F-Secure Online Backup 2011 is the kind of backup system you might want to implement if you have limited computing experience, or if you have a non-IT literate friend or relative who you want to ensure has their most important files backed up. The classic example is the digital photo collection. How many people are destined to lose a decade's worth of family photos when their laptop hard drive finally gives out?
I'll say right now that if you want to take control over exactly what is backed up and have the choice of a variety of options, this isn't the solution for you. There are other solutions out there catering to the power user, but F-Secure is aimed more at the basic end of the spectrum.
It comes with 'unlimited' backup storage for one single PC for one year. After that time, you'll need to extend your subscription. If you have multiple PCs, you'll need multiple subscriptions running in parallel. What does 'unlimited backup' mean? According to the FAQ document it means - 'The F-Secure Online Backup program allows you to back up all personal files on your hard disk securely, regardless of the total number of files'. Also note that 'No single files can be larger than 2GB'.
Installation is very simple on Windows. Once the software is installed, you are prompted what options to choose - whether to back up automatically or decide what to backup yourself. In the interests of saving time and bandwidth, it may be worth opting to limit the scope of the backup. By default, the following is backed up across all physical hard drives in your PC (note that no external hard drives whether mapped network shares or attached USB drives may be selected):
Office Documents -
Microsoft Office Docs: Word, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Project, Access, Fax at work, Money, Visio
OpenOffice Documents: OpenOffice and OpenOffice 2 applications
Desktop Publishing Docs: InDesign, QuarkXpress, PageMaker, FrameMaker
Apple iWork Docs: Pages, Keynote, Numbers,
CAD Drawings: dxf, .dwg, .mac, .pla, .pln, .pz3, .pzz files.
Other Docs: .pdf, .txt.
Pictures and Videos -
Image Files: jpg, .jpeg, .tif, .tiff, .crw, .cr2, .raw, .nef, .dng, .orf, .pef, .ptx, .raf, .gif
Creative App Docs: .ai, .eps, .cpt, .cdr, .cdx, .fla, .png, .psd, .psb, .psp, .eps, .dxf, .fhd, .fh9, .graffle, .wec. .xar.
Video Files: .wmv, .mov, .3gp
Music Files -
Common Audio Files: .mp3, .m4a, .m4p, .wma, .aac, .mp4 * N.B. audio files are not automatically backed up *
E-mails (this is a nice feature - it'll backup emails at an individual mail level while Outlook is open) -
Windows: Default e-mail application (Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows e-mail, Thunderbird).
Mac: Thunderbird and Mac OS X Mail.
My Important Files -
My Documents: Files in your My Documents folder (default selection). Only the supported file types are included in the backup.
Desktop: Files in your Desktop folder (default selection). Only the supported file types are included in the backup.
Favourites: Files in the Favorites folder of Internet Explorer (default selection). Only the supported file types are included in the backup.
You can assume that your backups are pretty secure - files are encrypted using 3DES encryption, and uploaded to F-Secure using 128-bit SSL encryption, which is as secure as most of the competitor online backup systems. However, you may not specify the encryption key yourself.
The first issue I encountered was, when trying to specify exactly which Outlook folders to backup. I wanted to exclude my SPAM folder from the backup. However, repeated attempts to navigate to and deselect this in the interface resulted in the interface freezing, requiring me to terminate it. After several attempts and a couple of reboots, I was able to uncheck this box.
Selecting files and folders in the interface is not hugely challenging - while the dialogue window is fixed width, it is possible to scroll back & forth, so you are able to get to the end of the line as required. However, fixed width dialogue boxes are an unnecessary inconvenience and can be irritating. Partial selections and full selections of directory contents are possible, and partial selections are flagged with a grey box; full selections with a green tick. This is perfectly usable.
In addition to the folder selection dialogue, you can also right-click on files and folders in Windows Explorer and select 'Backup Now'. Indeed, this may be the preferred way to select objects for backup, especially for people not wanting to use the dedicated dialogue.
Every file you select a file or folder for backup, it gets a large orange dot appear over its icon in Windows Explorer. At it's fully backed up, the dot changes to Green. This is not a unique feature to F-Secure, but it is a really comforting indication that your files are backed up.
It's worth noting that files are backed up in the following order (from smallest to largest) and you cannot modify this setting:
3. My important files (if you have selected files in this category).
4. Other files.
If you accidentally delete a file from the local drive, you have (by default, this can be extended to 45 days) 30 days to restore it from your online backup. After that, the online copy will also be deleted automatically.
Should you be unlucky enough to have a hard drive failure, you need to first re-install and re-license the software on your new drive, then you can restore the files to their original locations, or another alternate location. It is unclear whether you have the same 30 (45) day window to do this before your online backup will be erased.
Bandwidth for file upload may be throttled to ensure that you don't make other web applications (e.g. browsing or Skype) perform badly. The default limit of 60 KB/s seems to work pretty well for a typical high speed broadband connection, but if you find this too much, you can drop it to as low as 10KB/s. On the other hand, you can set it as unlimited. The best approach would be to throttle it while you or anyone else sharing your broadband connection are out of the house, and then to throttle it again when you come back. Once the initial backup has completed - this will take many hours or even days at 1-2GB per day - only changes are replicated.
The second, and rather more major issue I encountered was - when navigating any of the folders protected by the backup selection (fortunately very few in my case) Windows Explorer would often just stop responding, forcing me to terminate the Windows Explorer process completely. I have sufficient technical knowledge to be able to do this - many others may be forced to reboot to rectify the situation. This happened even with my AntiVirus tool disabled, as I thought at first that there may be a security conflict. Only when I disabled the F-Secure backup service did Windows Explorer come back to normal operation. This was not an intermittent issue - I could reproduce it at will. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend this product. There is an amount of work which needs to be done to make it more stable. I'm running Windows XP SP3, which at the time of writing still constitutes the majority of PC desktops, so you'd think it would run well on such a well tested operating system.
So in summary :-
- Unlimited backup capacity (in common with most competitors)
- Nice integration with Windows Explorer (in common with most competitors)
- Decent level of file security
- The ability to backup to the level of individual emails
- 'Fit and forget' setup makes this a good solution to implement for a non-technical friend or relative
- The ability to restore to the original or an alternative location
- Unobtrusive background operation
- Low CPU utilisation (average 2% CPU)
- Causing Windows Explorer to hang ***MAJOR ISSUE***
- Backup selection interface can be unresponsive for long periods and even stop working completely at times
- Maximum file size limit is 2GB (this is less than some competitors)
- It is not possible to backup from network shares or external USB drives or memory sticks
- Interface could be improved with resizable dialogue windows
- The file selection interface could be greatly improved
- High memory consumption (average 100MB)
So overall, when compared to other online backup solutions like Carbonite and Mozy, this is not the leader of the pack in terms of functionality. However, my main reservation is its apparent lack of stability, and in particular its tendency to lock up Windows Explorer as well as its own email navigation dialogue becoming unresponsive. This needs some serious attention. Until these issues are dealt with, I cannot recommend this product.
Approach with caution.