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Retrospect Desktop 5.5 review:

Retrospect Desktop 5.5

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The Good Powerful and versatile; lets you make easy incremental backups; comes with excellent documentation.

The Bad Requires extra steps for backup and restoration; somewhat difficult to learn.

The Bottom Line If you frequently revise documents, Retrospect's incremental backup system may be just right for you, but be prepared for a steep learning curve. For an easier backup system, we recommend GoBack.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall

Retrospect Desktop 5.5 is a solid, versatile piece of backup software with many features. All its extra tools create so many choices, in fact, that Retrospect isn't as easy to use as NovaBackup, Simple Backup, or GoBack. Thankfully, Retrospect's superior documentation and large selection of backup destinations make up for the steep learning curve. But if you want a full-featured backup system that's easy to use from the get-go, we recommend GoBack. Retrospect Desktop 5.5 is a solid, versatile piece of backup software with many features. All its extra tools create so many choices, in fact, that Retrospect isn't as easy to use as NovaBackup, Simple Backup, or GoBack. Thankfully, Retrospect's superior documentation and large selection of backup destinations make up for the steep learning curve. But if you want a full-featured backup system that's easy to use from the get-go, we recommend GoBack.

Installation
Download the 30-day trial version of Retrospect 5.5, and you get the full software package, including a PDF file manual, making it a 16.9MB download altogether. After registering and downloading the software, Dantz e-mails you a license code to enter during installation. Best of all, if you decide to buy it after the 30 days, you won't have to download the software again; you just purchase another license code.

Dantz, the maker of this app, offers several versions of Retrospect, but you'll probably find that either Retrospect Express Backup ($49) or Retrospect Desktop Backup ($149) will meet your needs. Express offers limited support for tape drives (USB/ATAPI drives only, no SCSI tape drives)--perfect for the home user--while the Desktop version supports a much wider array of tape drives--good for a small business. The Desktop version expands with optional clients to cover other computers, so you can pay extra to cover everyone in your office, for example. Before choosing between the two, check to make sure the software supports the backup hardware (CD-R/RW, tape, removable disk) that you have. You can find Dantz's extensive list of supported devices here.

Steep learning curve
The Retrospect interface appears easy to use. Its first button, Sources, lets you pick the drives or folders you want to back up. The Destination button lets you name your backup. Unfortunately, an extra step causes considerable confusion. You have to hit the Selecting button to open a dialog that lets you pick whether to back up all files, applications, documents, and so on. But you then must drop down to the Preview button to select the particular folders and files that you wish to back up.

Thankfully, Retrospect's Restore functions are flexible. Once you've lost data, you can choose to restore an entire disk--helpful after a hard drive disaster--either to the original location or to a new place--a good option to use after a virus infection.

"Backup set" is worth your while
What sets Retrospect apart from the other backup products on the market is what the vendor calls a "backup set." Most other backup programs use a file's archive bit (part of a file's attributes) as a way to track which files need to be backed up. Retrospect tracks this differently, by way of its own catalog file, which is stored on the drive being backed up. The catalog keeps track of all the files that have been backed up, including the filename, modified date, and size. When it's time to do another backup to the same set, Retrospect compares this catalog to the contents of the hard drive, rather than the contents of the backup stored on the CD, tape, or disk. Retrospect will back up only hard drive files that have been changed since the last backup. This makes the preparation for a backup quicker, although it does consume disk space. (Dantz says a catalog will be approximately 4MB in size for every 10,000 files backed up.)

An Incremental Plus backup--backing up only the files that have changed each day--is a convenient feature. Say you've been working on your novel every day and making daily backups using Retrospect. Your backup set will, by default, contain each saved version. If you decide on Saturday that you like Wednesday's version better, you can go back to Wednesday. You aren't stuck with having only the last backed-up version from Friday.

Retrospect uses its own dominant file format when writing to removable disks and CDs, so the format claims the whole disk. For instance, after backing up 100MB worth of files to a backup set on a 2GB Jaz drive, the drive will show up in Windows Explorer as full. It's not--there's plenty of room for more files--it's just that Retrospect isn't going to share any space. Luckily, this doesn't happen when saving to another hard drive.

A scripting tool that can automate your backup process is included with Retrospect. While the company calls it a "script," it's actually a set of customized backup options.

Although Retrospect's online help, reached via the F1 key or by clicking Help, is on the skimpy side, it comes with an excellent 246-page manual that walks you through each process, discusses some of the background technology that the program uses, and gives hints on backup strategies.

If you want a capable backup program with the ability to back up multiple versions of your work, then Retrospect is worth the learning curve needed to use it. Retrospect may be a good choice if you work on long projects that get revised multiple times, for example. However, if you don't need that capability, consider NovaBackup or GoBack.

The user-customized Immediate Backup feature saves time.

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