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Summary:

LifeBoat, from Martian Technologies, is a really cool idea. Automatically back up particular files to USB drives whenever I plug them in? Oh yes, please! However, in execution – well, it was a bit problematic. Let me talk, first, about what it does, and does well. […]

LifeBoat ReviewLifeBoat, from Martian Technologies, is a really cool idea. Automatically back up particular files to USB drives whenever I plug them in? Oh yes, please! However, in execution – well, it was a bit problematic.

Let me talk, first, about what it does, and does well.

You, the user, plug in a USB key. LifeBoat asks you if you want to update the backup, you tell it yes, and it zips your files right over to the key. (Actually, you just fail to tell it no in less than five seconds.) After it updates, it then pops up a dialog asking if you want to eject the drive or keep working with it. When not in use, LifeBoat perches in the menu bar, convenient and tiny, waiting.

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This is great for a certain market. I’ve been trying the GTD thing lately, and I put an Inbox and Outbox on my desktop. LifeBoat is amazing for sucking the contents of those off at the end of the day to take home with me if I’m using a Mac wherever that backup is going.

Which brings me to my big gripe with LifeBoat: it stores its backups as .dmg’s. Last I checked, nothing but a Mac reads .dmg’s. I had this clever fantasy that, when I plugged in my LifeBoat drive, I could slurp off all the files that I needed to take to the mailroom and print, wander down the hall, and print them, simply by making a LifeBoat out of my Outbox file.

Ah, nope.

Oh, and you should really stay away from any LifeBoat that backs up more than 1 GB of stuff, at least if you have any plans to do work on your computer in the next half hour. I know, I know, to some people that’s a really big backup, but I’m a TTD-type person, and I tried to back up my iTunes library to an external drive. Man, was that a bad idea. Of course, so was backing up my Experiments folder, which weighs in at about a gig and a half.

To recap: LifeBoat is great, if you want to back up small amounts of vital data every time you pop in your thumbdrive. Not so much, though, if you need substantial backups or if you want to take your backups to another platform.

I tested LifeBoat on a 2.16GHz C2D MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM, running 10.4.10. External drives were a WD myBookPro, using both the FW800 and the USB interfaces, and a 1 GB Verbatim Store’n’Go non-U3 flash drive.

  1. Isn’t Lifeboat a wee bit out-of-date now Leopard is ready to jump (with Timemachine!)? At least for those updating their system, that is…

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  2. I use a Folder Action to do exactly this. Whenever I plug in my Cruzer USB drive, predesignated folders are zipped and copied onto the drive. The previous backups are deleted and the new one renamed.

    Automator + Folder Actions = you get what you expect, and it’s FREE!

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  3. Donald Perreault Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    I purchased LifeBoat about 6 months ago. I had to purchase Lifeboat to demo the app. because the developer has set a very small file limitation to the number of files you can backup with the demo. This limitation is so low that you really can not test the application properly. And of course after purchasing Lifeboat the numerous backup problems began. Honestly, I had nothing but problems with every backup I created. I contacted and worked with developer via email for a couple weeks trying to resolve the numerous problems but he eventually got frustrated and refunded my money.Bottom line: Every LifeBoat backup needed a Life Preserver and was not dependable. I was sorely disappointed with this application ;(

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  4. Could the need for DMG be because it is trying to preserve meta-data as well?

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  5. Actually you can mount .dmg files under Linux and I assume Windows as well. For Linux do the following

    mount -o loop OS.dmg /mnt/apple_tv/

    Linux can read and write to hfs and hfsplus but there is no journaling support so if the filesystem is journaled than you can only read on Linux.

    This is a good idea though. I do something similar with udev on Solaris and Linux. I’m still new to Mac but I’m sure it could get compiled on Mac with some need scripts for doing backups.

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  6. Tried this under 10.5.7 and it was very erratic – it appears to be working but the back up on the USB stick isn’t there when its opened. It locked up when trying to open a saved Lifeboat, didn’t show in the ‘Force Quit’ window, requiring a restart, after which my saved Lifeboat had disappeared . Emailed the developer a couple of times but no response – appears to be abandonware. Avoid.

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