files by searching for the creator codes of those applications.
There are two levels to custom Selectors. First, you choose the items, or conditions, and the relationship between them, And, Or, or None, each of which do precisely what the logic says they should. Second, within each individual condition, you can choose whether it affects files directly, or if its negation should affect them (i.e., either select all invisible files, or don't select invisible files). You can also enable and disable an individual condition for testing purposes. You can choose generic conditions and modify them as you wish, or you can select a pre-existing Selector and include that as a condition. I've found that the nesting power extremely helpful on occasion. As far as the generic conditions go, you can select files based on date ranges, file kind, file flags (Marked, Archive Flag, File Busy, Locked, Invisible, Alias, Name Locked, Stationery, or Custom Icon - remember that Retrospect 1.3 is System 7-compatible, which accounts for the last four flags), folders (and you can select whether files in that folder only or all files and folders below it in the hierarchy should be affected), icon color, name (I love using this one to avoid backing up huge dictionaries), privileges, and Size. Needless to say, if there is a pattern to the files you want to include or exclude, you should be able to define a custom Selector that will do what you want.
The next most useful feature I use in Retrospect is its ability to operate unattended. Like everyone else, I don't like having to back up all the time. However, if you are willing to leave your Mac on a fair amount of the time and have a removable cartridge drive or tape drive, Retrospect can work entirely on its own after a little setup. Since Retrospect remembers what you do at each step and stores that information in a script, all you have to do to start an unattended backup system is run through what you want once, then pull up the Calendar from the Config menu. It looks like a calendar for the current month, and you can double-click in any day to have Retrospect start up every month on that day. You can also double-click on the days of the week at the top of the calendar to have Retrospect work on every Monday, say. Finally, you can set a Run Once date so you'll have a backup done as of that day. You must set several options for all of this to happen though. First, there's the Install Startup INIT checkbox which will install an INIT that launches Retrospect at the appropriate time. All the other options require that INIT to work. Then there's an Auto Launch feature which actually does the launching, a Notification Icons option that notifies you if you're working on the Mac when Retrospect wants to start up, and finally, a Shutdown Alerts checkbox which warns you that Retrospect wants to back up later on if you try to shut down the Mac.
Retrospect allows you to create different scripts which do different things, and you can assign different calendar options to those different scripts. I've had trouble with this in practice, because I find that people tend to modify scripts unknowingly, which can produce unexpected results.
The final important feature in Retrospect does not provide more functionality but does make selecting files easier. The Browser window in which you select files can be customized to your liking. You can pick how each entry looks and what information (such as creator and type and privileges) shows. You can also specify what items are listed and how they are listed (flat-file or hierarchical), as well as the sorting order (normal or reverse) by name, date, size, kind, or color. Sick as it may seem, I find that I end up doing a certain amount of disk management in Retrospect since its provides a lot of information that isn't available in the Finder or in DiskTop, the main Finder replacement I use. You can't move or rename files within Retrospect, but you can delete them, and I find myself using that feature quite often when I'm in the middle of disk cleaning (which happens whenever I run out of room).
There are a bunch of features that I haven't mentioned yet that many people will find extremely helpful. I don't much use them, but that doesn't imply that they aren't good. You can archive multiple Sources in the same Archive, or a single Source to multiple Archives, or best of all, multiple Sources to multiple Archives. You'd better have wads of storage space if you want to do that. If you can create a Browser, you can print a file list, which I like doing when files are archived off of a hard disk. That way, anyone can flip through the list at their leisure to find what file they want back even though they haven't used it in years. Of course, you can search for files within archives, so you don't have to rely on the printout, but it's often easier for non-technical people to search manually. You can use the Fast Add Disks command to add the contents of a bunch of floppies to an archive, which would allow you to archive all those floppies you've accumulated over the years to a tape drive, and once you've got a file in an archive, you can copy it to another one.
If you're really paranoid, you can password protect and encrypt an archive, but I don't recommend doing that. It's all too easy to forget a password or have messy internal politics that result in a disgruntled employee changing the password before quitting. In addition, encryption significantly slows down the archiving process. You don't have to worry about encryption making it harder to recover files with a disk editor, because the normal compression (which you should use unless you've got those wads of storage space) will render the files unreadable to most unsavory people.
If you have a tape drive or other backup device that can't mount on the Desktop, you can use Retrospect's Peripheral Device Management features to Format, Erase, Retension, and Eject those devices. You can also define Subvolumes, which are really folders on a normal volume but which Retrospect will then treat as though they were real disks. It can be handy on occasion if you don't want to mess with most of a disk, but you do want to back up a single folder. Of course, a Selector could arrange that too, but Subvolumes work equally well. Subvolumes are also useful when you retrieve files, since you might want to recreate a hard disk on another hard disk without erasing the contents of the destination. Defining a Subvolume on the Destination disk will make that possible. If you have network software that mounts a remote disk on your desktop, you can backup that disk just like any other one over the network. If you don't use System 7 or TOPS or DataClub, you'll have to use Retrospect Remote to backup remote Macs. More on that in a bit.
Finally, you can do some good stuff with Retrospect's Preferences. You can turn off some of the safety alerts to speed up the archiving process. If you run Retrospect under MultiFinder in System 6, you can have it pause until you bring it to the foreground. Retrospect likes a lot of CPU time, so use this if you are doing serious work in the foreground at the same time. Retrospect will automatically format disks for you as a default, but if you're leery of that (I wouldn't be unless you have 1.4 MB disks with an 800K drive) you can shut it off. If you are using the auto-execute features in Retrospect, you can specify if Retrospect should quit when it's done, shut down the Mac, or stay in Retrospect. You should also set it to avoid stopping on errors if you use the program in unattended mode, because any dialogs will halt execution unless that option is checked. Retrospect keeps track of what it does in a Log, so you can still see easily if there are any errors. Finally, if you have a SCSI device that you want Retrospect to ignore, you can set it to ignore any SCSI number in the Preferences dialog as well. There, all of these preferences ought to keep you happy for a while.
One of the wonderful things about networks is that they allow a lot of people to create a lot of information and share it with everyone else. One of the bad things about networks is that with so much information on the network, it often becomes almost impossible to back it all up in a coherent fashion. Retrospect works fine with any network software that mounts a disk on your desktop, so if you've got DataClub or TOPS or AppleShare, you can backup all of your files without doing anything fancy, although you may need a big backup device. However, the majority of LocalTalk networks are probably just a couple of Macs hooked to a LaserWriter. Dantz solved that the backup problem for those networks with Retrospect Remote, which is really just an INIT that works on the remote Mac with the standard Retrospect application on the backup Mac, as Dantz calls it.
All you have to do to install Retrospect Remote is drop the Remote INIT in the System Folder or the Control Panels folder if you're running System 7, and reboot. If you're running under System 6, you also have to install the ADSP (AppleTalk Data Streaming Protocol, or something like that) INIT in the System Folders of all Macs. Then within Retrospect, choose Remotes... from the Config menu, click Network... to find all the possible remote Macs, and install, which involves typing in one of your Remote Activator codes. Once installed, the remote Mac appears in your list of Sources just like all local disks and is treated exactly the same with a few exceptions.
Since you are working with someone else's Mac, they get a certain amount of say over what happens. They can turn their Remote extension on and off, restrict access to Read Only (which I assume means that Retrospect won't update things like the backup time and the archive flag), and Private Folders (which are folders that won't be backed up if their name starts with a bullet). The user can also make the backup work in the background, even under System 6 Finder, and can have the Mac stay awake at shut down (with the screen protected by Retrospect's built-in screen saver) until the scheduled backup takes place. Then the Mac will shut down normally. Finally, the user can set a Priority, so if the backup takes place while the user works, Retrospect can grab lots of processing time or very little.
In my testing, I had the remote Mac set for priority to go to the backup process, and although the Mac, a Classic running System 7, was slower, it was still usable. That should only get better as the user gets more priority. That test backup was with Retrospect running on my SE/30 in the foreground, because despite all of Nisus's features, it is a processor hog in the foreground. Retrospect had a network time-out while I was typing quickly in Nisus, but recovered fully after it notified me and I switched out of Nisus. Other applications didn't provoke the same response. In this test, I backed up almost 9 MB in 16 minutes over a standard LocalTalk network, though there wasn't any other network traffic. That's not bad, considering that Retrospect compressed all that information onto the SyQuest cartridge as well.
Retrospect Remote has some other nice features built into it. When you look at your list of remote Macs in the Remotes window, Retrospect tells you the status of the selected remote, the version of Retrospect (and you can update over the network, so you don't have muck with each Mac individually), the machine type, the amount of memory, the System version, the AppleTalk version, the current application (although this always said MultiFinder, even when I opened System 7's TeachText), the amount of time the Mac has been idle (so you can see if you want to run a backup manually or wait until no one is using it), the network echo time, the clock offset between the two Macs (which is useful for synchronizing the clocks to make sure automatic backups work correctly), and the number of volumes attached to the remote Mac. It's not really that overwhelming, but I was extremely impressed by the amount and quality of information listed.
The manual that comes with Retrospect is quite well done, and offers in-depth discussions of all of the features provided. The manual works through each main process (backup, archive, restore, and retrieve) so that you can be up and running with basic usage quickly. Then you'll want to go back and peruse the manual more carefully to figure out how to work with the snazzier features like Custom Selectors and unattended backup.
One section that I highly recommend reading is the chapter on Backup strategies. The standard backup strategy that I have my clients use is an alternating disk method, where one disk is always off site. That's not as easy for an individual, but just take it to work or something. None of my clients have ever had to resort to the off-site backup, but then again, none of them have had a fire in their offices yet, which is all it takes to destroy all originals and on-site backups. Retrospect's manual does a good job of talking about various different ways you can achieve the maximum of backup security with the minimum of effort, something I always like since people are inherently lazy about backups.
In case of problems, the manual includes a decent troubleshooting section, although the problems I've had haven't always been discussed in it, and some people complained about not having enough technical information. I did figure out the corrupted Retro.Prep file (see below for details) problem with the help of the troubleshooting section, but it's not always as helpful. At least it does give many, if not all, of the possible error messages and error codes so you can get an idea of what might be going wrong. Do keep in mind that unattended backups bring in more problems and are difficult to troubleshoot. Just recently, a client started having system crashes in the middle of the night randomly, and although this turned out not to be the case, for a while we thought dirty power in the night might have confused the SyQuest drive enough for it to whomp on the SCSI bus and bring down the whole system.
The manual also has a nice reference section that briefly explains all the menu items, the Standard Selectors, the Status Symbols (which indicate if a file is locked or invisible or archived or whatnot), the keyboard shortcuts, and a listing of what's stored in the Retro.Prep file. Then comes a decent glossary, and an index, that, although useful, could have been significantly larger. It took me a minute of searching before I could find the entry on how to deal with AppleShare servers because there wasn't a listing under AppleShare. Instead it was under Network Backup:TOPS & AppleShare, which is a fine place, but not enough in my opinion.
Retrospect is not perfect, although Dantz did a good job of making the program extremely stable. One weak spot is the Retro.Prep file that Retrospect creates in your System Folder to keep track of scripts and selections and the like. On occasion, I've seen that file become corrupted in crashes (usually things unrelated to Retrospect but that happen while it's running), which then causes some extremely odd problems. After spending a couple of hours tracking down a set of strange problems, I recreated the Retro.Prep file by erasing it and letting Retrospect create a new one. All my problems (at least with Retrospect) disappeared and all was well. Since then, I've always made a practice of keeping a floppy backup of just the Retro.Prep file and the Startup INIT in case similar problems occur. That backup has already proven useful once, and I suspect it will again. Installing an older Retro.Prep file will cause no problems with existing archives and will be completely unnoticeable unless you change Selectors or scripts after creating the backup. Kind of strange, having to backup the files for a backup program.
Another problem I had recently didn't cause the troubles it could have. I was testing the Drive 2.4 from Kennect with Retrospect and was blithely dumping floppies into the drive and hitting the Enter key twice to erase them and proceed. On the last floppy, I must have hit another key accidently, because when I looked up from what I was reading (backups aren't a good time no matter how good the program), I had accidently erased my 15 MB main files partition on my hard disk. When Retrospect asks for a new disk, it uses a standard file dialog and doesn't exclude volumes of different media from what you are using. So I had essentially turned my 15 MB partition into the sixth member of a floppy backup set. Ouch! It turned out to be only a minor setback because I had made a full backup of that partition the night before, and Nisus had saved all of my work from that day to a separate partition. This was before I was paying attention to what Snapshots could do for me, so I spent a fair amount of time restoring the positions of all my files and throwing out a bunch that didn't belong any more. I'd like it if Retrospect could pay a little more attention to what volumes are fair game for the backup.
As I said a few items ago, the way Retrospect transparently keeps track of the scripts can be confusing to new users. The only way you can check on what a script looks like is to step through the entire thing, and changing the active script isn't entirely intuitive. Once you've worked with the program a while, that should cease to be a problem, although one of my clients has different people of varying knowledge checking Retrospect and they've experienced problems when they accidently changed the main Archiving script, not realizing that Retrospect was recording everything they did.
An odd quirk with Retrospect only appears to affect international users. A reader in Norway reports that systems with non-US date formats have trouble with choosing files to backup based on the date of the last volume backup. Apparently there is a manual workaround, and this may be what others use, since we had responses from several other countries, including the Netherlands and Japan.
One picky little thing about the interface that I don't like is the dialog boxes in Retrospect. The buttons are almost entirely longer and thinner than I expect, which makes them look odd, and the process for creating a new Selector or Script seems awkward. First you open the dialog box, then you click the New button, which creates a listing called Untitled. While all of this is going on, you can rename it by typing a new name in the text entry box at the bottom, but to keep the name, you have to click Rename, which is also the default button if you hit Return. To change one, you have to select it and click Modify or double-click. In most Mac dialog boxes, double-clicking is the same as selecting once and hitting Return, so the box seems confusing. It's not a big deal, but I'd like normal size buttons and a slightly clearer process for creating and working with Selectors and Scripts. Just pulling the Rename function out and making it an added dialog (select the item, click Rename, and type in the new name in the pop-up dialog) would clear away some of my confusion.
Because Retrospect is a true archiving program, it never replaces older copies of the same file. Normally this isn't a major problem; however, it would be nice to have it as an option when an archive has filled up the volume it lives on. As it stands now, you have to completely erase the archive to be able to continue using that volume. If Retrospect was optionally able to save only the latest version of a file without the administrator having to reset the archive, it would reduce much of the work and hassle of backing up.
I've heard from several people that although the Retro.SCSI INIT can help to speed up SCSI tape backups, it can also cause some problems, especially when mixed with QuickMail server and the Apple Internet Router. If you are having troubles that you think might be related to that INIT, try not using it for a while and see if the problems go away. Slower speed is worth the peace of mind.
I don't think there's any way around this problem, but I offer it up as a challenge to the gurus at Dantz. If you destroy your hard disk in some way and have to reformat and restore from a backup, as I've done twice in the last week, you'll find that all sorts of configuration information disappears. Super Boomerang and Shortcut forget about permanent folders and files, MultiMaster and QuicKeys2 can't find anything, the Startup programs under 6.0.5 don't startup, Remember? loses track of its occasion files, DeskPicture can't find its images, etc. The list goes on and on. I've spent several days simply fixing configuration information. A programmer friend says that this is because most program store folder IDs instead of folder names (which is normally very reasonable). When the drive is reinitialized and new folders are copied on, they automatically get different ID numbers. Poof, nothing works. So although Retrospect's Snapshot feature saved me hours of organizing my reconstructed hard drive, it would be wonderful if it could somehow assign the right folder ID numbers too. Is that too much to ask?
As far as the company goes, most of the news is highly positive. I and all other registered users received version 1.3 free without asking for it before System 7 was released. One reader in the Netherlands was surprised when he received his free upgrade because users in Europe are notoriously ignored by American software companies. Congratulations to Dantz on great international customer service! Most people who have dealt with Dantz's technical support have been pleased (despite the fact that it is not a toll free number), although one person with a complex mixed network of Macs, PCs, and Unix machines had what sounded like a terrible experience trying to get Retrospect working under those circumstances. Call Dantz and talk to them if you are planning on using Retrospect with a mixed network.
I've worked with Retrospect for some time now, through versions 1.1, 1.2, and now 1.3, and I have nothing but respect for the program. Initially I was a little concerned about the way it compresses all the files and stores them in a format that would prevent recovery (I had used DiskFit a little before), but in the year and a half that I've been using and recommending Retrospect, no one has ever had trouble with a Retrospect archive. Admittedly, that is partly due to using good backup media (not the mega-cheapo floppies but unlabeled Sony disks) and being aware of any problems that might be occurring (one site had to replace a couple of SyQuest cartridges that died of old age and bad PLI software, although we've resurrected one of the two with Silverlining and the Alliance Power Tools software from APS). The only situation in which I don't recommend Retrospect is for extremely non-technical novice users, who could become bogged down in Retrospect's features, even though a simple backup is a matter of about five clicks after selecting the source and creating the archive the first time. Otherwise, Retrospect is a dream for the power user who always tries to specify precisely what should and should not be backed up each session. I'm still figuring out ways to customize the program just a little bit more so it does this or that and doesn't mess with those files I want to throw out soon anyway. As I said above, I've had to reformat my 105 MB drive twice in the last week, and while I didn't enjoy it and it took a while each time to restore my several thousand files from two SyQuest cartridges, Retrospect basically saved my hide (and at least one issue of TidBITS which hadn't gone out yet). That's the real test of a backup program - how well it works when you really need it, and Retrospect did not fail me.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue