Carbonite for Mac Finally Released. Worth the Wait?

carbonite-1.pngEven though web workers tend to do almost everything online, we still have files on our computer that matter. At one time or another, we’ve all probably learned the hard way what happens if our backup strategy isn’t automated or tested. With that in mind, there’s been a crop of web services over the years that try and make the backup process as simple as possible. Install, sync, forget about it…if you have decent broadband, of course.

Carbonite has been a popular choice for Windows users for quite some time because you pay one price ($54.95) for a yearly subscription and that’s it. There are no additional fees for storage or bandwidth. It’s easy to install, easy to configure, and doesn’t seem to drag a computer down while it works in the background.

It makes a simple mirror of your files. Change a file, and the new version replaces the old one on the server. Rather than backing up on a set schedule, it detects when files change and automatically backs them up, meaning that there is little chance of losing an important file because it was lost before the next scheduled sync.

Carbonite has been teasing Mac users for well over two years with the promise of a Mac version. The wait is over. Is it worth it?

Carbonite for Mac installs (and uninstalls) very easily onto a Mac running OS X 10.4 or 10.5. While the PC version sits in the taskbar, the Mac version is configured via a system preference pane that you can set to access from the menu bar.

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By default, Carbonite backs up every file it finds in the User folder, except for applications and system files. You can also manually select additional files to back up (or not back up) through the Finder, although in practice this didn’t work for me. To restore, you access the “Restore” tab in the preference pane and select the files you want to copy back.

Carbonite is not meant to create a full drive backup. For that, look to Apple’s Time Machine or SuperDuper and back up to an external or network drive. Online backup services are best for recovering specific files lost through corruption or accidental deletion, not for complete hard drive meltdowns.

The problem with Carbonite for Mac is that we’ve moved on. What seemed like a life-saving service two years ago now feels kind of ho-hum and a bit too pricey.

Carbonite’s big downfall is that it’s licensed per computer only. If you have a desktop computer and a laptop, you need to pay another $54.95 to back up the second machine. You can’t share common files between machines. You can have multiple machines on your account, but each needs its own license. Depending on how you work, that can get expensive.

New to Carbonite is the ability to browse and download backed-up files through a web interface. Unfortunately, in my testing I found accessing files this way to be painfully slow.

There are now more choices for Mac users for automated online backups, including my personal favorite: Jungle Disk. It provides a very easy-to-use interface for automatically backing up files to Amazon S3 storage space. It’s not quite as brainless to configure as Carbonite, and you have to pay Amazon for the storage (my invoices have been averaging $9/month for about 30GB of files from two machines). But it still has a very easy-to-use interface, and it’s far more flexible than Carbonite. For example, with Jungle Disk you can specify how many backups you wish to save, so you can go back and restore an older version of a file. Carbonite has no such option. Also, side-by-side, it feels like Jungle Disk uploads much faster than Carbonite.

I installed Carbonite a few years ago on my mother’s Windows-based computer. It was — and is — a perfect solutions for her, and was quite handy when she accidentally lost a folder full of important files. If your mom is a Mac user, I would recommend Carbonite for her, too. It does what it says it will do, and it does it well.

But for a web worker needing easy online backup, Carbonite is a bit too lightweight for its price to be taken seriously.

What’s your favorite online backup solution?

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