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Retrospect 5.1 Improves Disaster Recovery

Tomorrow Dantz Development will release Retrospect 5.1 for Macintosh, the latest version of the company’s popular and powerful backup software, which we’ve relied upon for years to help us recover from lost or corrupted files and damaged hard disks. Retrospect 5.1 improves upon the previous version in a number of ways.


New Features — Most important is that Retrospect 5.1 now ships with a disaster recovery CD-ROM that can boot a Mac OS X machine, thus eliminating one of the big gotchas that has plagued Retrospect users who back up to removable media. The problem is that Retrospect must be running in Mac OS X to restore permissions properly, but the only way to boot into Mac OS X on a machine whose hard disk had been reformatted was to use an external hard disk. The Retrospect 5.1 recovery CD doesn’t drop you into the Finder, but instead runs Retrospect so you can initiate a restore and get back to work without having to reinstall Mac OS X from scratch, then restore the rest of your files with Retrospect.

Unfortunately, the Retrospect recovery CD won’t solve everyone’s problems. Apple doesn’t provide any way for bootable CDs to access a network, making the recovery CD useless for restoring from a Retrospect backup server over your network. It’s still worth keeping an external utility hard disk around. (See "Configuring a Utility Hard Disk" in TidBITS-672.) Dantz’s license with Apple also doesn’t let them include Disk Utility, so you’ll have to use the Mac OS X Install CD to reformat or repair a problematic hard disk.


Note that Retrospect’s disaster recovery CD boots into Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and if you use a slot-loading iMac that hasn’t had its firmware updated, you could experience the video problems Geoff Duncan explained in "Update Firmware Before Installing Jaguar!" in TidBITS-653. This isn’t an entirely theoretical problem – Alsoft’s DiskWarrior 3.0 also comes with a bootable Mac OS X CD, and I’ve seen reports of the problem occurring when someone used that CD to boot an iMac that hadn’t been updated. So make sure to update your firmware if you have a slot-loading iMac!



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Also new in Retrospect 5.1 is a Retrospect Client application that works in Red Hat Linux to let you back up Red Hat Linux machines to your Macintosh- or Windows-based Retrospect backup server. Other flavors of Linux aren’t currently supported, but Dantz is working on adding them for future releases.

People who have struggled with Retrospect’s lack of support for specific models of optical drives will particularly appreciate Retrospect 5.1’s new optical drive auto-configurator. When Retrospect finds a writable optical drive that it doesn’t recognize as a supported model, it interrogates the drive by sending command after command and analyzing the responses. At the end of the process, Retrospect will have built up the necessary set of commands to use the drive for backup, assuming of course that the drive passed all the tests sufficiently well (Retrospect will still refuse to back up to drives that don’t pass the necessary tests). In some cases, the configurator may allow use of drives that had previously failed Dantz’s in-house testing for the preferred packet-writing method; Retrospect 5.1 can now test for and use a track-at-once writing method, which manufacturers reportedly get correct more often, but which doesn’t use space quite as efficiently.

Lastly, although we don’t have full details, Retrospect 5.1 reportedly builds in numerous bug fixes and customer requests. One feature I’d like to see still isn’t present – the capability for a backup set to span multiple hard disks, just like it can span multiple disks for forms of removable media. Now that I’m using Granite Digital’s FireVue hot swappable FireWire drive bays with multiple hard disks, it would be great to be able to treat these hard disks as true removable media in Retrospect, because otherwise my backup sets are limited to the size of the disk.

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Pricing and Support — The most notable pricing change for Retrospect 5.1 is that Dantz has stopped selling the low-end $80 Retrospect Express, which lacked a few of the more powerful features available in other versions of the program, such as the capability to customize selectors and work with Retrospect Client software to back up networked computers. The bottom of the product line will now be occupied by the $130 Retrospect Desktop, which comes with licenses to back up two networked computers with the Retrospect Client. Dantz found that enough homes had multiple computers that most people were paying $50 more for network backup capabilities. Upgrades from either Retrospect Express or Retrospect Desktop 5.0 cost $60.

Retrospect Express isn’t exactly going away though, and companies that bundle the product with hardware (such as Maxtor including it with their hard drives) or software (like Symantec bundling it with the just-released Norton SystemWorks 3.0) will continue to do so. The bundled version remains at 5.0 for now; it takes longer to slip a revision into bundling situations.

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The more-expensive $500 Retrospect Workgroup and $800 Retrospect Server retain their prices and configurations, with Retrospect Workgroup including 20 licenses for Retrospect Client and Retrospect Server including 100 licenses. Retrospect Server is also necessary for backing up multiple Macs running Mac OS X Server. Upgrades from Retrospect Workgroup 5.0 cost $100, and upgrades from Retrospect Server 5.0 cost $160.

All of these prices are the prices Dantz charges for direct sales; resellers such as TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics offer discounts on new copies and upgrades that range from 30 to 40 percent off the list price. Value-added resellers (consultants who help clients install, configure, and maintain Retrospect) can also sell Retrospect at a discount.


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Finally, Dantz has developed a new and significantly cheaper annual support and maintenance plan. For some time now, Dantz has had to charge for tech support calls ($40 per incident for Retrospect Express, $70 for all other versions) because it costs them $30 to have a tech support engineer merely pick up the phone (support via the Web forum remains free). Now people who buy Retrospect Server and Retrospect Workgroup may want to opt for the annual support and maintenance plan. Along with unlimited telephone support, it includes both this upgrade and the next one for free, which makes the $280 cost of the plan for Retrospect Server an easy decision (since upgrading to Retrospect Server 5.1 costs $160, and the next major upgrade will cost at least as much, probably within a year). The plan for Retrospect Workgroup is almost as good, at $200, but it’s not particularly worthwhile for Retrospect Desktop, for which the plan costs $180. Dantz expects relatively few consumers to opt for the support and maintenance plan for Retrospect Desktop since it may not pay for itself on the upgrade fees, as it will for the other versions of Retrospect.


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