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%% UseNet Review - AmiBack 2.0g by Mike Schwager %%
%% firstname.lastname@example.org %%
Ami-Back, version 2.0g
Hard disk backup software for the Amiga.
Name: Moonlighter Software Development
Address: 3208-C East Colonial Drive, Suite 204
Orlando, Florida 32803
Phone: (407) 384-9484
Fax: (407) 384-9391
$79.95 (US). I paid about $45 (US) for it.
SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
The program has no official RAM requirements, but I
recommend 1 MB of RAM or more.
MACHINE USED FOR TESTING
Amiga 500, Rev. 5 Motherboard, 1 Meg Agnus installed.
2 Meg Fast RAM (3 Meg RAM total).
52 Meg hard drive, Supra SCSI controller.
1 external 880K floppy.
Amiga 500, Rev. 5 Motherboard, 1 Meg Agnus.
4 Meg Fast RAM (5 Meg RAM total).
157 Meg hard drive, Supra SCSI controller.
1 external 880K floppy.
Summary (out of 5 stars, with a '+' for extra points):
Tech Support: **+
Ease of use: ***+
Ami-Back bills itself as "The Ultimate Backup Utility". I don't know
about that. To me, the ultimate utility would be rock-solid, very easy to
set up and use, fast, and worry-free. Personally, I would bill Ami-Back as
"The Pretty Good Backup Utility". It comes up short in some ways. It is an
almost-good product. Were it less buggy, I would be very, very happy.
Ami-Back comes on 1 disk, and includes versions for both the
AmigaDOS 1.3 and 2.0. I'm still an AmigaDOS 1.3 user, so that's the only
version I was able to test. Your mileage may differ.
[MODERATOR'S NOTE: It turns out that I am an Ami-Back user too.
Some of the features (and problems) of Ami-Back described in this
review are different in the AmigaDOS 2.0 version. - Dan]
Installation was simple. Pop the disk in the drive, double click the
Install icon, and away it goes. There's not a whole lot to it. Ami-Back
just puts the binaries and libraries in their proper places. In "Expert"
install mode, you are able to place the binaries wherever you'd like.
After installation, you either double-click on Ami-Back's icon, or
run Ami-Back from the CLI. Personally, I'm a CLI user. Ami-Back opens up
its own non-interlaced screen. The colors are not settable, but they're a
reasonable mix of gray, white, and black. Pretty utilitarian, but then
that's what it's all about, no? The main screen is very simple - logo and
copyright information on the left, and 4 large buttons on the right:
"Backup", "Restore", "Scheduler", and "Quit". I have not used the scheduler
at all, as I'm a poor old floppy drive user who must be there when the
backups are running. "Backup" and "Restore" are naturally the more
important buttons here.
At this point, I should mention that the manual, though not verbose,
is really quite adequate for the job. Often, I will want to skim over a
manual, looking for the meaty stuff and mentally throwing away the
nonessentials. Sometimes that gets me into trouble as I might miss an
important item in my haste. Ami-Back's manual is clear and gets right to
the point. It takes you through the necessary steps, in the order you need
to do them, to get your backup going. I followed the manual pretty closely
when first using the program. It coincides with the program and its
structure and order very well.
The first thing you do is configure the program. There are three
menus on the main Ami-Back screen, and under the Preferences menu is the
"Program Configuration" item. Configuring the program mostly means
specifying the locations of the various log and configuration files for your
different backups. The default locations are the s: directory, but you can
change them here.
Once you've saved the program configuration, you need to set up a
backup configuration. The backup configuration window contains most of the
important backup file and directory selection filters and gadgets. It's
where most of the work is done to get Ami-Back set up. You select the "New
Configuration" menu item to give your configuration a name. Then you select
the "Backup Configuration" menu item. This procedure is a little confusing
(you can forget to select "New Configuration"), so you need to take care
that you're saving the proper config file with the proper config selections.
In the Backup Configuration screen, all your disk devices show up as
icons near the top. You can select as many as you'd like with the mouse, or
go ahead and type directory or partition names in the string gadget just
below the icons, separating them with a space. You can then select a
destination which can be floppies, a tape drive, an AmigaDOS file, or one of
your partitions. You can select the backup type; Ami-Back will do standard
AmigaDOS partitions as well as image backups of UNIX and/or Mac partitions.
You can choose to verify the backup or not, and you can set up a filename or
directory filter. I hope they improve that filter; it was rather confusing
to use. It can use a facelift. I don't use it much. It looks like it's
pretty powerful, but for what I do it's not worth any hassle. For example,
AmiBack is fast enough that I just let it back up my #?.o files in my work
directories. You can also tell AmiBack to backup files only within a
certain date range.
Additionally, there are a bunch of little buttons that control
various things: whether to set the archive bit after backing a file up,
whether to turn on compression, whether or not you want Ami-Back to warn you
before it overwrites a floppy, etc.
Once you are done setting up the backup configuration, you save it.
Now you can load it whenever you want to do that particular backup. Once the
proper configuration is loaded, all you need to do is click the "Backup"
button on the main screen.
After you click the "Backup" button, AmiBack will scan the entire
partition(s). Normally this goes quite quickly, say within a minute or two
for a 10 Meg partition, but having fancy filters will slow it down. Once it
completes the scan, a "Backup Information" screen shows up. There, all kinds
of useful information is shown: estimated and actual Files, Bytes, and
Disks used, bar meters showing percent completion on the current media and
on the backup as a whole, the name of the file currently being compressed
and backed up, status of the backup destination devices (Ready, Not Ready,
or In Use), time spent backing up, time spent waiting for the user, and
estimated time till completion (of the backup, of course).
At this point you have the option of starting the backup or
canceling it and redoing your configuration. Click on Begin, and away you
go! Ami-Back does not assume that the floppies currently in the drives are
backup disks. You must pop in the disks after hitting "Begin"; a nice little
safety feature. However, you can tell AmiBack not to put up a requestor
prior to writing to each floppy after the first ones. Personally, I like
having that feature. I just keep all nonessential floppies out of harm's
way. But realize that it can be dangerous.
Once AmiBack starts, it watches the floppy drives asynchronously.
This means that after Ami-Back finishes writing to a disk (say, in DF0:), it
continues writing to your other floppy (say, DF1:). While it is writing,
you can pop out the old floppy in DF0: and insert a new one. Ami-Back
displays helpful messages like "DF0: Not Ready" when it's time to change the
disk in DF0:, and "DF0: Ready" after you have inserted a new disk. If you
are vigilant, backups go about as fast as it takes to write continuously to
the floppy drives, even with a 68000-based Amiga.
AmiBack uses 44K of Chip RAM and 283K of Fast RAM when it is first
loaded. It uses more RAM depending on how much data you are trying to back
up. For example, backing up a 10 Meg partition with 1,300 files causes an
additional 66K of Fast RAM to be used. So I'd say it's not well suited for
Amigas with only 512K RAM, but it should work OK in 1 Meg.
AmiBack multitasks quite well. Naturally you must make sure that
you don't need your floppies while running your backups (if you back up to
floppy). However, you can pretty much do whatever else you want while the
backups are running. The usual caveats apply when trying to do "Live"
backups. As with any machine, if your data is important to you, it's best
to just leave the computer alone until backups have finished.
AmiBack didn't seem to exhibit any anomalies with other software on
the Amiga. I have all sorts of little utilities running on my machine and I
didn't notice any incompatibilities.
[MODERATOR'S NOTE: Ami-Back 2.0 exhibits Enforcer hits if you have
the ASDG Dual Serial Card siosbx.device mounted. However, Ami-Back
2.0h fixes this problem. (The software patch is free and on Aminet
and the Moonlighter BBS.) - Dan]
This software cranks when backing up to floppies. I can do 50 Meg
in a couple of hours, user time and backup time included. AmiBack uses a
non-DOS disk format, which is good I think. The disks get written to and
verified as fast as, say, doing a DiskCopy (with verify). This is even on
my 68000-based setup. On my last backup with the 68030 accelerator, I was
timing floppies at about 1-1/2 minutes each. I guess this speed may be
because the compression is not as outstanding as it could be. My latest
backups took 41 disks for about 50 Meg or so of files - with compression on.
I should mention that perhaps 2 or 3 Meg of that is "lha" files, which
won't compress any more no matter what you do.
I've never done a full restore for a broken hard disk. However, I
just ran a selective restore to restore a single file. It was quick and
easy. You go to the "Restore Configuration" menu, which takes you to the
Restore Configuration screen. There you can tell AmiBack where to put your
restored files, what media the files are on, whether you want to do a
selective or complete restore, whether to overwrite existing files, etc.
Once configured to your liking, you click the "Use" button. This gets you
back to the main screen where you can now click the "Restore" button.
AmiBack will ask for the name of the index file which it created when it did
the backup. Once installed, AmiBack seems to know exactly where the file is
stored. Right away it asked me to insert disk 5 of my backup, and within
nary two minutes, my 500K lha file was restored. It took maybe 4-5 minutes,
start to finish.
AmiBack claims to provide AREXX support. I didn't test this feature.
A 70-page User Guide. Short, sweet, to the point. I give the
manual an 'A'. (*****)
LIKES AND DISLIKES
The floppy disk write routines are excellent. This thing goes fast!
The file filter configuration is frustrating and confusing. I spent
a long time trying to figure out how to get it to backup only 1 directory and
all its contents. Impossible to do from the file filter; you must do that
on the Backup Configuration screen. Well, I couldn't figure out how to do
it there until through a stroke of luck I was able to speak with the right
guy at Moonlighter. See the "Bugs" section for more information.
If one of your disks goes bad in the middle of a backup, AmiBack
knows how to backtrack to the beginning of that disk, and you can put in a
new one. Ahhh...! So nice.
COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
I don't know about any others. Is ExpressCopy still out there?
Well, it was a buggy piece of junk. I received it from Supra with a ROM
upgrade a couple of years back, and forget it!
I've used Matt Dillon's backup program, and though that works ok
it's not nearly as fast or convenient as Ami-Back. It's really nice not to
have to redo an entire backup after the 10th disk out of 11 turns out to
have an error.
Using "lha" or a similar compression program seems like too much of
a hassle. AmiBack is sweet in that it combines a lot of flexibility,
configurability, and usefulness in one package.
Quarterback seems to be the one other big player in the Amiga market.
Unfortunately I don't know how it compares to Ami-Back.
Some scary ones at the beginning. I couldn't get the software to
"label" a backup, so I just don't use that feature. It would guru
invariably when I tried. And, some 33% of the time the software would guru
just as I tried to start a backup. My last phone call to Tech Support
brought an enlightened soul, who suggested I remove the configuration file.
That seemed to work. Subsequently, I couldn't get it to guru at all during
my last backup.
But, during my last backup I had another scary happenstance. It was
backing up a partition, and I had left the room. When I came back I see the
floppy drive is spinning but AmiBack doesn't seem to be doing a dang thing.
The only thing that's happening is the "Backup Time" clock is advancing. It
wouldn't respond to any controls. So, I had to reboot my machine. A
subsequent backup of the same partition worked properly. Well, I haven't
tried to restore from it however....
During my last Tech Support call to the Enlightened Voice, I
discovered that unless you hit a return in the Backup Configuration's
"Source" string gadget, partitions or directories typed there will not be
accepted. This was the cause of much frustration for me. So you need to
make sure you put a return after the last word in the string gadget!
One time I went to Load a Configuration, and I got a tone through my
speaker. My machine was locked up. That was just once, though.
You may call Moonlighter Software for Tech Support, 9am-5pm, Monday
through Friday. They are on the East coast of the USA. The guys there
seemed moderately knowledgeable. As I mentioned above, the last time I
called, the voice on the other end diagnosed my one bug as a probable
configuration file problem, and told me to reload it. Previously, another
voice said something like "Gee, I don't know... I've seen that problem...
we'll have to take a look at that." I felt sort of like I had heard, "the
check's in the mail." Reportedly, they have Bix accounts and Bix gateways to
the Internet, but I never got responses to my email. Maybe it never got
Also, on the support BBS they say there's minor upgrades. I haven't
tried the support BBS.
Overall, support gets a 'C'. (**+)
AmiBack was a little more of a hassle to get going than I would have
liked. I have a pet peeve about backup software: make it one zillion
percent robust, simple (or at least, look simple), robust, relatively easy
to learn, and did I mention that it has to be robust? One doesn't mess
around when hours and hours - nay, even man-years - of work are at stake.
AmiBack gets a B for simplicity, a C for robustness, a B+ for ease of
learning. Overall, I give it a B- (***). It's a decent program, to be
sure. I wish I felt just a little more at ease with it. "Bullet Proof Data
Backup Protection for the Amiga" does not Guru because it's unhappy with the
config file, nor spin my floppy drive aimlessly.
However, it is fast. I like how it handles the floppies. It is
quite configurable, and in all fairness it is a very thoughtful program.
It's nice that they remember us lowly 1.3 Amigans. And there has never been
a bug so nasty as to make it unusable. In short, I use it on a regular
basis. And that, dear friends, is why they make backup software.
Copyright 1994 by Mike Schwager. All rights reserved.