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Base, we have a 10-78 (Sprite Backup 6)

posted in Reviews on August 31st, 2007

For a long time now, the guys (and, of course, gals) from Sprite Mobile have protected your data. As the veteran developers that created Symantec Ghost, this company has all the knowledge in-house that is needed to create a working backup solution.

The Goold Old Days

Right from the start, Sprite Backup has presented itself as a powerful, yet easy to use solution. Sprite Backup stems from a time when there was no Persistent Storage available and OEMs included a (good) backup solution with every device.

These days, Pocket PCs come without any backup solutions; neither Active Sync 4.x nor Windows Mobile Device Center include any kind of backup facility and while Persistent Storage is capable of backing up (most of) your PIM data, for most users, this simply is not enough.

Enter Sprite Backup 6, a no-nonsense solution to backing up and (later) restoring your data.

Four, Five steps to safety

The Pocket PC version features an easy to use interface with items listed in order of importance. Starting out with backup and restore, the lesser needed items such as schedule and options are located on the second row.

The creation of a backup is very straight forward: first you select the data you want to backup. Logic dictates that, the more you backup, the bigger your backup will be and the longer your backup will take to finish.

While there is nothing wrong with going with the default settings, it is always a good idea to have a look through the various items and check / uncheck those that are unneeded in a backup.

The second step involves some basic (meta) information. By default, Sprite Backup creates files with a naming scheme of “Backup_” to make it easier for you to find your backups at a later time. Other options include the location where you want to store the backup and adding some notes. The notes feature is particularly useful if you have separate backups for your PIM data and applications data but can also be used to enter device-specific information in a corporate / multi-device environment.

In order to create a backup, Sprite Backup restarts your device. This is done to clean up the RAM of your device and remove any temporary files. Once the backup starts, you will see a timer and some more status information.

Part of that information is the size of the backup and while that information is certainly useful, it would be better if users would be presented with that information prior to starting a backup. The reason for that is that, should you choose a location without sufficient free memory, you will get an error message and will have to start over.

With today’s storage cards, this should not be a real problem, but it would nonetheless be nice to be presented with this information prior to actually starting the whole process.

After completion, Sprite Backup once again presents the user with various bits of information. Unless your backup fails, this information is really just statistical data without too much value.

Operation: Restore Hope

The idea of making a backup is to have access to important data if (and when) disaster strikes. Time is money they say and so it only makes sense to be able to get to your data quickly.

Sprite Backup offers you the option to create self-running backups, which means that, even if you do not have Sprite Backup installed (for example: after a hard-reset), you can still use the backup file and get your data back.

Once the correct backup file is selected, you are given access to a selection screen which allows you to selectively restore data. The application reboots and proceeds with restoring your data. The amount of time that is needed to (fully) restore your device is largely dependent on the amount of data your backup contains as well as the compression level that was used.

Consider your options

Even though Sprite Backup 6 is powerful enough by default, there is a good chance that you are missing out on an array of great extras if you do not take the time to go through the various options.

For the lazy (or overly cautious?) users, Sprite Backup includes a feature that lets you schedule backups; in combination with the Desktop version, these backups can be stored on a (non-Pocket) PC and provide you with a selection of restoration options in case the need arises.

The scheduled backup option is especially handy when you are too busy to backup data yourself. Once set, your device will continue to create backups at the pre-set times and you will always have access to your latest data - a great fire-and-forget solution.

Another thoughtful feature are the options to limit the amount of space that is used for backup files as well as limiting the amount of individual backup files.

In case you are one of those users that needs to restore their device often, the Backup Card function is something you should take a look at. With it enabled, an autorun setup will be created on your storage card of choice which will automagically start Sprite Backup whenever the card is inserted.

There are a couple more options which definetely are worth looking at, such as encrypting the backup or selecting the upgrade mode, but these items are outside the scope of this article.

One option that is, however, worth mentioning is the Phone SIM Unlock option. The way Sprite Backup is set up requires your device to be restarted at least twice during a backup process and if you are on a Pocket PC Phone Edition device, that means entering your PIN multiple times. With the Phone SIM Unlock option, you can store your PIN and have Sprite Backup enter the PIN for you.

This feature is particularly handy when you use scheduled backups and do not want to come back to a device that did reboot but was not able to sign in to a mobile phone network.

Upgrades and Updates

Mobile Devices have become disposable products to many people. In general, a life-cycle lasts between 14 and 18 months and moreover, during this time, there will be at least one ROM update for your device.

Usually, when you create a backup on one device and then either replace said device or upgrade your ROM, your backup will be useless. Sprite Backup 6 however, includes a feature that will allow you to keep using your backup, no matter what. The feature in itself looks very simple, but the looks are deceiving. Luckily, there is a good explanation in the help section.

Location independent data

A wise man once said that only wimps use backups, real men just upload their important stuff to a FTP server and let the rest of the world mirror it. While I neither agree with the first, nor second statement, there is some truth in mirroring your data off-site.

Sprite Backup 6 offers you just that; the new version includes a built-in FTP backup option which is very easy to use. Considering that every ISP offers a bit of webspace with every subscription and many people have dedicated webspace, this is a great way of making sure that your data stays safe.

The great thing about this options is that, no matter how your FTP server is set up, you will be able to use the FTP backup option because of the high customizability.

On a related note: storing backup data in a different geographical location is one of the best ways to ensure that you still have access to whatever files your backup includes, even if disaster strikes.

One More Thing

… that deserves to be mentioned is the very detailed help file. For example, the functionality of the Phone SIM Unlock feature might not be obvious to someone right from the start, so take a minute to read through the included help file and you will understand the feature a lot better.

The cost of data

Good things don’t come for free, but they most assuredly come at a very affordable and seemingly unchangeable price. In fact, the price of Sprite Backup has not changed since as long as I can remember and that goes back to 2003.

Starting at $20, you can get your hands on the Lite version, which has all the above mentioned features except for the Desktop conduit.

For $10 more, you will get the full(er) version, which includes the Desktop conduit and excludes some extra sorrow on your part by means of automatic, off-device backups.

For the curious: the title of this post refers to the police radio code for “backup / assistance” needed.

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Fat Wallet

posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2007

Ever since the release of mobile storage devices, people have repurposed their gadgets to store important, often even confidential data on them. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, many users seem to forget the various security issues that could arise if someone were to get a hold of your Pocket PC and its unencrypted content.

Thanks to Ilium Software however, there is an application you can use to get the best of both worlds: carry your important data with you, wherever you go and still keep it safe and protected behind a layer that is as difficult to break as your password.

Wallet Size

On last count, my eWallet storage was 226 cards big (or does that count as huge already?). These cards are made up of roughly 120 logins for various things, software license keys, two dozen of personal items such as drivers license, SSN and all those other numbers you cannot ever remember but still need all the time and also a few select items such as “doing CPR the right way” and other medical items. Yes, believe it or not, that is what I use eWallet for, too.

I consider myself an eWallet power user and as such, I would like to share a hint with you: take a bit of time to analyze the data you use the most inside your eWallet database(s). I have four main categories, in the root of the wallet file and nothing else, no stray cards, no nothing.

Every one of these categories is prefixed with a number so if I have the SIP open or am on a PC, I can just type the number to jump to the category. The naming of the categories is a scheme that is similar to one that I use for email folders and groups in my chat application. This way, I already know the basic structure of the data underneath.

eWallet’s category feature is as simple as it is powerful. Set up the right way, it will save you a lot of time, but if you are not specific enough, you might end up wasting time as opposed to saving it.

Wallet Buddies

Ilium Software’s eWallet is one of those applications that you can use on just about every mobile device you use, including Pocket PCs, Smartphones, Palmtops and even on U3 drives.

The Desktop version of eWallet also includes SyncPro, which handles the various syncing tasks. Besides the standard device-to-device syncing, eWallet also lets you sync your wallet file with a Windows Share, FTP server or iOmega.

To answer a question of paranoid users: yes, the FTP syncing feature is plain FTP, which means that someone could sniff out your password. This does not, however compromise the data stored within your wallet file. That data is protected by a 256 bit encryption, which is twice as much encryption as most banks offer.

Wallet Chain

Apart from the main application and the syncing conduit, there are also two versions of PassBuilder, one that is installed on your device and one that is available online. PassBuilder, as the name suggests, is used to generate secure passwords.

A number of options enable you to generate the kind of password you can remember best, be that in the form of a mnemonic sentence or as part of a dictionary word.

Wallet Design

To visually enhance your listing, eWallet includes a feature that lets you select an icon to represent the content of the card. This works amazingly well with software license cards and even can be used to include a Favicon for a website login.

Besides icons, eWallet also lets you add sounds and (background) images that are played / displayed whenever a specific card is accessed. If you feel like customizing your wallet file even more, you might want to read about a long lost feature on Ilium Software’s blog.

Wallet Shop

In case the message still is not obvious, I love eWallet. I have been using it for years now and you should be using it too. eWallet is as great as it sounds; it protects your data and works across a huge group of different devices (and platforms).

For approximately $30, you can get the professional suite, which makes a lot more sense than just buying the Pocket PC (or Smartphone) version, because once you are hooked on storing data in eWallet, you will not want to be creating your cards on a small slide-out keyboard.