Carbonite Makes Backup a No-Brainer

By Jamie Bsales | Posted July 10, 2006

With Carbonite Online PCBackup 2.0, you truly have no excuse for losing an important file or precious photo should your hard drive die or your PC disappear. Carbonite installs in two minutes, runs unobtrusively and costs just $5 a month—no matter how many gigabytes of data you have to back up.

Best of all, there's no user interface to learn or settings to decide upon: Carbonite watches you're My Documents folder (and subfolders) for new or changed files, then automatically sends those files to your backup folders on the company's servers. It's so simple, yet works so well, you'll wonder why someone didn't think of it before.

Load It and Forget It
Most backup programs, be they to a local drive or to an online service, require some degree of user interaction. They want you to choose a backup set, set a backup time and so on. You also need to work within the program's user interface. Not so with Carbonite.

Simply download and install the applet from the company's Web site or load the CD found in the retail box ($49.95 for one year of service) and the program goes to work. It does offer a top-level program interface that lets you check status, access help or restore a file, but you can choose to ignore this, since all the program's functionality can be accessed via Windows Explorer.

By default, Carbonite backs up all the data in your My Documents folder and your Desktop settings. That's the simple way of thinking about it. In point of fact, Carbonite is actually doing much more, grabbing the entire Documents and Settings folder. This way, if you add new users to Windows XP down the road, those user folders are included in the backup set. More importantly, backing up Documents and Settings also ensures the files stored in Windows' Application Data subfolder — notably your Outlook .pst data file — are backed up.

For the security conscious, all user data files are encrypted before they leave your PC, and are sent via an SSL link (the same secure connection used by most major online retailers to protect your credit-card info during a purchase).

Background Checks
The initial backup will take some time, typically 3GB per day over a residential broadband connection. But Carbonite runs unobtrusively in the background, sending files when it sees idle time in your CPU usage and Internet connection so as not to slow you down. In our tests, Carbonite backed up nearly 4GB of data, music and photos in about 24 hours: and 3GB of that was while our PC sat idle from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., and the remainder throughout the day while we worked.

Thereafter, Carbonite is a silent companion. Every time you create, load or modify a document, the utility automatically duplicates it to your backup folder off-site. That's it. Done. Nothing more to think about.

Feeling a bit skeptical? You can see a document's status at any time by simply looking in Windows Explorer. Carbonite adds small green dot to the icon of documents that have been backed up, and a yellow dot to ones that are pending. If you want a pending file (say, that big presentation you just finished) backed up immediately, simply right click on its icon, mouse over Carbonite in the pick list, and choose "Back up this file as soon as possible." You can use the same procedure to have Carbonite back up critical files that are stored somewhere other than your Documents and Settings folder, or to tell the program not to back up a given file or type of file.

Carbonite.com
Carbonite provides automatic, continuous back up over the Internet, but you can also check the status of a file and ask Carbonite to back it up immediately.
(Click for larger image)
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To restore a file (or set of files), choose the Carbonite Secure Backup choice that was added to the My Computer dialog box during installation. All your files will be there, nested in subfolders just as they are on your local hard drive. Right click on a file or folder icon, choose restore, and the file will be returned to its rightful place on your C: drive (or to any location you specify).

Designed as a One-Trick Pony
No doubt, other online services have added layers of features that Carbonite doesn't offer — photo sharing, multimedia file streaming and so on. But that's by design. The company's goal was to keep Carbonite as simple as possible, so you don't need to think about it unless disaster strikes. The more complex a backup product is, the lesslikely you are to back up as diligently as you should. By keeping things simple, Carbonite is able to run on its own.

And then there's the price. It's just $5 a month (with two months free if you pay for a year up front) for an unlimited amount of online space. That's half the price of most any other online service's entry-level monthly fee, and those services charge on a sliding scale as your data set grows (typically $50 for 20GB).

That said, Carbonite isn't right for everyone. You will need a separate subscription for each PC where Carbonite resides, which could be an issue for multi-PC offices or homes. The company says it is working on a small-office/home network-pricing plan. And right now, the program requires a broadband connection on a Windows XP computer (a Mac version in the works).

But if you've ever lost a file because you meant to back up but hadn't gotten to it, Carbonite is the solution for you. You'll never have to think about file backup again.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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