Here's another way of looking at the perennial problem of everyday file backup - don't back up at all. Instead, synchronise files between different locations. But are you the right user for synch or might old-world backup just be easier to live with?
Backup is fine for moving data between a primary and one or more static locations for keeping it safe, say between a workstation and a server, but it struggles to cope when the user starts creating files on several devices at once. In this design, the chance of inadvertently overwriting important files rises, and reinstating the correct one at a later point can turn into a chore.
Synchronisation programs such as GoodSync have emerged to cope with the multi-device world, where there is no primary device for creating files and the larger struggle is simple to keep versions consistent between different locations. This type of software tends to be seen as a convenience, but it can also be used in anger as a sophisticated backup system. As with static backup, the knack is setting it up correctly.
It is tempting to replace backup with synchronisation, but beware the wrinkles. First, there's always the possibility of conflicts between files where the synching works in two directions, usually where both files have changed and the program can't figure out which is the one to be replaced. In that instance, a synch program, GoodSync included, will flag the issue, leaving the user to work out which is the primary file, not always an easy task.
More critically, if a file is deleted from one location the synched copy will also be deleted (unless this option is excluded), something which backup was invented to protect the user against. Synchronisation is also not very efficient - you have two or more identical data stores - and that might also not be the most secure way to handle certain types of file.
GoodSync's default mode is to set up and synchronise two file stores, deciding on the initial direction of travel for files, after which the analysis button notes the file movements that will be required to bring the two stores into synch. Specific files can be excluded or a preference set to prioritise a file on one side of the store over the other. Alternatively, the program can be set up in simple ‘backup' mode'.
Chains can be set up (i.e synch between two PCs using a USB stick as intermediary), as can a schedule for synching to take place. The latter includes the possibility to synch files using regular events such as a Windows startup, logging off and even when the target folder becomes available as the triggers. Where file conflicts occur during such automated events, the program can also be made to resolve the issue by just choosing the most recent file.
Any job can be saved as a template, simplifying the process of creating multiple synch operations using a desired and repeating set of criteria. Multiple jobs can be run at once, from a command line if desired.
Once the fraught issue of what was being synched, how, and with what parameters had been set up, GoodSync did its job efficiently. In this instance, the program was used to oft-changing synch files between two PCs in different locations using an encrypted US stick as the go-between. On one side of the equation it was also used to execute a basic backup to a third PC, although this could equally be done by a more featured backup program if required.
On that score, an extra license was needed in addition to the primary upgrade license (see below), unless you're willing to work within the limits of the free version. Although this costs only $10 there is an argument that the ability to run on two PCs is half the delight of the software and it would be preferable to get this in a single license. We also had to make sure there wasn't a clash between the mounted drive letters in the chain to make sure it would work correctly.
Licensing - free or paid-for?
GoodSync comes in two versions; a rather limited ‘free' version and a ‘Pro' version. Which one you use will depend on the scale of your needs; the free version limits the number of jobs to 3 and the number of files to only 100, and does not include free upgrades. An overview can be found on the company website, but we'd suggest that the free version is too limited to be used as anything more than a trial.
Synching can complement or even replace backup for regular but relatively small jobs, especially between multiple PCs and devices. For larger jobs, backup might be a better idea. Ignore Windows Sync Center, another piece of Vista ‘uselessware' as it excludes server folder synchronisation from all but the Business and Ultimate editions, and in any case lacks enough configuration.