October 20th, 2000
Connectix Corporation released Copy Agent at MACWORLD NY 2000. The new title is a backup solution, targeted at home users, local area networks (LAN) and small businesses.
The process was short and sweet. The installer sent an extension and two control panels to the System Folder, requiring a restart to take advantage of the new product.
Copy Agent comes with a printed manual (33 pages) and contains all the information that the user could look for. It provides a comprehensive description of all the features and guides the user through the use of the product.
Copy Agent respects Mac interface conventions but does not use the Appearance Manager to the fullest. Users of Kaleidoscope will find out quickly that Copy Agent imposes its own gray colors instead of making all the normal system calls.
Nevertheless, it is especially intuitive when scheduling copies, making it easy to prepare the operations step by step without wondering what should be done.
This is the most important part of the product, and we have to say that it is well-done. Copy Agent has a lot of interesting options for users to do almost anything they want to back up their data.
The schedules allowed us to set up copies in advance to execute them at a specific time during the day, and with selected frequencies such as once, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or at shut down.
The "how" means that Copy Agent uses different methods to achieve the user's goals. It allows a normal copy, which is no different from a standard process. Then, it has the SmartReplace and SmartMerge methods. Both are similar and they read file information (creation and modification dates; size) to determine which files are new or have been modified, thus necessitating a copy or replacement. The big deal is to update backup files without copying unchanged files over and over again. This feature saved us time when updating personal backups.
It offers synchronizing for those who want to ensure that their original files and backups are up to date everywhere. This is particularly neat for notebook users who may have new and modified files on different disks, and who need to keep everything up to date without looking constantly at the Get Info dialogs.
The Copy Agent installer can add a network extension, enabling copies over networks, even for use with TCP/IP.
In our tests during 3 months, Copy Agent performed reasonably well, failing to copy files only when there was not enough disk space, with minor quirks that we will explain below. It found the selected destination at all times, no matter if it was on a hard disk or on removable media.
Taking over the Finder
In every day use, Copy Agent will intervene in copying operations. It can verify copies to hard drives and removable media, and adds the option of removing locked files without asking for confirmation.
This works fairly well, except when something prevents your Mac from executing a copy. For example, if there is not enough disk space on a Zip disk, Copy Agent will refuse to make the copy without giving an explanation. The Finder would display an alert to make it clear that there is not enough space on the disk. Copy Agent, after taking over your copy tasks, does not display this alert, nor does it let the Finder do it.
It took us a bit of time to figure out what went on whenever our Mac could not complete a copy job. We had to look manually to realize what prevented our copies from executing.
In addition to copying, Copy Agent offers smarter deletion. It lets a user selectively delete the Trash's content, though we wonder why would anyone place a file in the Trash without the intention to delete it. In any case, this worked as advertised during our tests and we could even delete locked files without getting alerts.
For concerned users who have something to hide, a Security Erase function is available to overwrite files when deleting them, so that it would be impossible to retrieve them with software such as UnErase (part of Norton Utilities).
This control panel looks like an extra tool that Connectix threw in. It has a double intent.
First, you can use it to navigate menus from the keyboard and select elements using shortcuts, eliminating a trip to the mouse or track pad. We think that PowerBook owners will appreciate it.
Secondly, it allows users to set up hot keys that insert a bit of text or today's date. It can also open folders, applications and documents.
We are not necessarily sure that this control panel has anything to do with backups, but we certainly found it useful to set up our very own keyboard shortcuts.
Although it is feature-rich for a new product, we found that Copy Agent could offer slightly more to its users. Some may need to encrypt their backups for more security, for example. Copy Agent does not offer this at this time. When we asked the question of Connectix folks at MACWORLD, they told us that it would be nice to add this in a future version. Stay tuned.
We also think that Copy Agent should write a log file for users to monitor their backup efficiently without having to check their files on the destination disks. It would give extra information about successful copies or to know why something did not work right.
We found this product quite nifty, especially when considering that it is wholly new to the market. People who should consider buying it would be single users or small businesses. We find Copy Agent inexpensive and easy to use for those who need a simpler backup solution.