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I'd like to start a regular backup routine for my parents and grandparents and I'd like some help finding the best software.

My requirements are, in order of importance:

  1. Recovery must be simple (if when a hard disk dies, I don't want to spend hours reinstalling all the software)
  2. The UI must be simple (ideally, it would start a backup as soon as the backup disk is connected, then display a big happy "Backup Complete" message when everything goes well… But clicking an icon would be acceptable too.)
  3. It would be nice to have automatic error logging (ie, so I'll get an email if a backup hasn't successfully completed recently, or if something else happens)

I have been using Acronis TrueImage 9, but it fails points 2 and 3 – I could not figure out how to start a backup in one click and I couldn't find any automatic error reporting tools.

Online backup tools like BackBlaze are great on point 2, but fail point 1, so unfortunately I don't want to use them either.

So, do you know of any software that fulfills these requirements?

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i would not use incremental hot imaging, for a simple reason: someone is catching a virus, this may trash a perfectly good drive image with the next scheduled backup, the risk outweighs the convenience. create a drive image and store it separately, then use incremental backup for user data, e.g. on an external hard disk. old-fashioned but safe and sound. – Molly7244 Nov 27 '09 at 16:09
Ah, I was assuming that all of the data would be on an external disk. The use-case I have imagined is "plugin disk, incremental snapshot is taken, unplug disk". It does leave room for a nasty virus to hurt the backup disk… But that's a risk I'm OK with taking. – David Wolever Nov 27 '09 at 16:49
You can do this with Acronis (see my answer below). Schedule regular, automatic backups. "If a planned task fails because the external drive was not available when the task started the backup will automatically start once the drive is reconnected." – Robert Cartaino Nov 27 '09 at 17:22
it's not just viruses, you will also thoroughly backup the ever so popular 'OS Rot' with this method. if the hard disk does fail, you wouldn't want to restore that shiny new disk with a decayed windows installation, the point of having a drive image is to restore a clean, functional operating system should the need ever arise. – Molly7244 Nov 27 '09 at 17:34
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Newer versions of Acronis True Image provide much more "set-it and forget it" features. These include one-click backups and much more flexible scheduled backups.

With Acronis True Image Home 2010 you can set them up with automatic scheduled, incremental backups. You can back up to an external drive or use their new on-line backup service. Your parents and grandparents wouldn't have to do anything except leave the computer on for the nights that backups are scheduled (point 2). With the new "continuous backups" feature, they wouldn't even have to do that.

True Image 2010 can also send automatic e-mail notifications to report the status of each backup (point 3).

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Awesome, I was reading through the Acronis site but it wasn't clear that 2010 has better "set it and forget it" features. Thanks! – David Wolever Nov 27 '09 at 20:03
I still stand by my distrust of online backup, though… So that feature won't mean much ;) – David Wolever Nov 27 '09 at 20:08

EaseUS TODO backup is free for home use. If you set a monthly differential system backup (complete disk image!), and then have individual diff file backups daily for importantant documents.... it takes ab out an hour to restore a machine with 250gb of data.

Its set and forget, as long as you have an external hard drive or network share. I might suggest the buffallow linkstation for a full featured NAS.

TODO backup installs an alternate boot option to restore quickly and painlessly, and uses shadow copy to backup while the machine is running. If you are in a pinch, you can even have it make WINPE disk to restore a completely hosed OS or two a new drive.

Restoring is just a matter of loading up one of the monthly disk images, and then using the file backup to restore files to the latest version.

We use it at my work for clients who aren't part of a domain / one-offs. Its really fast and runs well in the background without conflicting with things.

The only thing it doesn't do out of the box is remote location backups.

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