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First Look: The Linux-Based Paragon Rescue Kit for Mac OS X Lite

Last week I got a press release about a new utility called Paragon Rescue Kit for Mac OS X Lite. It described a Mac backup and data recovery program, now in public beta testing, and invited potential testers to download a bootable disk image that could be burned to a CD and try the software out. The developer plans to offer this free Lite version as well as a paid full version later on.

That all sounds fine, and I’m always interested in learning about new Mac utilities, especially when backups are among their capabilities. I’d previously written nice things about the company’s NTFS for Mac OS X software (see “NTFS Options for Mac Expand, 2007-12-09), and I had high hopes for this new utility. But as soon as I downloaded the Paragon Rescue Kit disk image, I knew something was very different. It contains no Mac software at all – it’s a Linux disk image.

I was aware that one could, with a bit of hacking, get an Intel-based Mac to run Linux, using the same mechanism that Boot Camp uses to run Windows. It had never occurred to me that you might be able to boot your Mac from Linux on a CD, and certainly the thought of using a Linux-based repair utility on a Mac never crossed my mind. But I went ahead and burned a disc and started up from it to see what it could do.

Because the software is still in beta, I’m not going to review it at this point, just offer some initial impressions. Mostly, however, I’m interested in getting feedback from other TidBITS readers on both the concept of a Linux-based utility for your Mac and the particular approach this tool is taking. Is it just me, or is this a highly wacky – and somewhat disturbing – idea?

Philosophically I’m kind of bothered by the notion of using Linux (or any other OS) to repair my Mac. Maybe that’s just an unwarranted bias – but I do have to wonder if other operating systems are in principle up to the task of dealing with all the picky details of Apple’s HFS+ file system. On the other hand, Paragon says that the CD you burn is capable of booting Intel-based PCs as well as Macs. The notion of a single, multiplatform data recovery tool is somewhat intriguing, provided that it works properly (and comprehensibly) on all supported platforms. Obviously, that’s going to mean that the look and feel won’t match every system it’s used on. Even so, my first impressions were not favorable.

The first thing I noticed when I rebooted from the CD was that the user interface is rather inelegant – it looks like a thinly veiled Windows XP interface, with a few Aqua-like controls added just for the sake of appearance. As I continued trying out the software’s features, I was struck by the fact that it’s not merely un-Mac-like, it’s not even user-friendly as Windows or Linux programs go. For example, you’re supposed to be able to connect to a network so that you can restore files to a network volume. The only connection that appeared was for my computer’s built-in Ethernet interface, and I couldn’t connect to any network volumes with that, so I followed the instructions to add another interface (hoping to select my AirPort card).
This procedure presented me with a long list of unfamiliar network card names and numbers, none of which resembled “AirPort.” (I was unable to figure out which option to choose, so I had to do without network access.) These are the sorts of things that typical Mac and Windows users never expect to have to puzzle through, certainly not under the stress of trying to recover lost data from a damaged drive. Other aspects of the interface were similarly baffling. Of course, this is a beta version, and it’s entirely possible the interface will improve before the final release.

Issues of operating system and user interface aside, let’s look at what this software actually does. Basically it has three major functions. First, it can back up disks – even your Boot Camp volume, whether formatted as FAT32 or NTFS – using a fast and efficient sector-by-sector copying method. Second, it can restore backups. And third, it can recover (some) files from volumes that are corrupted, even some that can’t be mounted at all in Mac OS X. Unlike many disk utilities, it does not repair damaged drives, and does not claim to recover deleted files.

Of these features, I find backup and restoration the least interesting – speed gains notwithstanding, it’s just too inconvenient to reboot my computer from a CD every time I want to back it up. That means I’d back up less frequently. Other programs capable of making bootable duplicates may be slower, but they can run in the background while my Mac is busy doing other things, so my workflow isn’t interrupted. To be fair, if I didn’t already have a backup of a drive, I could imagine wanting to back it up – to whatever extent possible – after the fact in the event of a drive failure, especially if I were worried that any disk-repair utility might make matters worse or that the drive would have to be reformatted. But I can’t imagine doing
this on a regular basis, or restoring a disk this way.

File recovery from a damaged drive could be useful, though it’s difficult to say whether Paragon’s approach would be better, in real-world situations, than those used by, say, Alsoft’s DiskWarrior or Prosoft’s Data Rescue II.

Am I unreasonably mistrusful of using another operating system to repair a Mac? Am I too picky about user interface niceties? Is the idea of backing up your Mac using a CD actually a smart one in some way I haven’t noticed? TidBITS readers, take a look at Paragon Rescue Kit for Mac OS X Lite and share your impressions via TidBITS Talk.

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