Retrospect saves the day

Whew, that was close.

Months ago, as the center of my oh-so-scheduled life started moving to Outlook, QuickBooks and Quicken on the PC I realized that I needed a backup strategy. My work files are on the G5 and I’m using [ChronoSync]( to copy files to an external Firewire drive every 15 minutes. But everything else is on the PC.

I had a discount coupon from Staples, which I used on a LaCie external drive for a net cost of about $40. It’s USB2, but since I’m only using it for overnight backups speed is not an issue. The drive came with a copy of [Retrospect Express]( I used that for a while, but the catch is that it doesn’t backup open files. On my PC, Outlook is just about always running so to make sure it was being backed up, I had to remember to shut it down every night before going to sleep. That means disconnecting the PocketPC and then double checking that Outlook did indeed shut down. One day I checked the Retrospect log and realized that out of 14 days, my outlook.pst file was backed up twice because I kept forgetting to check it before heading upstairs. Not good.

So about a month ago I plunked down $45 and upgraded to the full version of [Retrospect Pro]( and tonight I’m thanking the stars that I did. The new, updated version has something called “Open File Backup” where it no longer requires that applications be shut down before working.

I had been experimenting with a few Outlook add-ons that I later found were not to my liking. As often happens in Windows, when you delete something you leave a trail. To get rid of the cruft, I had the bright idea to run “Detect and Repair” in Outlook and I clicked the button to restore settings thinking that it would clear out old uninstalled prefs and settings that I could just restore when it started back up. No, what that button does is create a fresh, new blank .pst file. I nearly had a heart attack watching that blank screen come up, thinking the last 14 months of emails were off to who knows where. Thankfully, what happened is that Outlook created a new .pst file but left the old one alone. I was able to import the inbox, contacts, tasks and calendar but just as I was about to import the “sent mail” folder, something went wrong and I got some strange error message. My guess is that [X1]( got confused in its indexing and somehow overwrote the old outlook.pst file, as the modified date on the old file now matched the modified date on the new file. Not good.

I was sweating for a moment, as I rely on my “paper trail” in communicating with clients and vendors. I thought those messages were gone for good when I remembered that I was backing up like a good little girl now. It had been so long since I pressed the “Restore” button in Retrospect that I almost forgot that’s why I was backing up religiously in the first place. Sure enough, 3 clicks later and last night’s outlook.pst file was sitting on my desktop. I imported the “sent mail” folder from that file easily, and all is well again except for any email that I sent since 3 am this morning. I guess I can live with that.

Oh, and Windows Mobile is brilliant in these situations compared to Palm OS. Even though the file had changed, ActiveSync was smart enough to say in effect “hey, this is the a different file but a lot of the information is the same, what do you want me to do?” giving me the option to “combine” the data and avoid duplicates. Unless something has changed in the last year, this is something that was a nightmare in Palm.

The trick with relying on Retrospect for backups is:

1. Backup to more than one Backup set. One corrupted file, and the whole thing may be toast. I backup to two sets, rotating every night so each set is no more than 2 days old.
2. If possible, backup to more than one location. If the external drive goes, the whole thing may be toast. I send my QuickBooks and Quicken files over to the G5 at least 4 times a week so they’ll get swept up by ChronoSync and I throw my Outlook files on CD every now and then.
3. Have the Retrospect installation CD or file(s) handy in a separate location. Since I downloaded the latest version, I copied the installer to the external drive and to the G5. A Retrospect backup is useless if you don’t have the application.
4. Likewise, I made a plain text copy of the email containing my license key and copied that to the folder with the installer in both locations. Can’t install Retrospect without it.
5. It’s probably a good idea to make a manual copy of the Catalog files, to save the time in rebuilding when restoring.

Too many folks have a backup plan, but don’t think about what they’ll need to restore if something bad happens.