Windows Phone Thoughts: Pocket Backup Plus 2.1

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Monday, June 2, 2003

Pocket Backup Plus 2.1

Posted by Ed Hansberry in "SOFTWARE" @ 09:00 AM

Jason has given me a subtle hint and a not so subtle hint to wrap up my review of Pocket Backup Plus from Sprite Software. :) It is clear he is a big fan of this backup program, and with good reason. I personally had used Pocket Backup 1.0 with my iPAQ 3600 and 3800 series and when I got my iPAQ 3900 I was happy to find that Compaq had included Pocket Backup in ROM. Now Sprite Software has taken this app to the next level in Pocket Backup Plus. Read my review to see what all the new features are and they perform.

Pocket Backup Plus is the next generation in backup software from Sprite Software. They have taken the original program, added some cool enhancements, like Today Screen plugins, and wrapped it up in a new package. It is infinitely better than ActiveSync's backup and better than built in backup programs I've seen included with many Pocket PCs. While there is a lot to love about this program, there are a few features that Pocket Backup One lacked that Pocket Backup Plus failed to implement.

The Basics
Pocket Backup Plus is first and foremost a backup program, despite all of the new features that aren't directly related to backing up your device. It handles the backup and restore operations with aplomb. When you launch Pocket Backup Plus, it quickly scans your device then presents you with the following screen:

Figure 1: The Main Pocket Backup Screen

Pocket Backup breaks your Pocket PC down into four categories

  • My Documents - This allows you to quickly select or deselect your My Documents folder for a quick backup of those critical files.
  • Email - Below Email is each email account you have set up. This will allow you to backup or restore a single email account. You can even go below the email account and backup/restore individual folders, but not individual messages.
  • Personal Databases - These are the standard Pocket Outlook databases which include Tasks, Contacts, Appointments and Categories. You can backup and restore these databases individually, but you can't go down to individual records within the database.
  • System Data - This is further broken down into three more sections: (1) Other Databases, (2) File System and (3) Registry. Other databases is comprised of databases used by other Pocket PC and third party applications. For example, I have a WMPlayer.Favorites database, several CityTime databases, some Pocket Informant databases and a dozen others. You can selectively backup or restore any of these databases. The File System selection is simply all files not in My Documents. The registry is, well, the registry. Backing up and restoring the registry is an all or nothing proposition. You can't backup individual hives like Local_Machine or Local_User.
It's clean and intuitive. Once you are ready to backup, just press the "Backup" button in the lower right of the screen.

Tweaking The Backup Options
By tapping the "Options" menu at the bottom of Figure one then Backup Options, you will find yourself at a screen that looks like Figure two.

Figure 2: Backup Options

Figure 2a: Backup file management

Here you can choose to compress data, encrypt the backup, stop processes and a few other goodies. You can also tell Pocket Back up to exclude certain file types. For example, I have a custom exclusion called *.aa. These are Audible files and since I get these in a daily subscription, backing them up isn't of much value to me and causes backup files and times to grow. You can add as many exclusions as you wish here.

Figure 3: Add file extensions here you don't wish to backup

You can also enable the "Stop Processes Before Backup" box which means that just before Pocket Backup begins to backup your data, it kills all unnecessary processes on your Pocket PC to ensure that no files are open and locked. This means you will need to do a soft reset when the backup completes so all of your StartUp programs are running, like task switchers and Start Bar enhancers.

If you check the "Create Self Restoring Backup Files" box, Pocket Backup Plus will create a backup file with a ".EXE" extension. This is very handy if you find yourself with a device that has a catastrophic failure while on the road and the memory is cleared. Simply tap on the backup file from File Explorer and a full device restore will initiate.

I'll touch on the other boxes in more detail in the following sections.

Compression And Encryption
Pocket Backup Plus will optionally compress and/or encrypt your data. Rather than discuss this, it is easier to see how this works in a table format.

Figure 4: Effects of Compression and Encryption on the backup

This is not an official benchmark, but for the record, this was done on a 400MHz iPAQ 3970 and Pocket Backup Plus was installed to the iPAQ File Store. My iPAQ has roughly 22-23MB on it when you include the registry, databases and all files. As you can see, ActiveSync takes over an hour to back this data up over USB and has a rather large 24.9MB file. The worst backup times for Pocket Backup Plus are 11 minutes and that is with compression and encryption enabled.

Compression cuts your backup file size roughly in half. Note this will vary from user to user. The more data you have, the more it will compress as Excel files and emails tend to compress really well. If you have a ton of applications installed, the compression is less effective as .EXE and .DLL files don't compress nearly as well.

One feature I haven't touched on but you have seen hinted at in Figure one and Figure four is backing up to your PC. As a general rule, I found that backing up to my PC was slightly faster than backing up to my SD card, but not appreciably so.

Let's Get This Party Started!
Once you press the Backup button seen in Figure one, you will be taken to Figure five if you have encryption enabled or taken to Figure six if you don't.

Figure 5: Entering your password for an encrypted backup

Figure 6: Ok, are we ready now?

For some reason, the program stops at Figure six wanting you to press the Start button. More than once I've come back to my Pocket PC a few minutes later and it is still sitting at this screen. Once you do press start, you are taken to Figure seven. Also note in Figure six that the backup destination is my PC. If I were backing up to a storage card the icon in the lower right would be a memory card.

Figure 7: Backup underway

If you have chosen to stop all processes before the backup, as you generally should for a full backup, you will be asked to press a confirmation button to soft reset your device when the backup has completed. Pocket Backup 2.1 also adds an animation during the backup process of a file going from the Pocket PC to the destination. If compression and/or encryption are enabled, the animation changes accordingly.

Finally, if you checked the "Backup to PC" shown in Figure one, you will have a little notification on your PC that a backup is taking place.

Figure 8: The PC's desktop client in the system tray

You can also initiate a backup or restore operation from the PC by right-clicking on the Pocket Backup icon in the System Tray.

Additional Backup Options
Pocket Backup has a few other options that make backing up easier to do.

Figure 9: Schedule a backup based on battery status

You can enable battery monitoring which means that when the battery reaches a preset level, Pocket Backup will automatically initate a backup. Note that enabling this feature means that your Pocket PC will periodically turn itself on every hour or so as the battery monitor feature will check the battery status.

Figure 10: Network Backup options

Here you can configure various options related to backing up your device to another computer or a network share.

Figure 11: Scheduled Backups

Here you can schedule automatic backups.

Extra Number One - Space Detective
Pocket Backup Plus comes with several extra features. The first is Space Detective, which is a quick overview of your memory status.

Figure 12: Space Detective main screen

Figure 13: Space Detective folder analysis

Figure 14: Space Detective File analysis

Figures 13 and 14 show Space Detective will let you drill down to subfolders and files to find out where space is being wasted on your system. I would remove any storage cards before using these screens as extremely large media files and folders that you normally keep on storage cards will make it more difficult to find that 1.5MB Word document in RAM you thought you had deleted last month.

Extra Number Two - PocketMon
PocketMon is a Today Screen plugin that comes with Pocket Backup Plus

Figure 15: PocketMon Today Screen Plugin

PocketMon keeps track of how long it has been since your last backup and has six icons showing. They are:
  • The Pocket Backup Icon - Tapping it starts Pocket Backup
  • Battery Life - This shows you how many hours, at current usage levels, you have remaining before the battery dies.
  • System Memory - This toggles between the two RAM partitions on your device - Storage and Program memory.
  • Storage Card Memory - This toggles between FlashROM FileStores and all external storage cards currently in your device.
  • Backlight - This will take you to the backlight control panel.
  • Configuration Cluster - This is a group of four icons that will take you to Today Screen settings (cog wheel), Minimize (chevron) which will reduce the PocketMon today plugin to a single row without all of the icons, Help (the question mark) and the Pocket Backup Log File (text file - not shown) which will tell you the status of your last backup.
There are tons of configuration options for this utility, so I recommend once installed you play with it.

I'll be honest here. I am a bit of a Today Screen minimalist. I don't use PocketMon. Sprite Software claims the battery usage of PocketMon is negligible, and I don't doubt them, but having all of those icons flashing around is a bit too much for me, so for now, I've turned this feature off.

There are no real gotchas here. In fact, I had written this review for Pocket Backup Plus 2.01 and had three minor issues. Since making minor revisions for Pocket Backup Plus 2.1, two of those minor issues have been fixed. So I only have one remaining issue.

As noted above, you can schedule backups, but you can't schedule encrypted backups because the program stops at the password screen shown in Figure five. You should be able to store a password somewhere that the backup can use. I know that lowers security a little, but if you have a power-on PIN password, no one could get that password anyway, so to me the risk is minimal. Certainly far less then being unable to schedule an encrypted backup.

Where To Buy
The software can be purchased from Handango for $29.95 (affiliate link). There is a trial version available. You can also buy just the backup program, called Pocket Backup 2.0 for $19.99. Then later, if you decide you like it and want the extras, you can buy Space Detective for $7.95 and PocketMon for $7.95. As you can see, it is cheaper to buy the Pocket Plus bundle. In addition to that, the Backup to PC feature is only available in the full Pocket Plus bundle. There are 10 day trial versions available at the same links.

Specifications and Support
Pocket Backup Plus works on both Pocket PC 2002 and Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition devices. The PC Backup feature requires Windows XP, 2000, 98, ME or NT 4. The full suite requires 1,860K on your device. I installed mine to the iPAQ File Store and it works quite well there. If you opt to install only Pocket Backup 2.1 rather than Pocket Backup Plus, you will save about 300K from PocketMon and 170K from Space Detective.

SpriteSoftware's site includes a comprehensive FAQ and a support forum should you have any additional questions about the product.

Pocket Backup Plus is a must have application for Pocket PC owners. The backups are fast and complete. Restore operations, from a single file you accidentally deleted to the entire device, are just as easy and the extras included make managing the memory usage of your Pocket PC a snap.


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