Saturday, July 14, 2007

Retrospect Pro 7.5: It's better than it was

Retrospect is an old name in Macintosh software. It was the "enterprise" backup solution for many educational institutions and some businesses in the early days of the Mac.

When the Mac was dying, sometime after OS 7, Retrospect went into decline. Towards the end time Dantz, who owned it then, created a Windows SOHO product called "Retrospect Pro" that ran on a Windows machine and backed up both Macs and PCs. I wrote about my use of it many years ago. Most of what I wrote there is still true, so if you want to get my opinion of the overall app take a look at that old page.

Dantz foundered, earning a reputation for miserly customer support and increasingly buggy products. They never really adjusted to OS X; the code base was probably too old to fix and they'd deferred a rewrite for too long.

EMC bought Retrospect, and I figured that was the end. It was indeed the end for the Macintosh product line, it's not been updated in years and it's hard to believe it will be sold after 10.5 is released. I've discovered, however, that they have invested in EMC® Retrospect® Pro 7.5 for Windows.

I found this out because Retrospect Pro 6.5, which I've been reluctantly losing because there is still no alternative for automated backup of a mixed Windows/Mac LAN had become very unstable. It was failing with cryptic error messages, it's a few years old, and I was using it in an unsupported fashion (with clients released for newer server versions) -- there was no sense trying to fix it. I had to either upgrade or switch to individual machine backup - a thought too painful to consider.

I'd held off upgrading for years because Dantz releases were so buggy an "upgrade" only introduced new issues - and left the old issues unchanged. EMC looked worse at first -- no user forums, no trials, nothing. In the past six months or so, however, EMC reinstated user forums and, above all, provided 30 day trial versions of all their products. They'd done enough to deserve a look, they'd dropped the price (buy on Amazon), the upgrade price was reasonable, and I was desperate.

So I tried -- without first uninstalling Retrospect Pro 6.5 (mistake!). The first thing I got were error messages and log entries like this one:

OS: Windows XP version 5.1 (build 2600), Service Pack 2, (32 bit)
Application: C:\Program Files\Retrospect\Retrospect 7.5\retrorun.exe,
Exception occurred on 6/22/2007 at 10:56:33 AM
Exception code: c0000005 ACCESS_VIOLATION
Fault address: 004093c3 0001:000083c3 (null)

and like this:

  • retrospect elem.cpp-993

I fumbled around a bit, thinking 7.5 was choking on my complex scripts, but I couldn't fix the problem. The fix was:

  • uninstall Retrospect Pro 6.5
  • reboot (because Retrospect does ugly things to low levels of the host OS)
  • uninstall Retrospect Pro 7.5
  • reboot
  • heck, reboot again
  • install Retrospect Pro 7.5
  • reboot
  • look for updates
  • update and reboot

The 30 day trial then worked. I ran the backups for a week and did a few random file restores and there have been no errors, though I admit that the only Mac I backup now is a PPC Mac running OS X 10.4. I'll soon be adding in the Intel laptop and I'm reasonably sure I'll have problems -- I don't think EMC has many Mac resources left. I run the Windows software on an old XP machine I'll run until it dies and is replaced by a new Intel iMac and an XP VM.

So I bought the upgrade from Amazon, thinking I should get the physical media. The price was cheaper too I think. What you get is a CD - nothing else. No documentation of course, but I know this immensely complex and completely unfriendly software very well. (They've introduced "wizards" to try to make it friendlier, but I disabled those. I've no idea if they help.) The upgrade process is a bit odd, but despite hanging for a bit at one point it completed. What you get with the CD is an "activation code". You enter that on the right page, your old registration code, and your address information to get a new code, which you'd better not lose (it is emailed to you as well as shown online).

In summary, Retrospect Pro is still a very unfriendly and complex hunk of software, and the clients probably don't work properly with a modern Mac, but it's an improvement on recent versions and if you want to backup a mixed LAN affordably and automatically there are no other choices.

BTW, don't expect to be able to do a "bare metal" restore on OS X. That might be theoretically possible, but I've never heard of anyone doing it using Retrospect. This is all about backing up your personal data.

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