Desktop backup software

Simple Backup

One of the weaker candidates in the test was Sbackup [5] (Figure 5), short for Simple Backup. The latest version, 0.11.6, was released some time ago and can be installed directly from Ubuntu repositories. The Ubuntu wiki opens with a prominent caution about the software's reliability [14]. The lineup is also a bit confusing, with a backup daemon and two separate graphical interfaces: one for restoring and another for configuring. Furthermore, Sbackup distinguishes between normal and root users. The software performs automatic backups with Cron, so it needs to call up the sbackup-config-gtk configuration interface with root privileges.

Figure 5: The options in Sbackup are limited.

Root and normal users generally have different default values – the differences are explained in the help section (F1). This includes the fact that compression is set to gzip and the Include tab integrates the /var/, /home/, /usr/local/ and /etc/ paths. Sbackup also excludes paths from the backup using various criteria, including regular expressions.

The documentation for Sbackup isn't particularly good. The Help dialog, for example, only shows a single image regarding the topic of restoration. Although Sbackup does not encrypt data, it does provide profiles.

After starting, you can determine how often you want Sbackup to perform a full backup, and in the meantime it executes incremental backups. Local directories (which include Samba and NFS mounts) and remote stores accessible via SSH are possible targets. To use SSH, you should at least register via SSH using the console on the remote host.

A status indicator in the notification area provides information about the progress of the backup. The recovery window is quite simple and can quickly become cluttered (Figure 6) if you have many backups. You can restore the entire backup or individual files, and this also works recursively. However, a diff function is missing.

Figure 6: This window could quickly become confusing with several backups.

Assessment. The warnings in various wikis are reason enough to stay away from Sbackup. The project doesn't seem to be very active anymore and has many weaknesses. Besides the confusing user guidance and multiple interfaces, complaints have been made by users about the software not reporting when a disk is full [15]. An option to encrypt data is also missing.

One positive Sbackup feature is support for logs and reports sent via email – Back in Time and Déjà Dup don't offer this. The option in the General tab to split an archive into several chunks is particularly helpful for those who store their data on hard drives with a FAT filesystem that can only cope with files of a limited size. Nevertheless, considering the alternatives, you probably have little reason to use Sbackup.


The blaze of color that hits you when you open luckyBackup [6] (Figure 7) is quite something: Fonts in pink, green, and blue are a real feast for the eyes. The My First Website charm extends to the manual, which users can access by pressing F1. The developer obviously tried out all the HTML styles available – and didn't forget the smileys either.

Figure 7: The luckyBackup creators seem to love all things colorful.

But, enough about style, because presentation often says little about function. Indeed, luckyBackup provides some original ideas, along with some serious flaws, putting it in the same league as Sbackup rather than with the other two candidates, probably because no one really maintains the software anymore. The latest release, 0.4.8, is dated March 2014, and the developers are not providing any new updates or bug fixes.

At least the latest version is in Ubuntu's repositories. luckyBackup uses Rsync and a Qt interface with its own language settings. It doesn't just add profiles, it also imports and exports them. This means you can equip several computers quickly with a luckyBackup profile.

This program also has two modes: one for normal users and the second for superusers. The Task List in the middle of the GUI is where you line up different backup jobs.

If a job doesn't find its target directory, a corresponding message appears in the Information window. The software can also keep two computers in sync, as with Unison [16]. Although this function is similar to a backup, it mostly just caused confusion in this test.

A great option that isn't available in the programs I've already mentioned is the ability to give backups meaningful names. The pure date format on which the other programs rely doesn't always make searching easy when restoring, because all the file names are similar.

You can supplement a job with the add button in the Task pane to initiate a backup operation. In the Task properties dialog, Backup Source inside Destination is the backup function, whereas Synchronize Source and Destination keeps two directories in sync.

Clicking Advanced provides additional options that let you describe your backup, exempt files from the backup (with regex, too), supplement specific files, or make contact with a remote computer over SSH. You can sort out Rsync options manually in the Command Options tab, and scripts can be defined in the Also Execute tab, which can be run Before or After a backup. Finally, you can specify the maximum number of snapshots to be kept in the bottom right corner. If luckyBackup exceeds this number, it deletes older snapshots.

If you have defined one or more tasks, you can trigger the backup in the main window using Run. If you check Dry, luckyBackup runs a simulation and reports errors if found. Caution: The software executes the pre-scripts and post-scripts! Clicking the Schedule icon lets you create fixed backup intervals, which uses Cron. Once the software has performed its duties, it will send you an email with the report, if requested.

Finally, you can restore data by going to Task | Manage Backup (Figure 8). To do so, select a snapshot on the left and click Restore. You can create a diff by choosing Calculate differences.

Figure 8: You can also choose to simulate a restore operation.

Assessment. Most noticeable is that luckyBackup only provides very rudimentary ways to manage the space on the hard disk and delete old backups. You might need to define it as a task or write a task that runs before or after the backup, which isn't particularly convenient. Moreover, the software doesn't compress backups, doesn't encrypt, and doesn't really look after your storage space, either. On the other hand, it can be scripted to cut corners and feed parameters to Rsync. Although this is sure to win some fans, the whole point of a graphical application becomes a bit lost.

Areca Backup

Areca Backup is pretty much the opposite of luckyBackup in terms of presentation [7]. As a Java program, it needs openjdk-7-jre; works across platforms; provides a clearly structured, discreet, and almost boring interface; can be expanded with plugins; and otherwise leaves little to be desired. Despite being licensed under GPLv2, it isn't in Ubuntu's standard repositories. In Linux, you simply need to download and unpack the software and execute the associated script,

The list of features is impressive. First, Areca Backup has all forms of backups: full, incremental, and differential making it the tool of choice for large dynamic files. Choice of storage mode includes Standard, Delta, and Image, which produces a single image file and renews it as soon as the files of the source change. Successive archives can be combined to save space.

Areca Backup can also encrypt (AES128 or AES256) and compress data (Zip or Zip 64). Here, you also have the option to select character encoding and a compression factor. Network drives, USB keys, FTP(S) servers, and SFTP locations all serve as possible storage targets.

Users first need to create a new group (Edit | New group); then, right-click the group and choose New Target. A window will open (Figure 9) where you can enter the details for the backup operation, such as the target and the source folders. You can also choose to set up an accessible FTP or SFTP target in the Main tab, and Sources can be supplemented by dragging and dropping files from you file manager.

Figure 9: The details for the backup job can be defined via the Target window in the background.

In the Advanced section, you can set up encryption and bandwidth throttling. The Transactions section is also interesting: If a backup aborts, Areca Backup continues at one of the transaction points (in KB). Transactions take place as individual operations to ensure the integrity of backups.

If the source and target are adequately defined, clicking Save stores them in the left window below the group name. If you right-click on the target, you'll have access to extra options, such as Simulate backup and Wizards | Generate backup shortcut, which means the backup process can be easily converted into a Cron job later. Clicking Backup then asks whether you want an incremental, differential, or full backup before Areca Backup the gets on with its business. A progress bar provides feedback about the backup, and Areca lists error and success messages in the Progression tab (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Profiles are known as groups in Areca Backup, and various backup jobs can be created in each group. The left side lists groups and targets, and you can follow the progress of the backup on the right.

The restore is handled in the Logical view tab. The backed up files appear here and can be both restored, viewed, or even played back (e.g, music files). The Search tab helps you find a particular file: Those who back up lots of files know what it's like to search for a needle in a haystack during the restore process, so they will appreciate this feature. Last but not least, Areca generates reports from its backups and sends them to the user on request.

Assessment. Areca Backup leaves little to be desired. The rather unusual form of automation is probably because the program is written in Java, but the scripts that can be generated solve this problem in an elegant way. Very few plugins are available, although WebDAV or cloud support would be desirable features that could possibly be implemented. Areca Backup does not back up entire systems, but that isn't the aim of the software, either.

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