Windows Backup Application Stumbles

Here's a one-page review about FilePreserver from XLink Technology. It's a great idea, but there's room for improvement.

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@exb

At a Glance
Program name:
FilePreserver
Company name:
XLink Technology, Inc.
Price:
$34.99 (U.S)
What it does:
It provides continuous backup on a transaction level by using Windows Volume Shadow Copy technology.
Pro:
For individual power users, FilePreserver promises to make data loss a thing of the past.
Con:
FilePreserver has design flaws that make it unsuitable for use in enterprise environments. These flaws include insecure storage of personal information, stability problems and a cumbersome user interface.
@exe Volume shadow copy (VSC) is a new technology in Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows Server 2003 that makes point-in-time copies of files, including open and locked files. FilePreserver from XLink Technology Inc., Milpitas, CA, is one of the first products that works in conjunction with VSC to back up files on a transaction level, allowing users to restore files from snapshots taken within the previous six months. In many regards, FilePreserver is like the Windows XP System Restore feature, but for data files instead of system files. You can download an evaluation copy from the XLink Web site at www.xlink.com.

After creating a snapshot, FilePreserver uses VSC to record changes to files as they occur, even if the file is open or locked. Users can restore those files to their states contained in any of the snapshots. FilePreserver doesn't make copies of entire files. Instead, it records discrete changes to the files.

FilePreserver has plenty of problems that prevent its use in corporate environments, and its unintuitive user interface will restrict it to power users. The file list, for example, doesn't support drag and drop. Restoring entire folders through Windows Explorer is straightforward, but restoring individual files requires you to work through the FilePreserver configuration dialog box. And creating a temporary folder in which to restore files requires that you open a new Windows Explorer window because the FilePreserver dialog box that is used to restore a file doesn't allow you to create folders.

Not for file servers
The current version of FilePreserver isn't suitable if your goal is to allow users who store files on a network server to restore their own files. It's also not suitable for users who store files on their local computer in order to have a snap stored to a network drive. Even though you can install FilePreserver on a file server and it'll back up any file or folder that you configure, only console users can restore files. If you're looking for a server product to provide continuous file backup, then Windows 2003 Server VSC with the VSC client deployed to client computers is a better choice.

FilePreserver is also a security risk. XLink apparently designed the product for single-user computers, so it's not appropriate for use in environments where users share computers. There's only one snapshot configuration, which includes the list of files and folders that FilePreserver backs up. It stores this list in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE registry hive, so it's shared among all users. Also, FilePreserver stores all of its snapshots in C:ProgramFilesFilePreserverSCVol using the default ACL for the Program Files folder. This is a huge security problem because users now have access to other users' files through Windows Explorer.

In my test lab, FilePreserver consistently crashed the computer every time I added a file to the snapshot. It wasn't a polite failure, either. The computer spontaneously rebooted. After logging back on and clicking through Windows error reporting, I was able to successfully add the file. I reported this problem to XLink, but they were unable to reproduce it.

FilePreserver is a great idea, but the execution is flawed. The user interface needs work to make it friendlier, and stability and security are both a problem. However, XLink has committed to improving it.

This was first published in June 2004
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