This year's annual update of Acronis True Image Home reflects the software's ongoing transformation from a beast into a reasonably easy-to-use imaging program. Though the interface of True Image Home 2011 still has a couple of headscratchers, overall True Image is not the labyrinth of confusion its predecessors were.

When you boot True Image Home 2011, you may select any of three options: Backup My Critical Data, Use the Backup Assistant or Go to the Main Screen. The first option is a one-step, hands-off backup of your system partition and your important data; the second asks you a few more questions, and the last presents you with all of the traditional choices and options.

True Image has always offered full, incremental, differential and file-based backups, as well as encryption. The program supports scheduled backups, nonstop backup at 5-minute intervals and backups to Acronis's Online Backup service. Prices for online storage start at 25GB for $5 per month. Restoring a backup to dissimilar hardware requires the Acronis True Image Home 2011 Plus Pack.

Most of the new features are tame, but collectively they make the app easier to use. The most compelling new feature may be nonstop backup of files and folders (formerly the software could back up only entire partitions). Also, USB 3.0 is now supported on the recovery disc. Better integration with Windows 7 lets you replace the operating system's Windows Backup functions with True Image Home 2011 and access TI via the control panel. The timeline view shows Windows backup and installation events. And the scheduler lets you wake up the system from sleep or hibernation, and adds Log Off and Shutdown options for Windows 7.

For all its power, True Image has always included at least one annoyance. For years I've disliked the program's inability to open images older than two versions back. Acronis has fixed that flaw. But the revised program couldn't back up to one of my thumb drives because it backs up only to NTFS partitions and the flash drive was formatted to FAT32.

Another frustration: The program didn't display an attached NTFS 32GB flash drive as a possible backup location, though I could browse to it and select it manually. Acronis says that it should have a fix for that glitch by the time you read this. Also, if you don't set User Account Control on Windows 7 to its lowest level, you'll have to allow access manually every time you launch the program. Finally, the nonstop backup wouldn't let me choose a flash drive as a destination. The function should be smart enough to permit this and simply warn you (and pause backups) if the drive isn't present.

OUR VERDICT

Acronis has steadily improved True Image's usability, and the 2011 version is much friendlier than earlier iterations. The program is rock solid, though the new features aren't as compelling as last year's additions, so if you own True Image Home 2010 you might want to wait for the next go-round before purchasing an upgrade. Still, for new users, the program remains at the top of the heap (albeit with Symantec Norton Ghost 15 not far behind), and it's the first backup program I've seen whose recovery disc supports USB 3.0.