This Is How Backup Software Should Work

As a product designer, I frequently see flaws in products that probably go unnoticed by most computer users. I often wonder, would the typical end user really know how to use this product feature? Would they even try? Who was this designed for? In so many cases, most likely not your average computer user.

Products often take tasks laid out for IT professionals and apply a nice user interface, but don't address whether the task is laid out such that a differently skilled end user could perform this same task.

Backing up your desktop or laptop computer is one of those tasks. Unless your computer is part of a larger network managed by IT, it's likely your computer goes without being backed up. Certainly most home and small business computers are that way. And of course you know that's when tragedy will strike; erased files, disk errors, corrupted files and drive problems. The results can be lost business files, document, personal photos, and software, just to name a few.

OneCare status - Fair
Microsoft has tried to improve the situation by adding file backup to Windows OneCare. The OneCare software icon degrades the reported system status from Good down to Fair if you don't back up your files regularly using the One Care backup software. Users who don't run this backup software are left with a system in a perpetual system status of Fair. The added step of configuring and scheduling the backup software to run is a hassle, or even this basic task might appear daunting to a casual user. Showing a OneCare system status of Fair may alert the end user to the fact that a backup needs to be performed, but it doesn't necessarily make the job any easier.

I recently came across two products that approach backing up end users computers differently than the typical scheduled backup software program. The first was Memeo AutoBackup, a rebranded version of which was included with a Western Digital My Book Office Edition USB 2.0 hard drive I purchased. Re Bit, a product I saw at the Colorado DEMOgala 2007 conference, is the other. Though Re Bit shares some similarities to Memeo, I have hands on experience with the Memeo software so I'll focus my discussions on the Memeo AutoBackup software.

Rather than performing backups on at a regularly scheduled time, Memeo AutoBackup runs continuously in the background, backing up changed files as a lower priority system process. Files are continuously backed up whether you are working on your computer, or while you are away and the computer is idle. If found the background AutoBack tasks to have no noticeable effect while using Office applications on my HP laptop. Memeo's done a good job of keeping AutoBackup working in the background and not becoming a performance nuisance to the end user.

Memeo AutoBackup - Select A Destination
The beautiful part -- set up is simple. Select the backup destination, such as the external Western Digital My Book drive in my case. The next step, selecting the source files, is very easy. Point AutoBackup to the source disk drive, and let Memeo select the files, documents, configurations, photos, music, etc., automatically. Or if you prefer, you can select the folders and files yourself. You can also specify how many versions back you wish to keep of each file, 3, 4, 5, or more.

Give the backup plan a name, and that's it, you're off and running. AutoBackup continuously backups up changed files in the background. The application doesn't need to be open and running. When you need to retrieve a backed up file, use the AutoBackup retrieve function to pull over the files or directories you need. I'm not sure how you could make this process much simpler.

Unfortunately, not everything was so easy and seemless when I started this whole process. The rebranded WD AutoBackup software that came on the My Book hard drive and on the Western Digital support site kept crashing on my Windows Vista machine. A very fast response (< 2 hours very late Friday evening) to my support email asked me to try the latest version available on the Memeo site, which was newer than that available via Western Digital's site. The new Memeo software solved the crashing problem, resulting in everything being stable. Another nit I ran into was difficulty finding the software license key, which was printed on a small sticker attacked at the bottom of the fine print, legalese page of the documentation. That took me a while to find and could have easily gotten thrown out without realizing it. Otherwise, everything else has gone swimmingly well.

I love it when someone rethinks a basic, everyday problem and comes up with an approach that's much more suitable for the end user. Why isn't backing up files continuously this easy on everyone Windows computer? I think Memeo has come up with a 'better mousetrap" rather than just assuming the old standard way of doing things was good enough. Kudo's Memeo. This is how end user backup software should work.

Now, could you make the Windows OneCare status icon turn green? Please.

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