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May 31, 2007

Microsoft SyncToy, best damn Backup app for home users I've ever used

Categories Microsoft 

This is sort of another "You Should Do That" style post.  If you use Windows and are looking for a great back-up solution, you should try Microsoft SyncToy.  Before I got SyncToy backing up my work, photos and music was such a chore I just didn't bother.  But since SyncToy it's actually fun.  The interface is simple and even fun to use, and it provides a lot of functionality without being overcomplicated or confusing.  To understand why I love it so much, please read on, but if you're the "I'll believe it when I see it" type just go download it.

Microsoft SyncToy 1.4

I use external hard drives to backup my data, and every external hard drive I've bought has include a program called Retrospect.  I always install and try to use it, but give up because it's complicated and I didn't like the way it worked.  Retrospect, like a lot of back-up apps, wants to backup your data by rolling all your files it into a single archive file.  Then every time it backs up your data it creates a new archive file.  The benefit of this is that by keeping multiple archive files it makes it possible to restore a folder or file to the way it was 3 backups ago.  This is great for corporate or business settings but for home users, it's sort of overkill.  The big downside to this method is that you have these huge archive files can take a long time to create, and you need Retrospect or whatever program to read them back, as it can be difficult to dive into one of the archive files to retrieve a single file.

SyncToy is different, it copies your files intact as files.  No weirdo archives, just your files the way you're used to seeing them.  With SyncToy you create a "Folder Pair" which essentially consists of a source folder and destination folder and then configure how files are copied.  SyncToy offers 4 different ways to backup your files, which are all clearly explained with very terse and precise text.  You do have to read the explainatory text carefully when creating a folder pair to ensure it's backing up the files the way you want.  Once the Folder Pair is created you can run the procedure at any time or even schedule it to run automatically. 

For instance, I like to keep an exact replica of my work files on my external hard drive.  SyncToy offers a way to "echo" changes from the source folder to the destination folder.  That means that it doesn't copy all my files, it just copies what needs to be updated.  So my backups take just a few seconds, instead of hours.  I have other folder pairs to backup my Music and Photos and they're all a little different, and exactly what I want.

SyncToy works so well, and is such a pleasure to use I actually find myself looking for things to backup.  Which really is remarkable; it's a backup application that makes you want to backup.  There's something about making backups that leaves you feeling smart and secure.  After a backup I feel confident that if one day my hard drive dies (at it probably will) everything will be ok.

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