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Retrospect Problems

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?

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