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Wondering about the best way to back up your data? Don't miss the start of Adam's multi-part examination of the where, when, what, why, and how of backups. This week's issue also has the scoop on 3Com's upcoming Palm Organizer (based on Claris Organizer), plus more details on searching the Web for images and news of a significant reorganization at BYTE, Nitro PowerPlug 1.0, free copies of SurfDoubler for Ricochet owners, and Mailsmith 1.0.1.
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BYTE Bitten -- The pages of history will close temporarily on the venerable technology magazine BYTE. The 23-year-old magazine, which was recently sold by owner McGraw-Hill to CMP Media, will suspend publication for "several months" and undergo "refinement," according to a press release. Although BYTE didn't focus on the Mac, it was known for fair and in-depth Macintosh reporting. It remains to be seen how the temporary demise of BYTE will affect the Apple advertisements that base their performance claims on BYTE benchmarks - BYTE has a FAQ page offering explanations and commentary surrounding its BYTEmark suite. For another perspective and more information, check out a page Jerry Pournelle, long-time BYTE columnist, has posted. [ACE]
Nitro PowerPlug Speeds WebSTAR -- ClearWay Technologies is shipping the $99 Nitro PowerPlug 1.0, a WebSTAR plug-in that accelerates the execution speed of all other WebSTAR plug-ins up to 200 percent or more in ClearWay's testing. Nitro PowerPlug is a specialized replacement memory manager for WebSTAR, which otherwise relies on the standard Mac OS memory manager which is optimized for large stand-alone applications. ClearWay also reports that Nitro PowerPlug helps eliminate server slowdowns that occur after a WebSTAR server has been running for a long time without a restart, plus reduces crashes related to fragmented memory. Nitro PowerPlug works with WebSTAR versions 1.3.2 through 3.0, on both PowerPC- and 68K-based machines. It may work with (but doesn't officially support) other Web servers that support WebSTAR plug-ins, such as Quid Pro Quo, SonicWeb Server, WebTen, and the Microsoft Personal Web Server. A free demo is available (278K download). [ACE]
Free Surfing for Ricochet Subscribers -- Owners of Metricom's Ricochet wireless modems can take advantage of a free Web browsing boost thanks to a recent deal with Connectix. (See "Tied Down No More: The Ricochet Wireless Modem" in TidBITS-366 for details on the Ricochet modem.) Metricom is offering a free downloadable copy of Connectix's Surf Express, software that caches Web pages more efficiently than current Web browsers. The deal is for current and future Ricochet subscribers; you must provide your modem's serial number and your billing ZIP code for validation before downloading the 1.8 MB file. [JLC]
Mailsmith 1.0.1 More Polished -- With the release of version 1.0.1, Bare Bones Software has applied a bit of polish to Mailsmith, the company's new email client program (see "Mailsmith Emerges from the Forge" in TidBITS-428). Important enhancements include easier creation of nested mailboxes, improved query progress behavior, better performance on PowerPC-based Macs using virtual memory, additional functionality in the Simple Query dialog box, and the capability to create "check only" and "send only" email accounts. Bare Bones has added other enhancements and fixed a number of bugs reported since the 1.0 release; full release notes list the changes. The update to Mailsmith 1.0.1 is either a 2.2 MB (BinHex) or 1.6 MB (MacBinary) download; the free 30-day demo has also been updated to 1.0.1. [ACE]
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After 3Com announced last month that it had purchased Claris Organizer from Apple to use as the basis of its upcoming Macintosh PalmPilot desktop software (see "Claris Organizer Reincarnated as Palm MacPac" in TidBITS-429), Mac users of Organizer and Palm devices have been wondering what the deal means for the future. A conversation with Douglas Wirnowski, Product Marketing Manager at 3Com's Palm Computing division, yielded a few details.
Expanded Desktop Organization -- Palm Organizer for Macintosh - a personal information manager (PIM) built upon Claris Organizer - will run on the user's computer, replacing the current Pilot Desktop 1.0 software. 3Com expects to release the new software in August, and it will be a free downloadable upgrade to owners of Pilot Desktop for 60 days following its release; otherwise, the software will be available for $14.95 as part of the Palm MacPac (which also includes a cable adapter that connects the Pilot's HotSync cable to a Mac's serial port). The new software will have a total RAM footprint under 5 MB, including Palm Organizer, the HotSync control panel, and the Conduit Manager (more on this below). This is an improvement from the default memory requirement for Pilot Desktop 1.0, which is 6 MB, with some users preferring to allocate 10 MB or more.
Although the Macintosh Pilot Desktop has languished at version 1.0 while the Windows version advanced to 3.0, both have maintained the same features and interface. Conversely, Palm Organizer will offer a new interface and features not found in the Windows software. 3Com has no plans to bring both products together visually or functionally.
Claris Organizer users may be dismayed to learn that 3Com does not plan to offer Palm Organizer as a separate stand-alone application. It's not yet clear whether the software will work without a Palm device.
Conduits Explained -- PalmPilot and Palm III devices communicate with a computer using linking software known as a "conduit." Currently, there is just one conduit between the Pilot and the Mac's Pilot Desktop software. The new setup will include a Conduit Manager, which will handle separate conduits that Palm Computing and other developers write. For example, to interface with the Palm Organizer software, there will be four conduits, one for each of the Palm OS's main applications (Address, Date Book, Memo Pad, and To Do list). To synchronize Palm data with software running on a Mac, such as the upcoming Eudora Planner, you would replace the four conduits with new conduits provided by Qualcomm. You will also be able to add other conduits through drag & drop installation, such as a FileMaker conduit that interfaces with database programs on the Pilot such as JFile. These conduits will reside in a separate Conduits folder on your Mac's hard disk.
So far, three companies have announced support for Palm Organizer conduits, and approximately 25 companies are building conduits for their applications. In the meantime, the Macintosh Conduit software development kit (SDK) is available for free download at Palm's Web site.
Although Palm has been swamped with offers for beta testing the upcoming software, most likely there will be an internal beta of the new software as it's being developed; according to Wirnowski no decision has been made about conducting a public beta when the software nears completion.
by Tara Calishain <email@example.com>
Although the Web is rife with images, most act as decoration: buttons, logos, fancy backgrounds, and pet pictures quickly come to mind. However, the Web can also be a rich resource of imagery relating to specific subjects, such as maps and animal photographs for kids' school reports. Finding those images within the largely text-based confines of most search utilities can be difficult.
In the first part of this article (see "Image Searching on the Web, Part 1: Images via Text" in TidBITS-431), I talked about how to use a few of the major search engines to find images. In this installment, I want to point out some search engines designed specifically for finding images.
Excalibur Image Surfer -- One starting point is the Excalibur Image Surfer (a Yahoo! version of this service is also available), which includes a subject listing of available images and a search engine. If you generally know what you're looking for, consider using the subject listing first. It allows you to begin with a general topic (such as Sports or Transportation) and peruse images grouped under more specific subjects (like Volleyball or Spacecraft). If you don't see your intended subject listed, try the search form. For example, the subject listing does not include North Carolina, but a keyword search for "North Carolina" brought back 59 results. Excalibur provides images in small thumbnail versions, six to a page. They load quickly, making a short task of previewing many images without surfing through several sites.
WebSEEk -- Another subject-and-search image catalog is WebSEEk, a catalogue of more than 600,000 images and videos that lets you browse by subject or perform text searches (which can be restricted to video, color photos, gray images, or graphics - though I can't determine what exactly "graphics" are). WebSEEK presents images in thumbnail format, fifteen to a page. Some categories could stand to be subcategorized - the owls category includes 288 pictures, and animals/zoos lists over 900 - but this is still a huge number of resources available in one place. WebSEEk also features a postcard sender, which dispatches an email message containing the URL of an image and a message.
The Amazing Picture Machine -- To find images with more of an academic angle, try the Amazing Picture Machine. It supports basic keyword searching using two fields, linked by a trio of operators: "only" narrows the search to the contents of the first field; "and" searches for both fields; and "or" specifies a search for the contents of either field. Results appear as text-only listings with links to actual image files. Included for each picture is its type, file size, pixel dimensions, and format - such as "Color photograph (54K, 600x440 pixels, jpeg)" - followed by a description of the picture's subject. (A picture of Henry Clay, for example, describes him as "the influential 19th century American politician from Kentucky.")
Other Collections -- If you can't locate the images you want, try SunSite's Image Finder, which searches several different image collections, including the SunSite Image Database, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the Library of Congress.
If you're interested in art in particular, try the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco ImageBase. The ImageBase contains over 60,000 images of paintings, photographs, sculpture, and other artwork. You can browse particular exhibitions or search for artwork by artist's last name or keyword.
Unexpected Results and Image Use -- One potential pitfall when searching for images is the variety of the results, depending on the keywords you supply. Entering "hawk" as a search term in the Excalibur database brought up many basketball players and teams, while "falcon" yielded several images of birds. Similarly, after diving down several layers of menus to Animals: Cats: Panthers at WebSEEk, you'll find several Pink Panthers, a few guys apparently nicknamed "Panther," the logo of the Green Panthers, and even a panther tattoo - but nowhere in the 30 images cataloged in this category will you find a photograph of an actual panther. On the other hand, viewing the Hawk category brought up page after page of hawk photographs.
Image searching can still be a hit and miss endeavor, but the quantity and quality of image archives is growing. It's important to keep in mind, however, that just because an image is available for viewing doesn't mean it's also available for reuse. Before you do anything with an image besides view it, make sure it's either in the public domain, or that you have secured the rights (which may involve a fee) for your use.
[Tara Calishain is the co-author of the Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research and owner of CopperSky Writing and Research.]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Recent popular discussions on the TidBITS Talk list have orbited around the issue of backing up data - what's the best media to use, how often should one back up, what software works well, if backup devices should be built into computers, and how iMac users will back up their data. These are all important questions, and the answers affect literally every computer user today, irrespective of platform.
In the first part of this article, I'll examine backup strategies and some topics to consider when formulating a backup plan. The next part of this article will discuss specific products you can use to back up your data.
Importance of Backing Up -- Most computer users don't back up their data. It's easy for people - especially novices - to believe that computers are infallible. You press a key, and they just work. (Or, for those in large organizations, if something goes wrong, you call the help desk and someone else fixes the problem.)
But those of us who have been around the block a few times know that's far from the truth. Files are deleted inadvertently, PowerBooks are dropped, hard disks fail, drinks are spilled, and of course, offices are burgled and houses burn down. Digital data stored on a disk is anything but secure, and pretending otherwise invites disaster. As an ad for Retrospect, the most popular Macintosh backup program, once said: "There are two types of people. Those who have lost data and those who will." That's truth in advertising.
Backup Strategies -- If we agree that everyone should back up their data, the next question is what they should back up. There are essentially two backup strategies, with a continuum of possibilities in between. One strategy says that when your hard disk fails, you want to be up and running as quickly as possible using a complete backup that's as recent as possible. Call this the Complete Backup strategy. The other strategy assumes only your data files are important, since you can always reload applications from master disks or download freeware and shareware applications. Call this the Minimal Backup strategy.
The two strategies require roughly the same amount of time. If you subscribe to the Complete Backup strategy, you spend more time dealing with your backup system on a regular basis, although automating the process makes it easier. You must feed disks or tapes to your backup device and verify that everything is working. That takes a fair amount of time up front, but recovering from a dead hard disk takes only a little more time than that required to read back your files.
In contrast, adherents of the Minimal Backup strategy spend less time up front - just the occasional copying of a file to floppy, perhaps - but may require days or even weeks to restore a system to full working order. The Minimal Backup strategy puts the burden on you to backup the appropriate files. Will you remember to back up every important file you modify or create? If not, you may be forced to rehash days of work. Also, you must specifically back up preferences and other out-of-the-way files: Remember that you've spent time configuring your applications (think keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Word); setting up utilities and extensions; and creating scripts for programs like QuicKeys, OneClick, and KeyQuencer. What's more, finding and downloading new copies of freeware and shareware takes time and can prove difficult in the case of incremental updates to commercial programs or system software. Even locating serial numbers can take a surprising amount of time.
I'm strongly in favor of the Complete Backup strategy. I back up our internal machines to DAT tape using Retrospect every night (or in the case of PowerBooks and my infrequently used PC, whenever they turn on). I also use a pair of 2 GB hard disks in a RAID setup on my main machine, such that if one dies, the other will contain an exact duplicate of the data and instantly take over (in theory - it's hard to test). I use the RAID setup because I hate losing the important email that arrives between the time my Mac backs up and the time some sort of data loss occurs.
Why do I do this? Call me paranoid, but I can't guarantee I'll have time to spare when something goes wrong: Murphy's Law being what it is, it seems more likely that I'll need to start working as quickly as possible. You must decide how important your work is to you; that decision affects the type of hardware and software you choose, plus your overall backup strategy.
My primary weakness is that I don't have a solid offsite backup strategy. Geoff Duncan and I periodically trade DAT tapes, but if my house burned down, I'd be weeks or months out of date.
Backup Considerations -- You must keep a number of issues in mind when forming a coherent backup strategy.
Historical vs. working backups: Some people rely on working backups - recent exact duplicates of their hard disks (on another disk or Jaz cartridge, say). If this is what you do or are considering, think carefully. What happens if an important file is irretrievably corrupted and you don't notice immediately? With a working backup, the backup probably contains the corrupted file. If you use a historical backup - one that doesn't erase previous versions of files - you can go back to the most recent version of the file that's not corrupted. Of course, historical backups require more backup media, which increases costs.
Double-duty storage devices: Many people like backing up their hard disks to Jaz cartridges, for example, because they can use the Jaz drive for other things as well. I did this years ago with a 44 MB SyQuest drive. Although this strategy works, I don't recommend it for two reasons. First, there's always the temptation to use the backup cartridges for normal storage if you need some space quickly. At that point, the backup cartridge is no longer just a backup, but also contains unique data. Second, using the Jaz drive in other ways probably indicates you have other cartridges containing unique data. How do you intend to back up that data, or is it essentially worthless to you? I went through all this with my SyQuest, and I found that a dedicated DAT drive for backups doesn't raise these thorny problems.
Media capacity: When thinking about backup devices, think about the amount of data the device or its storage media can hold. I use a DAT drive that can hold about 2.6 GB on a single 90 meter tape. However, I have about 10 GB of online storage between all of my machines. The data is not all in use, and many files are redundant (Retrospect doesn't back up multiple copies), but a single tape won't quite hold everything, which forces me to use multiple tape sets. The smaller the media capacity, the more media you'll need, which drives up costs. Of course, the smaller the media capacity, the harder it will be to set up an unattended backup system. In an ideal world, you could do a full backup to a single tape or cartridge, then do incremental backups to another tape or disk for several months before needing to add additional members to that backup set.
Backup device cost: Most people worry about the cost of a backup device, whether it's a SyJet, a DAT drive, or whatever. In my mind, and in part because I use my Macintoshes for business purposes, that cost isn't particularly relevant, since it's a one-time cost and the longer you put it off, the more likely you are to lose data worth far more than the backup device. Costs can range from about $150 for a Zip drive to $750 for a fast and capacious DAT drive. Don't skimp on the device or buy something weird because it's cheap - you don't want the device to be a weak link.
Backup device and media format longevity: When thinking about backup devices, think conformity. You don't want to have years of backups and archives in a format that can't be easily accessed if your drive dies. For instance, it's reportedly becoming difficult to obtain replacement or repaired mechanisms for SyQuest 270 MB drives from manufacturers, and there are numerous older media formats that have already gone the way of the dodo.
Backup media cost: A 90 meter DAT tape holds about 2.6 GB and costs between $5 and $10. In contrast, a 2 GB Jaz disk costs about $150. If Johnny backs up 10 GB to DAT and Sally backs up 10 GB to Jaz, who will pay more money, even taking the cost of the backup device into account? (The answer is left as an exercise for the reader.) Seriously: security costs money. Make sure to take both backup device and media cost into account.
Media reliability: Not all backup media is created equal, and corrupted backups are worse than no backups at all. From what I can tell, most backup media used today should last at least 4 years, with expectations of 10 to 30 years being fairly reasonable. CD-ROMs may last longer, though estimates of CD-R life spans are similar to the 10-year life span of magnetic tapes. Of more concern is how you treat your media - in short, it should be stored in a cool, dry, clean place, used in clean drives, and handled with care (don't toss that cartridge into your bag!). The better you treat your media, the less likely you are to have trouble.
Backup verification: How do you know if one of your backup tapes has gone bad, or even if your backup contains the correct data? Verification. You must check the contents of your backup every now and then to make sure it's working properly. I occasionally pull a few files from my backup sets just to check their integrity. Retrospect users should enable its verification pass, especially when backing up to tape. Backups take much longer but the safety is well worth it.
Backup redundancy: One of the best ways of reducing your exposure to media failure is to have multiple sets of backup media. That way, even if one set fails, you can still fall back on another set. Even if the alternate set is out of date, having older files is better than having no files. For instance, I currently rotate my weekly backups through three sets of backup tapes, two of which I reuse. When the third one reaches a certain number of tapes, I archive it and start a new set.
Automation: For most people, the main obstacle to backing up is that it's a boring task they must do regularly. That's why most backup programs offer a variety of scripting and automation features that take most of the drudgery out of backing up. I strongly recommend using these automation features - you'll feel guilty if you lose a lot of work because you procrastinated about doing backups.
Storage location: What happens if your office is vandalized or a disaster befalls your home? Earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and break-ins all happen. How seriously you consider offsite backup locations depends on the importance of your data. If you work in an office, taking a backup home each week is easy, and you can just as easily leave a home backup in your desk at work. If you work at home, consider giving backups to a friend you see regularly. For local backup media, consider a small, fireproof safe. However, make sure it's designed to protect magnetic media in case of a fire - temperatures hot enough to destroy a backup tape might not be sufficient to ignite paper, which is what "fireproof" generally means. TidBITS sponsor APS Technologies has several media vaults that protect magnetic media from temperatures up to 1,550 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 60 minutes at prices ranging from $150 to $620.
Archiving: Although most people believe backups protect files they're working on, a good backup strategy can also protect old files you need to keep, but don't need on your hard disk (like graphics, scans, or video). Ideally, a backup system should address the need to archive important, unchanging files. Some people use Retrospect to back up to tape on a daily basis but archive data on CD-R on a quarterly or yearly basis.
From Strategies to Solutions -- For most people, massive data loss is something that only happens to someone else. But if you've ever been forced to attempt the resurrection of a lost report or Quicken data file, you probably don't want to get burned again. In the second part of this article, I'll explore many of the backup hardware and software options available.
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.
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