Review of Mozy: Free Online Backup

Do-It-Yourself Tech

So I recently reviewed Carbonite, a $5 per month online backup service for unlimited data backups from one computer. But the last few days I’ve been playing with Mozy, another online backup service with a different offering. In a nutshell, Mozy offers more control, more features, and is completely free for two gigabytes of online storage. The down side is that for $5 per month, you only get a maximum of 30 gigs (see update at end of article). And though the interface gives power users more control, it may be less inviting to the average user. But free is free. There is no reason why any of us shouldn’t take advantage of backing up our most important two gigabytes of data.

Mozy requires no credit card and is quick and easy to install. It automatically detects what it thinks are your most important files needing backup and compiles them into “backup sets,” such as Favorites, My Documents, Music, Photos & Images, Videos, etc. But if you’d rather backup your data from a typical Windows Explorer kind of view, that option is easily accessible by just clicking on the “File System” tab.

When putting a check mark by each folder or file you’re interested in backing up, you have several options. For instance, you can backup all the content of a folder including any new files created later or you can backup files in a folder but not include new files created later (only monitor and backup changes to existing files). This is an example of a feature / distinction which is handy to a few (I like it) but may be confusing. To check the status of a particular folder, simply hover over it and a pop up window will give you details on how it will be backed up. Alternatively, you can tell when new files in the folder will be backed up because the folder will have two check marks, one in the box to the left and one right on top of the folder itself.

But what can be frustrating (and what happened to me) is that you can start playing with which sub folders and files will be backed up in a particular folder (in my case, My Documents) only to find that fifteen minutes later, when you think you have a perfect backup set, you forgot to make the change so that any new files created in the My Documents root folder will be backed up as well. And the only way to make that change at the folder level is to undue any changes or setup you did to any sub folder.

If this isn’t making sense, just remember that the backup process is simple if you decide to backup all files or folders in a particular location. But once you want to take advantage of the advanced options of picking and choosing which files and which folders, be sure to refer to Mozy’s excellent user guide before assuming that you know what you’re doing.

And that’s really my only real complaint with the software itself, the interface could be a little more user friendly. Oh, and one other suggestion for the next release: it’d sure be nice if I could see a preview (thumbnail or whatever) of a picture or document and have the ability to open it right there from within Mozy before deciding if I want to back it up. As it is, I have to open My Computer or Windows Explorer separately to have those options. I’d love it if I could get all that from within Mozy.

Now for the good stuff: Mozy’s Schedule page gives some nice and flexible options. You can tell it to backup only if your computer’s CPU is working at X percentage or less. And you can specify how long the computer has to be idle before a backup is attempted. That’s if you want it to backup your files automatically. If you’re one who likes your backup on a set schedule, you can tell Mozy to backup at the same time daily or weekly, etc. And lastly, you can specify how many days can go by without a backup before Mozy reminds you to backup (in case your computer is never idle and never gets a chance to backup). While the defaults on a lot of these features may be just fine for most, I personally like the customization factor (something lacking in Carbonite, which does everything behind the scenes in an arbitrary sort of way in the name of simplicity).

The Options tab also has some additional features for even more tweaking for those interested. But the feature I think is the most valuable is the History tab, which gives you an overview of every attempt, success, or failure of any backup performed. Clicking on any backup will populate the lower window with the details of which files were backed up during that particular backup. This is a really nice feature for those of us who like to double check backups quickly. Mozy also adds a new “virtual drive” to My Computer that allows you to browse your online folders and files. While this is a nice way to browse your backup, I like the fact that the History tab exists to give you the more detailed explanation behind each and every backup.

Restoring is easy, of course. Either navigate to your virtual drive in My Documents and right click on a folder or file and then click restore. Or if your computer crashes and you need to restore all your files to a new computer, you can do it easily through logging into Mozy’s website on a new computer.

Mozy also allows you to keep your own private encryption key (a feature that Carbonite claims is coming soon for its software). Alternatively, you can have the company keep it safely so that you only have to remember your password to get to your encrypted data in case of a restore being needed. Mozy really shines in its ability to backup files while they’re still open. So you don’t necessarily have to close your email for Mozy to be backing it up in the background.

The truth is that for a cheapskate like me, I’ll probably end up using both Mozy and Carbonite. I have two computers, my main laptop which has less data (but it changes daily) and my second computer, which has the bulk of my pictures/musics/videos/games, etc. So I’m backing up my laptop using Mozy’s free service while backing up my 50+ gigs on my other computer with Carbonite’s unlimited backup service.

Though it’s difficult to ignore Carbonite’s unlimited feature and its slick and glossy “Backup for Everyone” look, Mozy is a great place to start if you want a free, smaller backup with more control.

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