Friday, 21 January 2011

Acronis True Image Home 2011

Through several annoying, and a few heartbreaking, incidents I have learned well the IT lesson that "Data you do not have backed up is data you do not want". So I back stuff up. I back stuff up in a number of ways.

Firstly, I have an external drive from seagate (the clicky clicky special referred to in my post about encryption). It has a 5 year warranty, which is a good sign (and the clicky clicky sound has gone away). On that drive I mirror My Music, My Documents, My Videos, My Pictures and My Dropbox folders. I use Allway Sync for this, and it is pretty good. It is available as a "free" version, but is actually a nagware version, because after you have synced so many files it starts hassling you to buy the full version. It is, however, very intuitive to use. File synchronization software is not, by and large, written by people who have an innate talent for user interface design. When you run Allway Sync it pops up suggestion tip boxes telling you what to click and where to type to do a basic sync. You can completely ignore these if you like, and you will do so once you get to grips with it, but it is very welcome at the start.

With this backup method, what I end up with is a copy of all my data on an external disk. All I need to do is connect up the external drive, fire up Allway Sync and run the saved settings. The length of the backup just depends on how much stuff has changed since the last time I did a backup. It can be very very quick in deed. I am now into the habit of running one everytime I buy some new iTunes music, or upload some new digital photos from my camera. I treat all new material as not really existing until such time as I have run a sync.

It is also worth pointing out that you can set the software up to sync in one direction or both directions. Both directions is useful if you are moving the external drive between machines, where you may be adding data to it from both machines. The two way sync makes sure that every machine has the same data on it as the other machines. Ideal for sharing an iTunes library around the house. If running with a one way sync - just to back up stuff from one machine, you can also choose NOT to replicate deletions, so you keep a copy of all files on the external drive even if you delete them (accidentally!) on the main machine.

The second backup method I use is Dropbox. This allows you to select a folder on your machine which is then replicated on the Dropbox company's servers. If you install the software on another machine you get a copy of the folder on that machine as well. It works with Windows and Linux. I have it installed on every machine I use (netbook, HTPC, Desktop, and both of my work machines). That is a mixture of Ubuntu and Windows 7 machines. I get exactly what it says on the tin - one folder which is on all of those machines.

Dropbox, like AllwaySync, comes in a free version. You get 2Gb of space to use before you have to part with any cash. I just use the free version, and keep the folder contents to the really important stuff. Like, for instance, password safe databases, bitlocker recovery keys and so on. This backup method is very useful because it is off site storage. So if the house burns to the ground, I still have all the data in my dropbox folder. Also, if the dropbox company goes out of business I have all the data in the folder on 5 separate machines in three different buildings. Quite, quite, secure.

The third type of backup I do is to take an image of my system partition on various machines. If you are connected to the internet, you are going to get some sort of problem software installed at some point. Or you are going to change a stupid setting in the OS which is a pain to put right. Or you may just have a good old fashioned hardware failure. The BEST way of resolving the foregoing issues that I have found is not to bother with manuals, or anti-malware programs, but just to say "fuck it" and restore the last working image of the system partition. As a rough rule of thumb every gigabyte of data takes about 1 minute to restore. So if you install windows and a couple of bits of software you are only looking at 10-15 minutes to get back to a fresh working machine. You can EASILY spend that amount of time trying to get rid of whatever rootkit has infected your machine.

The software that I use for this task is True Image Home from Acronis. Unlike the other options I outlined above, this is not free (although there is a free trial). It does a couple of very useful things which made me spend money on it. Firstly, it lets you mount the archives it creates as virtual disks, so if you just want to grab a file or two out of it you can. Secondly, it lets you build a bootable USB stick so you can boot from that and use the software without having installed it. Go on, use Windows Backup to restore an image to a bare metal HDD. Not possible. You need to install Windows FIRST. Also the USB Key approach will happily back up and restore Linux partitions as well.

I had an older version of the software which I had to replace because it did not recognise my SATA connected hard disks. When browsing in the shop, I found two different versions of the 2011 software: a netbook "optimized" version which came on a USB key, and a Desktop version. The Desktop version cost £10 more. Now, I decided that I could put up with the inconvenience of using software designed for a netbook screen on a larger screen in exchange for a ready made USB key and the £10 price difference.

It turns out, however, that when Acronis say netbook "optimized" they actually mean netbook "crippled". Because you see (and it mentions this nowhere on the fucking box) it ONLY WORKS ON NETBOOKS. Yes, the software starts up on the desktop and says to itself, "hang the fuck on, this is not a netbook processor, I am going to go in a huff". The software was therefore completely fucking useless. Apart from on my netbook. Worked fine there.

So back to the shop. Explain predicament. Part with £10. Get full version. Go home. Install full version. Run a system disk backup.

Now, fast forward to last Saturday. I was downloading some hefty multipart files and the machine kept crashing. Odd, I thought. Possibly a hardware issue. I broke out in a cold sweat with thoughts of the Hardware Fuckup trilogy. Thankfully though, it did not seem to be hardware related. All temps were fine, and it kept going for a few more hours before crashing again. Hmm. Quick browse with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (again the free version) revealed that yes, a nasty infection of something or another had taken hold. Bugger.

First solution is the "fuck it" solution. Fire up Acronis, tell it to restore from the previous Wednesday's backup. It tells me it needs to restart the machine to restore to the system drive. Fine, fine, just get on with it. It restarts ... back into Windows. No sign of a backup being restored. Arse. Next, grab a USB stick, set it up as bootable media and boot from that. Fine. Select archive to restore. It cannot be restore because there may not be enough space left to boot. What. The. FUCK. is that about? This is a mirror of a whole disk. It is not possible to fit more stuff in the image than was on the disk in the first fucking place.

I have never seen this message on earlier version of True Image. So I take a punt and download the trial version of the 2010 software. It complains that the image is corrupted. A Ha! says I. Maybe the error message is some sort of default and actually the archive is bollocksed. So I reinstall the 2011 version and validate the archive. The archive is fine. Fucking arseholes. This must be a backwards compatibility issue. So I then use the 2011 software to convert the archive from True Image format to Windows Backup format, boot to the USB key version 2010 and ... it complains about the image being too big for the blah blah. However, it does at least let me IGNORE THE BULLSHIT ERROR and just restore the image anyway. Which is what it is doing now. [UPDATE] It has now finished and the restore went fine. So if you backup using TIH2011, all you need to do to restore an image is to convert it to a Windows Backup Image, remove TIH2011, install TIH2010, create a USB rescue disk, boot from the same and restore the Windows Backup Image. Simples.

I also discovered a little gem of a bug in the software. I like incremental backups, where only the changes since the last backup are recorded. It lets you keep lots of different versions for relatively little hard disk space. There is only one problem with this option in the 2011 version. It does not fucking work. With one archive, which extends to 2Gb, I watched as it made the first archive file, then a day later made the second (7Kb - no changes), then a day later made the third file (also 7Kb no changes) by OVERWRITING THE FIRST FILE. Fucking brilliant. All data gone. Even when all of the data is demonstrably there it complains about being unable to find the original volumes. Fucking useless. I now have two 7Kb files and no 2Gb data anywhere.

Apparently both of these problems are known in the world of Acronis Users. This has left me fucking pissed off. I have backup software which, at a fairly fundamental level, does not fucking work. If it wasn't bad enough that it overwrites backup files, it also DOES NOT LET YOU RESTORE FROM BACKUPS THAT YOU HAVE MADE. Backup software which just backs up and does not restore IS NOT BACKUP SOFTWARE; it is a useless pile of crap.

I loved the previous version of Acronis I had. I can't even remember where I got it - it may have come bundled with the Seagate. It worked fine. I used it for months doing regular backups of my important stuff, and I did restores from time to time. It just would not detect my SATA hard disks on my new motherboard. Now I have the latest 2011 version which is useless.

Now, what about this Norton Ghost stuff then?


  1. Just thought I'd let you know: I updated to Acronis 2012 today ... this morning actually..., but it somehow seems like years ago now, as I sit here with no access to my "backed up" data and a restore process that just seems to have got lost in the woods.

  2. Oh, fucking spiffing Larry. I saw they were flogging version 2012, and wondered if that would fix my problems. Nice to know they have failed to follow the tried and true route of fixing all the bugs in the software and then having the balls to ask the poor bastards who bought the original crapfest to stump up more cash for an actual working version.

    Recently I have been using CloneZilla. This has many disadvantages over TIH201{1,2}. It is a text based interface. You need to know what /dev/sdb1 means. You have to choose between bizarrely named compression schemes. The way you tell it to use only one big archive file is to set the volume size to something huge. I know this because the UI tells me this is the only way to do it at that stage. You cannot store settings, so you have to set everything every time you run it. And most frustratingly of all you cannot do differential backups - it is the whole thing or nothing.

    Having said that it does have one tiny advantage over True Image. It is one I think Acronis' R&D boys should have a look at. Not tricky since it is open source software.


    That's right, when I have backed up a disk I can, and I know this will be a shock, RESTORE THE FUCKING IMAGE.