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.
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.
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.
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.