SmartSync Pro v2.1

Reviewed by: Sallie Goetsch, September 2005
Published by: SmartSync Software
Requires: Windows 9x/Me/NT4/2000/XP/2003; hard drive with at least 5MB free space for installation; 32MB RAM; 133MHz processor
MSRP: US$35.00 (single user), discounts for multi-user licenses

With SmartSync Pro, you can back up or synchronize files to disk drives, external hard drives, flash drives, network drives, and even remote servers. You can back up all files or only certain types of files, and exclude files and folders by either name or type. SmartSync Pro can also be configured to automatically run other programs before or after a synchronization session.

There are so many possible combinations of actions, destinations, scheduling, startup, and other options that it's not possible to cover them all in this review. In any case, the 59-page PDF product manual and extensive online help should cover anything I've left out. The help system includes step-by-step screenshots and a product tour in Flash format.

SmartSync Pro's Profile Wizard walks you through creating and scheduling different profiles for various options. There's a drop-down menu with a selection of files most people need to back up (My Documents, My Desktop, My Favorites, My Pictures, Address Book, ICQ Database, Outlook Files, Outlook Express Messages, QuickLaunch, and handily, your SmartSync profiles and settings). You can also choose your source folder manually, a good option for backing up data from programs which don't store the files they create in My Documents. Security options allow you to password protect your backups, a particularly important option for anything you'll be storing off-site or online.


Remote Backup

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I was particularly interested in the possibility of backing up my most important files to a remote location. SmartSync Pro provides two ways to do this: e-mail and FTP. The FTP option also allows you to create a mirror to duplicate the files on two different FTP servers. Most web hosting providers also provide both public and private FTP directories, and most small and home office users have much more storage space on those servers than they'll ever use, providing a built-in remote server for backup files.

Instead of copying your files directly to the remote server, SmartSync Pro creates a compressed package containing all the files, then uploads it to the remote server. Once the package is ready to go, you can open the files or run the programs which use them without worrying about interfering with the backup. That's a good thing too because even over a cable connection, it takes a long time to transfer a package onto a remote server.

My 1 GB of critical data (Outlook PST file, business documents, and Quicken data), compressed down to about 700 MB, and was 4 hours in transfer when it timed out before copying was complete. I had to divide my data into multiple smaller profiles in order to get the files onto the server and avoid another connection time out.

Flash Drive/MP3 Sync

I have a non-iPod, non-iTunes MP3 player which uses flash memory. Normally I copy new podcasts onto it manually, but I discovered that I could use SmartSync Pro to synchronize the MP3 player with My Music folder. I was even able to tell it only to copy MP3 files and not Real Media (Real Player) files, which my player doesn't recognize.

External Hard Drive Backup

Backup to an external hard drive is both simple and speedy, even over USB 1.1. Just select the destination drive letter and away you go.

LAN Backup

In practice, backup to another computer on your local network works just like backup to an external hard drive or flash drive. Depending on your network speed, it may even be faster. Restoring a backup is just as easy.

CD/DVD Backup

And now for the bad news. SmartSync Pro requires third-party packet-writing software to back up to CD or DVD. Packet writing is one of those things which is wonderful in theory but unreliable in practice. All our lives would be easier if we could use CDs and DVDs like floppy disks and just drag and drop files onto them.

Ahead Software's Nero InCD (packet writing) software was installed on my previous computer so I could do an ongoing backup of my work-related files. When it worked, it was wonderful, but every so often there would be a mysterious error resulting in a Blue Screen of Death and a useless DVD-RW which would have to be erased. Roxio DirectCD has proved just as problematic for my clients. Worse, not all CD/DVD drives can read discs created with packet writing software. No matter how good SmartSync Pro is in and of itself, it can't compensate for inherent problems with packet writing.

SmartSync Pro is not an alternative to drive mirroring programs like Ghost and TrueImage, but it's a good complement to them. I particularly like the option to run on shut down as well as start up, and so back up your data after you've made changes and before a possible failure to boot up when next you switch on your computer. All in all, SmartSync Pro is a good product at a good price, simple enough for technophobes and flexible enough for geekier types.

(Ed. Note: Reviewer Sallie Goetsch may be better known as "Fileslinger" to some of you. It's a play on Gunslinger, the term used to describe contract programmers who are hired to come in to work on a special project. Her Fileslinger Consulting business started with literal file-slinging: helping people with their filing and other clerical work. Over time the business has expanded to include other services which draw on Sallie's extensive experience in computer troubleshooting, basic web site design, presentation design, research and writing. You can contact Sallie through the FileSlinger web site.)





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