Category Archives: Things that make me happy

CloudBerry Backup

Backups are important. I tell people that they should think about how much work would be involved if they lost all their data, and had to create or gather it all again. Considering that work is usually enough to get people talking seriously about backups.

This consideration informs decisions about the backup process to be used: what should be backed up, how often backups should run, where backups will be stored, and how many backup versions will be kept.

My own backup requirements are like those of anyone who has done any amount of work that they would hate to lose: documents, email, financial records, pictures, artwork, and even browser bookmarks. The only difference is that I also provide full or partial backup services to my clients.

A few years ago, I realized that I needed an off-site backup system to complement my local backups. In the nightmare scenario involving total loss of all computers and storage devices resulting from a house or office fire, all local backups would also be lost.

And so I started looking at backup software that would allow me to maintain backups of critical data somewhere besides my home/office.

Storage required

Off-site backup storage takes many forms, including taking physical backup media off-site daily. These days it most often involves a paid service such as Amazon S3.

Remote services are often referred to as ‘cloud’ services, but they mean the same thing: the service runs on someone else’s computer. Of course, storing your irreplacable, private data on someone else’s computer sounds scarier than storing it ‘in the cloud’ so that’s the term we hear most often.

There are some special considerations when you start looking at using cloud storage for backups: additional costs, network bandwidth, vendor trustworthiness, privacy, and encryption.

The encryption issue alone requires careful consideration. Is your data encrypted in transit? Is it stored in encrypted form on the cloud service? Who has the keys to decrypt your data?

For my own backups, I settled on the DreamObjects storage service provided by Dreamhost. I’ve been using Dreamhost for client web sites and related services for years, and I’ve always found their support to be first rate. I have had a few problems with the DreamObjects service, including some reliability issues, but these were resolved quickly and satisfactorily by Dreamhost support.

My requirements

In my recent search for an off-site backup solution, I settled on the following requirements:

  • Runs on my main PC (Windows 8.1).
  • Stable and reliable.
  • Reasonably fast.
  • Incremental backups (back up only changed files).
  • Transmit only changed data (to save bandwidth).
  • A built-in scheduler, or compatibility with Windows Task Scheduler.
  • Compatible with DreamObjects, itself an S3-compatible service.
  • Data is encrypted in transit and when stored.
  • Storage provider does not possess encryption keys.
  • Ability to limit bandwidth used during backup operations.
  • Ability to limit the amount of storage used.
  • Backup storage pruning based on number of copies and/or storage used.
  • Straightforward restore process and tools.
  • Useful logging.
  • Does not use excessive computing resources (memory, processor, local storage, handles, and disk I/O).
  • The ability to include and exclude files and folders based on various criteria.

Enter CloudBerry

I looked at numerous possible solutions, and even purchased a few that looked promising but ultimately failed to meet my requirements, including qBackup, Arq5, Arq7, and GoodSync. I also looked again at Cobian Backup, which I still use for local backups, and Allway Sync, which I use for fast syncing of critical data to thumb drives, but they also failed to meet my needs for off-site backup.

CloudBerry was just the next solution on my list. I had never even heard of it before reading about it in this Reddit thread.

CloudBerry Backup can be downloaded and installed on a trial basis for two weeks. That was plenty long enough for me to learn what I needed.

CloudBerry Backup Features

See that list of requirements a few paragraphs back? Well, CloudBerry Backup checks all those boxes, and then some. CBB works with many storage servies, including Amazon S3, Amazon S3 Glacier, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Backblaze B2, Wasabi, OpenStack, various S3-compatible storage and others.

Other notable CloudBerry Backup features:

  • Grandfather-Father-Son (GFS) retention policy support
  • Backups to local drives and NAS-like storage devices
  • Microsoft SQL Server backups
  • Microsoft Exchange backups
  • Synthetic Backup for File, Image-based, VMware backups
  • Bare-metal recovery (create recovery disks and USB drives)
  • Cloud Backups (cloud-to-cloud, and cloud-to-local)
  • Image-based backups (physical or virtual machine image)
  • Modified Block Tracking for Image-based backups
  • Support for various virtual machine formats (Hyper-V, VMware, VirtualBox, and RAW)
  • Restoring image-based backups as Amazon EC2, Microsoft Azure VM, and Google Compute Engine instances
  • Hybrid (two-step) backup (applies to the legacy format only)
  • Client-side Deduplication
  • Mandatory and Full Consistency Checks
  • Backup Chains and Custom Scripts Support

One huge bonus CloudBerry provides is a clean, well thought-out user interface. This wasn’t on my requirements list, because although UI is important, backup software is typically set up once and then runs in the background. So I can live with a crappy UI in backup software, as long as it’s otherwise good. That’s unlike software I use every day, such as my email client, web browser, and document-based office applications.

A well thought-out user interface also makes CloudBerry Backup a legitimate solution for the less technically-inclined among us. In using CBB, I frequently discovered what I was looking for without any searching for functions or settings. Preset defaults made sense, and the backup plan creation wizard is excellent. CBB even creates several backup plans automatically, for documents, web browser bookmarks, and pictures; these need only a destination to be configured before they can be used.

CloudBerry Backup Pricing and Licensing

CloudBerry Lab was founded in 2011, but is in the process of rebranding itself as MSP360, so the company web site refers to both names. For now, the product I’m interested in is MSP360’s CloudBerry Backup Desktop Edition, which sells for $49.99 USD. The company provides other backup software and services aimed at business, corporate, and educational customers. There’s also a free version of CloudBerry Backup, but it has some limitations that make it unsuitable for my purposes.

When you purchase CloudBerry Backup Desktop Edition, you have the option of paying an extra $10 USD for a year of annual maintenance. The MSP360 web site isn’t exactly clear about what this provides, but it does include support, and may be the only way to obtain software updates. If you want and/or need support, the $10/year price seems reasonable.

Conclusions

Great software makes me happy. CloudBerry Backup qualifies, and my search for an off-site backup solution is over for now.

If you or anyone you know could use an excellent backup solution, whether or not they need off-site storage, you won’t go wrong recommending CloudBerry Backup.

Microsoft news: the good, the bad, and the spiteful

The Good

Windows 7 support ended earlier this month, and with it any hope of fixing newly-discovered security vulnerabilities. Or did it? Microsoft recently discovered a problem with an update, released in Novemeber 2019, that is causing problems with desktop wallpaper on Windows 7 computers. This isn’t a security issue, but it probably affects thousands of users, and Microsoft has now released a special update that fixes the wallpaper problem. You can get the update via Windows Update on Windows 7 computers.

The Bad

Microsoft’s plans for expanding advertising in Windows 10 continue, albeit very slowly. The latest change is in Windows 10’s default rich text editor, Wordpad. When you run Wordpad, you’ll see an advertisement for Microsoft Office. It’s not much, and many users will never see it, but I’m reminded of the proverbial frog in steadily-warming water.

The Spiteful

Microsoft’s shenanigans with Google show no signs of slowing down. Both companies have engaged in questionable behaviour in trying to promote their software and services. The latest shot from Microsoft is particularly annoying: when Office 365 updates itself — a process that is both frequent and difficult to control — it will look for an installation of Google’s Chrome web browser, and change its default search engine to Bing.

Microsoft has a history of inappropriately reverting settings during updates, which is annoying enough, but this is excessive and downright spiteful, in my opinion. Microsoft, please play out your differences with Google in a way that doesn’t annoy millions of users.

Update 2020Feb11: Microsoft relented, and won’t be switching Windows 10 searches to use Bing during Office 365 updates. I guess they realized that they didn’t need yet another public relations disaster.

More about those troubling emails

Some months ago I wrote about the flood of ‘sextortion’ emails almost all of us have been receiving since mid-2018.

Now Brian Krebs reports that the person who most likely wrote the code that started the wave of sextortion emails has surrendered to authorities in France, after being pursued across Europe.

It’s too soon to know what kind of punishment this jerk will face, but here’s hoping it’s significant.

Google improves GMail security

I’ve tried other search services, but I always end up back at Google, because the search results are consistently better. Google does collect information about its users, and uses that information to target advertising. Google also looks at the content of GMail messages for the same reason. If that bothers you, there are ways to prevent it, or you can stop using Google’s products and services.

That said, in all my years of using Google’s services, I’ve never encountered anything that made me want to stop using them. Google does occasionally annoy me by dropping services like Reader, and Google’s advertising is ridiculously overpriced, but on balance the company provides far more benefit than any potential harm.

For example, Google spends enormous amounts of time and resources on making the web safer for everyone. Much of that effort goes unheralded, but occasionally we catch glimpses in the form of blog posts, like this one, describing recent improvements to GMail security. Compare that with Yahoo’s recent track record, which clearly shows that user security and privacy are not a priority at that company.

Let’s Encrypt’s finances

I’m a big fan of Let’s Encrypt, an organization committed to encrypting all web traffic by proving free security certificates.

I’m also a big fan of transparency, so when LE published a summary of their financial information recently, my regard for their efforts clicked up another notch.

Highlights from LE’s financial information post:

  • Let’s Encrypt will require about $2.9M USD to operate in 2017.
  • The majority of LE’s funding comes from corporate sponsorships.
  • You can donate to Let’s Encrypt using PayPal.

For the record, this web site (boot13.com) and all my other secure sites now use Let’s Encrypt certificates.

How to make an operating system better

With Microsoft taking Windows in a direction that’s distinctly unappealing, it’s a pleasure to write about an operating system that’s actually being improved and enhanced in useful ways: Apple ProDOS.

You read that right: ProDOS. It’s a decades old system that runs on hardware nobody uses any more (Apple IIs), but with the dedicated efforts of a single developer, a new, greatly improved version of ProDOS was recently released as version 2.4.

Why am I so excited about this? Because operating systems are important. They form the core of all the computer systems we use daily. I want to use an O/S that’s reliable, fast, and mostly invisible. A good O/S provides this critical underpinning without compromising our privacy or trying to sell us anything.

As reported by Jason Scott on his ASCII blog, ProDOS 2.4 was a labour of love for its developer. He says:

“The current mainstream OS environment is, frankly, horrifying, and to see a pure note, a trumpet of clear-minded attention to efficiency, functionality and improvement, stands in testament to the fact that it is still possible to achieve this, albeit a smaller, slower-moving target. Either way, it’s an inspiration.”

I agree completely. There’s no reason for a new version of an operating system to ever get worse. This really applies to all software, but it’s especially important for operating systems. Microsoft would do well to look at this project and learn from it.

If you happen to have an old Apple II lying around (as I do), you can run ProDOS 2.4 on it. Otherwise, you’ll need to use an Apple II emulator like AppleWin.