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Retrospect Backup 5.0

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For many Mac users, the reason not to upgrade to Mac OS X has been that Dantz Development's Retrospect Backup--which performs full and incremental backups to a variety of storage devices--couldn't back up and restore Mac OS X volumes. The OS X-native Retrospect Backup 5.0 now joins other OS X backup utilities that appeared earlier; however, unlike Retrospect, most of them aren't designed for network usage, and many lack tape- and optical-drive support, keep only one revision of changed files, or can't restore an entire OS X system to a bootable state. Although using Retrospect can be confusing for those not well-versed in OS X's user privileges, the program proved itself capable and trustworthy when backing up, restoring, and duplicating files.

Retrospect Backup 5.0 comes in four editions--Express, Desktop, Workgroup, and Server. We evaluated each (see "Retrospect Flavors" for their major differences); unless otherwise specified, all statements refer to all Retrospect editions, which are based on the same code.

New under the Hood

Aside from cosmetic changes that make version 5.0 comply with Aqua standards, the program's user interface and feature set are essentially the same as the highly regarded version 4.3's; the most-significant changes are architectural. Most notably, Retrospect 5.0 runs on OS 9 and OS X 10.1.2 and later, and all editions except Express can use the Retrospect Client software to back up and restore networked Macs running OS 7.1 and later. This cross-generation support is important, because many people run Retrospect on OS 9 Macs but need to back up OS X Macs. (Retrospect 5.0 can still back up and restore most versions of Windows.)

Dantz has also lifted two important limitations. Retrospect 5.0's File Backup Sets--very large individual files that contain all the backed-up files used when backing up to a hard drive--are no longer limited to roughly 60,000 files. This change makes possible backup strategies involving inexpensive FireWire hard drives. Retrospect can also now back up Mac (though not Windows) files larger than 2GB. Finally, Retrospect 5.0 supports all writable optical drives shipping in Macs, including the SuperDrive, although it requires that some use CD-R media rather than CD-RW media.

The Mac OS X Experience

In our tests, Retrospect performed well overall in backing up and restoring both OS 9 and OS X hard drives, and Dantz quickly released free updates that addressed several early problems in version 5.0. However, we did encounter some flaws and baffling problems, due either to Retrospect's design or OS X's, and the few freezes we experienced generally required a restart.

The complex interactions Retrospect coordinates between Macs, networks, operating systems, and storage devices have long revealed problems not caused by flaws in Retrospect, and OS X has added more problems that Retrospect might expose. For instance, we were unable to boot from a FireWire drive containing a duplicate of an OS X boot drive made with Retrospect's Duplicate function, until we first used OS X's Disk Utility to reformat the hard drive. Although the problem occurred because Retrospect was present, the cause was in fact an interaction between OS X and the hard drive's formatting.

Other problems related to OS X are within Dantz's power to fix, but the company doesn't always help as much as it could. For example, the manual repeatedly warns you to turn off OS X's Ignore Privileges On This Volume setting when you are restoring the backed-up system volume to other volumes; it would be more helpful if Retrospect turned this setting off when appropriate during restoration.

In other cases, Retrospect is at the mercy of OS X. Retrospect can see and back up file privileges only if the Mac being backed up is running OS X; backups made while that same Mac is running OS 9 won't restore a working OS X system. Even when you're restoring properly backed up files, you should be careful--restoring an entire disk writes files with their original privileges, while restoring selected files and folders writes them with the privileges of the currently logged-in user on the destination Mac. For Retrospect to work around OS X's limitations, distinctions like this are necessary, but they can be confusing for users unfamiliar with privileges.

OS X support for hardware, particularly devices specifically related to backup, remains spotty. Many SCSI cards still don't work reliably with Retrospect, and although Retrospect Express supports entry-level USB tape drives in OS 9, that support won't carry over to OS X until Apple adds support for USB tape drives. And don't assume you can use every storage device; be sure to check Dantz's list of compatible hardware, on its Web site.

Documentation and Support

Retrospect's extensive manual explains the program's capabilities well, although we would prefer more in-depth explanations of OS X-specific issues. Many such details exist only in the Read Me document, which users may overlook.

Dantz provides numerous free technical-support resources at, but the company now charges for toll-free telephone or e-mail support. New purchasers get free support for 30 days, but given the program's major changes related to OS X, that policy should be extended to upgraders, too. Although you'll likely have to pay for it, Dantz's attentive tech support suggested appropriate solutions to our problems and followed up with additional suggestions via e-mail.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Despite quirks and oddities related to OS X privileges, Retrospect Express is the most capable personal backup program available for backing up and restoring entire Mac OS X hard drives, and the network-backup and device-support capabilities of the Desktop, Workgroup, and Server editions are unique and trustworthy.

Retrospect Backup 4.3 users who need to use OS X to perform backups should upgrade immediately, as should those who suffered from 4.3's limitations. Mac users without a coherent OS X backup strategy should also seriously consider Retrospect Backup 5.0. *

Retrospect Flavors -- Which edition of Retrospect is right for you?

For Individuals: Retrospect Express Backup

For people with only one or two Macs, Retrospect Express is sufficient. You probably don't care that it won't run alongside AppleShare IP or Mac OS X Server, doesn't support tape drives, and can't transfer files between backup sets. Also, Retrospect Express doesn't support Retrospect Client software for network backup; although you can back up important documents from drives shared over a network via Personal File Sharing, they can be restored only to the hard drive of the Mac running Express. You also can't create custom selectors, which allow you to include or exclude files from a backup.

For Small Offices: Retrospect Desktop Backup

If you need to back up multiple Macs over a small network or want to use a SCSI tape drive, you need Retrospect Desktop. It supports Retrospect Client (sold separately), lets you create custom selectors, and can transfer files between backup sets. Retrospect Desktop won't run alongside AppleShare IP or Mac OS X Server, can add Retrospect Clients only for Macs on the same subnet, and doesn't support tape-drive autoloaders that handle more than eight tapes.

For Midsize Offices: Retrospect Workgroup Backup

The next level of Retrospect is for offices that have more-complex networks, need to use large tape-drive autoloaders, or have a single Mac OS X Server or AppleShare IP server. Retrospect Workgroup can back up the server if it's installed on the same Mac, can add Retrospect Clients on different networks, supports the full set of tape autoloaders, and includes 20 Retrospect Client licenses.

For Large Organizations: Retrospect Server Backup

Anyone who needs Retrospect's full power and more than 30 Retrospect Client licenses needs Retrospect Server, which can back up multiple Mac OS X Server or AppleShare IP servers and includes 100 Retrospect Client licenses.

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