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October 14 2011

Dolly Drive: Time Machine in the Cloud

As many of the Mac AppStorm writers will tell you, backup is important! It is the single thing that is protecting you from massive data loss, hours of frustration and lots of hair pulling.

With the advent of Leopard, Apple released a built-in backup utility that makes backup a breeze, called Time Machine. However, Time Machine was developed for local use only. It will backup to a Firewire or USB hard drive plugged directly into your computer as well as a Time Capsule device on your local Wifi network. While that is a very good thing, natural disasters do occur, as does theft and simple hard drive failure that can put your backup at risk. What if you could use Time Machine to backup to the cloud?

Introducing Dolly Drive

Dolly Drive does just that. It enables you to use Time Machine to backup to a cloud service, called Dolly Grid.

Backing up to Dolly Grid

Backing up to Dolly Grid

Backing up using Dolly Drive just requires a small application that changes a few things about your Time Machine settings. Instead of backing up to a local hard disk or Time Capsule on your local network, it creates a backup that is transferred up to the Dolly Grid.

Dolly Drive main window

Dolly Drive main window

Dolly Drive Backup Status

Dolly Drive Backup Status

Now one thing that must be remembered is the slowness that is associated with online backup. Whether you use Dropbox, CrashPlan or Dolly Drive, your backups are going to take a bit longer than they would if they were backing up to a local hard disk. However, the benefits (protection against theft, hard drive failure or natural disaster) often outweigh the downside of slower backup.

Cloning With Dolly Clone

Once you have your time machine backing up to the cloud, what are you going to do with the hard drive that is sitting idle besides your computer? Use it as a local backup of course! With most of your data secured online, it can takes hours to download your data to get going again after a hard drive failure or loss of some kind. Having a local backup as well a cloud backup will help you get up and running again in a matter of minutes instead of hours.

Since Dolly Drive takes up your Time Machine capabilities, (Apple doesn’t allow for two different Time Machine instances to exist on one Mac at the same time) you will need to use a cloning utility instead. Recently, Dolly Drive added cloning capabilities right inside their application under the name “Dolly Clone.”

Dolly Clone, selecting a source

Dolly Clone, selecting a source

Dolly Clone is about as simple as it gets. You pick what you want backed up and then which drive it should be cloned to. Then you can chose to have Dolly Clone wipe the backup destination and start fresh, or have it smartly update the drives to be clones of each other. The latter is done by determining the differences between the two drives and then adjusting the destination drive to match the original.

Pricing Online Backup

Dolly Drive is a subscription service (with Dolly Clone being a free download for everyone). They have a few different plans starting at $5/month for 50GB, going up to $10/month for 250GB and even $55/month for 2TB of storage (there are discounts available if your pay in advance). Each plan comes with an extra 5GB per month that you remain a customer. Since Time Machine backups continuously expand, it’s a great bonus to using Dolly Drive.

The two main competitors to Dolly Drive appear to be CrashPlan and Backblaze. However, these don’t utilize the built-in Time Machine system to backup. They each charge $5/month for unlimited backup. It’s important to note though that restoring from these services generally requires logging onto their website and downloading a .zip file. This is much less fluid than using Time Machine to connect to your Dolly Drive backup and restoring from there.

Conclusion

Dolly Drive for Lion, at the time of writing is still in Beta. There are a few bugs that should be fixed with Lion’s 10.7.2 backup, according to Dolly Drive. However it worked splendidly for me.

It is stuck with the normally slow internet backup problem that all of its competitors also face. With a normal home connection, the Internet isn’t really fast enough to match local backup speeds. While it isn’t Dolly Drive’s fault, it is something to think about if you plan to start backing up terabytes of data.

Because it is using Time Machine to backup, there isn’t a way to access your files on a mobile device or different computer, even if your files are located in the cloud.

Should you start using Dolly Drive for cloud backup? I would say yes if you haven’t ever tried online backup. Being so deeply integrated with the Mac operating system is fantastic. I found their support to be exceptional as well. If you are already backed up with another online backup service, I would be a bit weary. This is mainly due to the amount of time that it would take to get all of your data in the cloud again.

Do you use an online backup service? Have you tried out Dolly Drive? Let us know in the comments!

April 14 2011

Backup 3: The Backup Program You Didn’t Know You Had

New subscribers to MobileMe generally know the basics: contacts, email, calendars and notes can sync across computers and devices, you get some storage, and a fancy email address to share with all of your friends. But if you’re anything like me, you opened up your iDisk for the first time, saw the Backup folder and thought, “What’s this for? There’s no way that a Time Machine backup would fit in the 20GB allotted for iDisk.”

Turns out, the Backup folder is for a program called Backup 3, which is made by Apple. What’s this for, and why would I need it if I use Time Machine?

Good question – let’s find out!

Why Backup

When Time Machine was introduced, backup freaks everywhere rejoiced. “Look, now we have an easy way to backup all of our files! Yay!” Although Time Machine is a great tool, there’s still a big issue: most Time Machine backups are kept on a USB drive stored next to the computer.

Unless you take that drive with you everywhere you go, chances are good that you’ll lose everything should tragedy strike your home or office. That would be bad.

Backup 3 is focused backup for your Mac.

Backup 3 is focused backup for your Mac.

Backup 3 doesn’t work like Time Machine. This is focused backup, aimed at backing up the important things on your Mac on a remote drive, which in this case, is iDisk. Once a day, you backup your info, and then once a week or month you back it up to CD or DVD for a hard copy. Simple, right?

What You Backup

Backup 3 focuses on the important things that you don’t want to lose. Choose between your Home Folder, personal data & settings, iLife data and your iTunes library. Pick between one of the four things — or all of them — and hit continue.

Backup 3 keeps it simple.

Backup 3 keeps it simple.

Once you’ve picked your poison, now you can get to specifics. By double clicking on the item in the list you can specify which folders and files are backed up, and where to.

By default, everything goes to your Backup folder on your iDisk, but if you’re not a MobileMe member you can choose your own location, like a Dropbox folder if you so choose.

Filter everything down from there, designating the time for the backups, how often they happen and so on. This means you could setup a backup to run every night at 3am, when it’s less likely you’ll need the processing power.

Getting Advanced

You can backup more then just the basics it turns out – you just have to dig into things a bit deeper. Backup 3 provides has a QuickPicks section that highlights all of the items you might want to backup, and even narrows it down to application type. So if you’re really paranoid about losing all of your Microsoft Excel docs, select that option to keep those spreadsheets safe.

Once you've selected your backup options, everything gets uploaded to your iDisk.

Once you've selected your backup options, everything gets uploaded to your iDisk.

If you have a specific folder you use frequently, choose that as well by delving into the Files & Folders option. Keep in mind that if you’re backing up to your iDisk that you’re limited on the amount of data you can move per month and store overall, so don’t pick a large folder unless you’ve paid to upgrade your MobileMe storage options.

So Why Use It?

That is a good question. Time Machine makes backing up stupid easy, so much so that people that never used to backup their computers are now doing it automatically. It almost seems redundant to have to backup programs running at the same time, even if they are free.

Fine tune your Backup settings.

Fine tune your Backup settings.

Turns out, there is no such thing as backing up too much. But more importantly, having an offsite location for your backups is critical. Without it, a tragedy could wipe out all of your data, and you with a heap of lost memories. Imagine losing just your iTunes library — to some, that could be devastating.

The problem is, Backup 3 isn’t super user friendly like Time Machine. The program seems geared more towards the pro user, because you have to click around a bit to figure out exactly how it works.

For example, I didn’t realize until 10 minutes into my first backup that I could select individual files or file types. If I hadn’t been hunting for it, I’m not sure I would’ve found it.

Verdict

Is Backup 3 the perfect backup program for all of your needs? No. Most likely that’s Time Machine, because it’s built into the OS and it’s very easy to use.

But if you want something more specific, a program that will backup very detailed things on your hard drive and send them to your iDisk account, this is the program for you. It’s a bit of a niche app, but for some people, that’s exactly what they’re looking for.

November 20 2010

CheckUp: Your Performance & Hardware Dashboard

Wouldn’t you love to have a dashboard for your Mac, similar to the one in your car that alerts you if anything seems likely to malfunction? CheckUp is exactly that. From your hard drive to your OS installation, CheckUp will keep watch for anything that’s wrong with your Mac, and tell you how to fix it.

Today we’ll go into detail with every aspect of this application, and assess whether it’s a worthwhile purchase to keep your Mac running in tip-top shape.

Getting Started

As careful as you are with your Mac, sometimes things have a habit of going wrong. If there’s anything malfunctioning on your Mac’s disks, software, or hardware, CheckUp will alert you of it, as well as tell you what you can do to fix it.

For a casual user that isn’t aware of many things that could be slowing your system down, this application is a must-have. Not only is the interface pretty simple, it also has an alert system that displays notifications about any problems that crop up.

Profile

Profile Menu

Profile Menu

The “Profile” menu is the main one, this is where you can see all the specifications of your Mac (OS version, Serial Number, Hard Drive capacity, etc.), and also where you’ll be notified of the issues that the application detects.

These issues are accessible through a window that breaks them down into categories and gives you access to a “Frequently Asked Questions” page.

System

System Menu

System Menu

The “System” menu is where you’ll be able to check all your installed items. And by “installed items”, we mean your applications, fonts, drivers, widgets and login items. Next to each category there’s a number displaying how many items you have installed in that category (e.g. 90 applications, 200 drivers), and if you click these categories you’ll get a list of every item that belongs there.

Then, you can see aspects of every installed item, like its size and version, or choose to uninstall particular files.

Under this menu there is also a category labeled “Operating Systems”. In this category, you’ll be able to see all the OS’s that you are running or could run, and what it would need for you to run it.

This is especially useful for people who don’t now that, for example, you need to use BootCamp to run Windows 7.

Processor & Memory

Processor Menu

Processor Menu

Under the “Processor” menu, you’ll be able to see a graphical display of your processor’s activity, including a graph that informs you of the peaks of your performance. From here you can also check the temperature, type, and bus speed of your processors, as well as tweak the graph to make it go further in time (1 week, today, etc.), optimize your performance or export the data from the graph.

The “Memory” menu displays the capacity of your RAM memory and tells you what would be your “optimal configuration”. Here you can also check how much memory you are using, and run a test to find defective RAM modules.

Disks & Network

Disks Menu

Disks Menu

From the “Disks” menu, you can see the space you are using on your hard drive and the capacity of your hard disk. It also displays all your external disks and any errors that they could have, giving you the ability to repair them.

Then there’s the “Network” menu, that displays information like your IP address and a graphical display of your In and Out network activity (this functions just like the Processor graph). It can also help you detect any wireless networks around you.

Processes & Documents

Processes Menu

Processes Menu

Processes is the menu where you can see the processes that take up the most memory and processor activity. You can also sort them through different categories, quit them and pause them. Ironically, “CheckUp” is usually the heaviest process – which really doesn’t bode well…

“Documents” lets you choose a folder and it’ll display the types of documents inside it, with size information, the number of items under that file type and the application related to it. You can also use this section to automatically find duplicated files.

Notifications

Notifications

Notifications

This is probably the most useful part of the app. Notifications are accessible through the menu of the application, and they let you set up notifications when certain things happen in your computer.

For example, you can set up CheckUp to notify you when the temperature of your processor reaches a certain temperature and stays there for a certain period of time. These notifications allow you to get to know your computer more and identify what usage makes your computer behave in a certain way. And they also work with the memory usage, the disks and the network.

Conclusion

CheckUp is a difficult application to evaluate. There aren’t many applications that do what CheckUp aims for. There’s the iStat bundle of apps that work in the menu bar or through widgets. There are also apps that do some of the things that CheckUp does, like Onyx, that has disk-checking abilities and displays system information, but these kind of apps usually don’t pack the same level of functionality.

A close comparison here is Activity Monitor, which can easily show most of the same information – albeit in a slightly simpler fashion. If you’ll only be using the basic functionality of CheckUp, you’re probably fine just to stick with Activity Monitor for the few times you notice a piece of software hogging memory.

Equally, there’s the question to be asked as to who exactly CheckUp is designed for. Most users won’t – or at least, shouldn’t – have a need for this type of app. Your Mac is designed to “just work” – this isn’t an environment where you really need to know your CPU temperature, or receive notifications about fan speed.

If you’re the type of person that likes to dig deep into their hardware configuration and operation, definitively download CheckUp and give it a try. If not, you may find this app a little bit underwhelming. I’d be interested to hear what you think, though. Do you use a piece of software like this on a regular basis?

March 23 2010

11 CD/DVD Burning Apps for Mac

Today we’re taking a look at a range of different CD and DVD burning tools for your Mac. Along with those bundled with your machine already, we’ll consider a number of third party applications that specialise in different fields. Some are delightful in their simplicity, others pack a huge feature set.

Whether you regularly produce and burn optical media, or just need to share a few photos from time to time, there will be something here for you!

Third Party Apps

Disco

Disco

Disco

Disco caused something of a splash in the Mac developer community when it launched a few years ago. The fascinating interface, coupled with a simple burning process makes it a really interesting candidate. When creating your disc, the app emits virtual “smoke”, that even reacts to you blowing into your Mac’s microphone.

Although Disco hasn’t seen a great deal of development in recent years, it’s still worth trying the demo if you’re looking for something futuristic and simple.

Price: $19.95
Developer: MadeBySofa

Burn

Burn

Burn

For a completely free app, Burn has a lot to offer. We recently reviewed the application, and it’s a good place to start if you’d like to find out more.

Split into four “modes” of Audio, Video, Data, and Copy, it’s capable of creating a wide range of different disc types.

Price: Free
Developer: Open Source

Toast

Toast

Toast

The heavyweight player in the disc burning industry, Toast comes at a hefty price with a feature set to match. It’s been around for 10 years and the chances are that if you can imagine a way in which you’d need to interact with optical media, Toast will be able to do it.

It certainly isn’t for everyone (don’t buy it just because it’s an industry leader), but if you need to do something very specific it may be the best option.

Price: $120
Developer: Roxio

Popcorn

Popcorn

Popcorn

From the makers of Toast, Popcorn is designed for helping to rip, copy and convert DVD content. The main sticking point is that (understandably) the software doesn’t rip commercial DVDs with copy-protection. Although this makes sense, in my opinion it makes popcorn a little redundant for anything other than home videos.

Considering you can find free software that does a very similar thing, I wouldn’t recommend shelling out $50 unless you know exactly why you need Popcorn in particular.

Price: $49.99
Developer: Roxio

BurnX Free

BurnX Free

BurnX Free

BurnX Free lets you burn a CD or DVD by dragging and dropping files or folders to the main window, and you can use sessions so multiple burns can be done in the same disc (CD only). It also has the ability to erase a CD or DVD.

As the name suggests, it’s completely free. The only downside is that it’s starting to look a little dated compared to a few of the other tools featured here.

Price: Free
Developer: HernanSoft

LiquidCD

LiquidCD

LiquidCD

Another fairly basic application, LiquidCD is free, and focused mainly at those with slightly more technical requirements. Development seems to be aimed now on occasional bug fixes, and it’s probably not one to keep high on your list of software to try out.

Price: Free
Developer: Maconnect

BurnAgain FS

BurnAgain FS

BurnAgain FS

BurnAgain FS places a great deal of emphasis on the idea of multi-session burning, and being able to use a CD or DVD more like a hard drive. You can add and remove items from the disk, and BurnAgain takes care of hiding the technicalities of how the process works.

Discs burned using the app work cross-platform, and you can download a trial that gives you 20 burns for free before deciding whether to purchase.

Price: $22
Developer: Free Ride Coding

SimplyBurns

SimplyBurns

SimplyBurns

SimplyBurns has a fairly straight-forward interface, and provides functionality for creating audio and data discs, ripping, copying media, and burning an image already stored on your computer.

If you’re weighing up the different free options, SimplyBurns is worth taking a look at (though probably won’t match up to Burn in terms of functionality).

Price: Free
Developer: Martin Köhler

In-Built OS X Apps

iTunes

iTunes

iTunes

I’m sure you’re already familiar with iTunes for storing and playing music/video, but did you know it can also burn CDs? Just select a playlist, then click “Burn” in the lower right hand corner. You can either create a standard Audio CD, or an MP3 CD, depending upon your preferences.

iTunes will also let you backup your entire music library to optical media. You click File > Library > Backup to Disc, and keep feeding iTunes DVDs until it’s done. It could take a while!

Finder

Finder

Finder

Burning is built right into Finder, and can be initiated in a few different ways. Click File > New Burn Folder, and you’ll be looking at a new folder into which you can drag-and-drop content to burn to a disc. If you have a folder you want to use already, just right click it and select “Burn “x” to Disc”.

iDVD

iDVD

iDVD

iDVD is Apple’s more full-featured DVD burning tool, geared primarily towards producing home movies containing video and photos. In a few clicks you can produce something that looks professional, and probably won’t bore your friends and family to tears.

Which App Do You Use?

We all have our preferences for particular burning applications, so which do you use on a regular basis?

I’m finding that it’s something I need to do less and less frequently, as most data backup and sharing I do tends to be centred around hard drives, or USB devices! Is this something you’re discovering to be the case as well?

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