Mac online backup solutions FAQ: What do you know about Mac online backup solutions (Mac online backup services)?
Last year I bought my sister and her daughters an iMac for Christmas, and when I visited them again this year I realized how much data they had accumulated -- data that wasn't being backed up -- including music, photos, and school homework. I quickly realized that I needed to come up with a backup system for their Mac, and because I don't live near them, I knew this Mac backup solution needs to be both simple and automatic.
Mac OS X backup options
I thought about having them burn their Mac OS X data to a CD, DVD, or USB drive, but because these aren't automatic systems they aren't terrific options, although the price is right.
As I thought about various "Mac backup" options, I decided to take a look at online Mac backup services.
Mac online backup services - overview
The basic idea of online backup services is simple:
- You have a Mac (MacBook, iMac, whatever).
- You have stuff on your Mac.
- You want that stuff backed up in case something bad happens.
- Offsite backup is better than onsite.
- You want your Mac backups to happen automatically (so you don't have to think about them).
- You're Mac is always connected to the internet.
- There should be an economy of scale related to storing data "in the cloud".
- Why not store your stuff on the internet?
That's a little over-simplified, but those are the basic reasons that make Mac online backup services attractive.
Mac online backup services - Options
After Googling for a while, I found several promising Mac online backup solutions, including:
- iDisk (part of Apple's MobileMe service)
- Dropbox.com (I look at this backup service in my separate Mac online backup with dropbox.com review)
There are a few more Mac online backup systems than these, but these are the ones that seemed to come up again and again in the searches and ads.
My first plan was to take a look at each of these online backup services, but after digging through all of their literature, it looks like each online backup service (except Apple's iDisk) takes the same approach:
- Install an app on your Mac to make it look like it has another hard drive.
- Automatically backup your files to the fake hard drive.
- Let you also manually copy stuff to this fake hard drive.
- Let you access your online data from multiple devices (Mac, PC, iPhone, whatever).
- Let you share your online files with other people.
- Provide a web interface to your files.
For this online backup services review, I've taken a deep look at Zumo, as well as the Dropbox online backup service for Mac OS X, which came recommended by a friend.
Mac online backup service - ZumoDrive for Mac
Earlier today I downloaded the ZumoDrive plug-in for Mac OS X, and installed it on my MacBook Pro. The version of this plugin appears to be 0.983, and although the installation was smooth, you do get the idea that the product is not fully baked shortly after the installation.
Before I go any further, I also have a nit to pick with this particular product/service: They advertise that you can get 2GB free online data storage, but what you really get is 1GB initially, and 2GB if you complete every single step of a boring and laborious tutorial. (You "earn" this other 1GB in their "dojo".) I found this to be an incredibly annoying approach that only a marketing person could like, and no, I didn't even come close to finishing it.
Here's a quick look at what's good about ZumoDrive:
- Installation was a standard Mac application install.
- The ZumoDrive drive icon appears in the list of Mac Finder Devices as you'd expect.
- The 1GB free is nice to start with. This is especially nice compared to Carbonite, which gives you 15 days free access, but no free disk space indefinitely.
- Although I think this service is worth about $1 per month, their $2.99/month is one of the lower prices currently available (although that is for just 10GB of storage space).
- The website seems much more modern than Carbonite or iDrive.
- The ZumoDrive plugin hasn't trashed the Finder, which was my biggest concern. (I used some Windows Explorer plugins years ago that absolutely trashed the Explorer, and hence Windows, so I was really, really leery about doing this.)
- Folders you create are private by default, but you can also share folders with other users. You do this by providing their email address, so they can log into the ZumoDrive site/service.
Here's what seems to be bad about ZumoDrive, at least initially:
- The 2GB "trick" and goofy training and dojo metaphor need to go away.
- Problems with multiple popup windows when trying to share a folder from the Mac Finder.
- The price goes up very fast. It's free for 1GB of data; annoying for 2GB; $2.99/month for 10GB of data, $6.99 for 25GB, and $9.99 for 50GB.
- I read in the license information that this application uses Jetty. Jetty is a web server, and I have to ask, why does this application need to install a web server on my Mac?
- I have to also include the monthly fees here. I just don't think this service is worth more than $20 a year, and 10GB of storage would barely cover my iTunes music.
- Their Terms of Service could use a rewrite. There are a few points related to privacy and sharing that could scare a person off. A specific line that threw me for a loop is this one: "... by sharing User Files through the Service, you agree to allow others to view, edit, and/or share your User Files." (They really need to highlight "sharing", because as I learned, you can upload files to their server without sharing them.)
Overall, if the price were lower, I'd give the ZumoDrive Mac online backup service a try, but since I don't like even their lowest price, I'll keep looking at online backup services.
Mac online backup - Carbonite for Mac
Probably the most unique thing about Carbonite is that they offer "unlimited" backup space for $55 per year. However, this license is limited to backing up unlimited data from one computer, and I also haven't looked up their definition of "unlimited". If you want to backup data from multiple computers, you'll need to get additional licenses for each system, or a multi-computer license.
Other than this pricing approach, all of the other features seem similar to the other products mentioned here.
There are two things that turned me off about Carbonite, which led to me choosing ZumoDrive to experiment with: (1) their pricing, and (2) their free trial for 15 days. First, the $55/year is a big turn-off for me. That might be acceptable for businesses, but not for my sister's Mac, or mine.
Second, while their competitors offer up to 2GB backup space for free, Carbonite is all business, and says "Use our service for free for 15 days, and if you don't like it, move on." That's actually a very pragmatic thing for them to do, and several years ago that seemed like normal business practice, but when all of your competitors are offering some space for free, this seems very old-school.
Some closing notes on Carbonite:
- Their website seems dated.
- Their support area in particular seems weak, and does not even have a FAQ.
- Apparently they just recently started providing Mac support (as evidenced by their "Now for Mac" notes).
- As soon as I go to the "My Account" web page, I can't see anything until I enter four pieces of personal information and three additional security questions.
Their dated website and lack of support area concerns me, and their "strictly business" approach is a turn off.
(A funny note about Carbonite from the devdaily sales department: Out of curiosity, I just tried to sign up to be a Carbonite sales affiliate. However, even though I've written a lot about "Mac online backup solutions", and have tried a lot of online backup services now, Carbonite won't let devdaily be an "affiliate" for their marketing program, because ads on my website don't convert enough sales. When I say they are "all business", I'm serious.)
Mac online backup service - iDrive for Mac
With iDrive for Mac you again download and install a plugin, and then have a virtual backup disk you can access. They charge $4.95/month (roughly $60/year) for their service, and seem to offer the first 2GB for free.
Again, without testing each service, they seem to offer a couple of unique features. First, they'll take a "snapshot" of your computer in time, which essentially fits my idea of what a backup is supposed to be anyway. (i.e., "Get me the backup of the system from September 1, 2009.")
Second, they have a bandwidth throttling feature. That may not sound great to you, but when you have a slower-speed DSL connection, this can be really handy. I wish I could say I tested this feature, but again, I don't want to consider $60/year for this service.
Also, I feel the need to say that the iDrive website looks at least five years old, and from a Mac perspective, their use of a Windows icon collection on their website freaks me out a little.
Mac online backup with Apple's MobileMe iDisk?
Last but possibly not least, as part of their larger $99/year MobileMe service, Apple offers an iDisk service.
iDisk seems to be similar to the other online backup services already described here, so I'll just add that iDisk seems to offer 20GB of data storage, a public folder for sharing, and iDisk apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. If you don't use the other MobileMe services, you're essentially paying $99/year for 20GB of data storage, and although I don't know this for sure, you may have to backup your data manually. I give this one a thumbs-down, unless of course you already have a MobileMe account.
Mac online backup services - summary
There is much, much more to write about this Mac online backup services -- I just trimmed two pages of content from this blog post -- but I'll try to summarize these Mac online backup systems here:
- Other than the MobileMe iDisk service, all the vendors take similar approaches, as described above.
- They all cost more than I want to pay for an online backup system.
- ZumoDrive starts at $2.99/month for 10GB of data, then quickly increases to $6.99/month for 25GB, and $9.99/month for 50GB. (They start free, then cheap, and then become very expensive.)
- Carbonite offers a fixed yearly price ($55) for unlimited backups for one computer.
- iDrive offers 150GB for $49.50, or a five-computer family pack with 500GB for $149.50 yearly. Their bandwidth-throttling and 'snapshot' features seem to be unique.
- Apple's MobileMe iDisk service can be used as a manual backup solution, for $99/year for 20GB disk storage.
Assuming you're willing to pay these prices for an online backup service, my favorite online backup service -- and current recommendation -- is to use Dropbox.com. I describe their system in my "Using Dropbox as an online Mac backup service" article.
If you're looking for a tabular comparison of these services, I'm starting to put that together in my Mac online backup services comparison chart.
Regarding my sister and her girls, I'll also start them with one of the free services, and then teach them how to burn their data to DVD if they run out of free space, unless the prices drop quite a bit.
Mac online backup systems - vendor links
Here are links to each of the Mac online backup solutions that I looked at while writing this article: