Faustian descent into backup hell: A play in two acts
In which a Reg reader wrestles demons and Ghosts
A laptop user wanting to remove the backup software Acronis True Image found himself in a Kafkaesque world: the vendor's own clean-up software could potentially render his laptop unbootable. But then a Ghost came to the rescue.
The sequence of events played out like an Elizabethan play, so that's how we've treated it.
Richard Collins – a user
Anon – Acronis support staff in India
Anon – Acronis headquarters spokesperson
Ed Benack – AcronisChief Information Officer/Chief Customer Officer
Thanasingh Mosae Sathiyaseelan – Norton Ghost support engineer in India.
Narrator – A Reg character
RICHARD AND THE GHOST
Scene 1: Clone Wars
The computer room in Richard Collins' house. Enter Richard Collins, stage left.
I needed a product to image my laptop 'C' drive [so] that I could rebuild from in the event of a disaster, and the Acronis product description met the need. I bought Acronis True Image Home 2012  and the Plus Pack which I installed.
Following the Acronis instructions I also needed to install the Windows Automated Installation Kit V3. This was a 1.7GB download and took a long time to install as CD's had to be burnt. It all took more than half a day.
To use the [Acronis] software you fire up the control panel; it then automatically shuts down the machine and reboots to do the copy. This takes some minutes. During the process a message would flash up and disappear [saying] 'no copy taking place'. To report the error fully I went to the trouble of making a movie  which I put up on YouTube so they could help me solve it.
With nothing better to do while awaiting the Acronis support team's response, Richard had an idea:
I dug around their FAQs and found an issue , dated 2009, where it spells out that laptops are not supported for the copying function. The chat session confirmed this and [Acronis] offered to refund my money.
Scene II: Undergarments in a twist
A disembodied narrator intones from above the stage.
So far, so good, sort of. But now things went from so-so to a fantastical farce. Richard wanted to uninstall the product but couldn't work out how to do so. Back to Acronis support. Here is an extract of the chat support log:
Acronis: You have received the refund for Acronis True Image Home 2012 but now you are not able to uninstall it.
Acronis: Richard, please note that as you have received the refund for Acronis True Image Home 2012 ... you are not entitled to support. (!) ... as a goodwill gesture I am providing you the clean-up utility to remove the software from the computer. Which might lead to the computer being unbootable.
Collins: ... Unbootable... Are you joking?
The support guy said that Collins had to agree to a disclaimer to use the clean-up software. He would get the Trial version of the software, use it take a backup of the C: drive, and then use the clean-up utility. In effect, Collins would download the Trial software and over-write the live version.
Unbootable – are you joking!
Here is an extract of an email Acronis support sent to Collins:
So we always recommend to create a backup of the disk on which you have operating system installed. As you do not have any Acronis software to take the backup we need appropriate permissions before I can proceed further with assisting you to uninstall the software and I need permission to provide you a copy of the software with which we can take a backup of the computer. I cannot commit that permission which I need will be granted. But I have certainly contact the concerned department to get the permission.
Scene III: Support returns
Enter the narrator dressed in a scruffy jumper, jeans and trainers and, oddly, wearing a tattered vulture's head.
Later in the support session he was told that Acronis software is designed in such a way that the Trial version cannot be installed once the full version has been installed on a machine.
He was also told that if he bought support, by buying the product again, he could uninstall it with technical support. He decided to sleep on that one, saying: "I remain stunned at the possibility that my machine might be fatally damaged by uninstalling the Acronis backup software."
So we have a misleading description of what the product does: it omits the point that, in order to clone a laptop C: drive, it has to be outside the laptop with a replacement C: drive inside the machine. This is clearly a nonsense when all you want to to is a backup your C: drive by making a cloned image of it.
The problem became even more convoluted when SW removal became difficult, and the refund caused support to be withdrawn, and then Collins subsequently made the discovery that removing the ATIH 2012 software could kill his notebook.
What happened next?
Enter Richard Collins, stage right
The latest position is ... they will give me 15 days supported access to their PC disk recovery software which should help me rescue my hard disk should the Acronis uninstall damage my machine (as they said it might)!
The thought of having to rely on a piece of software to rebuild my machine is scary enough.
Having to do it because I uninstalled a piece of their software that didn't do what they promised leaves me speechless.
Scene V: The view from Acronis
A room in Acronis' HQ with a spokesperson
Richard purchased the Acronis product with the intention of cloning his laptop and then contacted our support team for assistance with this task. The support team informed him that in order to clone his laptop, he would have to place a new, second hard drive within his laptop. The next step would be to clone the original hard drive to the new hard drive via USB. Because the customer did not want to follow this procedure, cloning could not take place and therefore Acronis provided him with a refund.
Enter Ed Benack, Acronis' Chief Information Officer/Chief Customer Officer
We are sorry to hear of Richard’s situation. Acronis will continue to offer a refund if a customer feels a product does not meet their specific needs, even if they want to use it in a way it was not designed for. In this instance the user wanted to clone, not back up, his machine. However cloning, unlike backup, always requires a second hard drive. Since the user didn’t want to clone to a second drive, we gave him a refund and offered assistance with removing the software, regardless of the fact the he was not entitled to support.
“We can also confirm that the Acronis support team did advise Richard on how to ensure his data was protected while he was guided through the steps necessary to remove the software. Part of this process meant that we provided our standard caution as we would with any utility that edits the registry or cleans up a system. We will continue to offer this caution – even if it’s an extremely remote risk – since we want our customers to be aware of any potential risks to their data, and advise them of the best steps to keep it protected.
We believe we followed best practices in providing full support to this customer and will be happy to continue to help him.
Scene V: Enter the ghost
The middle of the night between 23 and 24 September in Richard Collins' house, an appropriate time for ghostly encounter. Richard Collins is seated at his desk.
Instead of Acronis, I bought the Norton Ghost equivalent product which I used for a few disk images and it seemed fine.
I chose to copy a folder from Drive I to Drive F, nothing special, you can see the drive map here . The copy failed. I had an engineer sign on at 00:20. He was based in India; he took control of my machine, changed some service settings and rebooted it three times. He gave up at 01.30 and passed it up to the senior engineers.
They took control of my machine at 01.50 and tweaked more settings but the same problem stayed, they eventually settled on a work-around. They instructed the backup and preceded the I Drive/Folder specification with a dummy file type *.ttt. The backup then ran with the work-around but took 28 minutes and scanned every drive.
This morning I devised a better work-around until Norton fix their product. [The report transcript is in the Bootnote below.]
We put men on the moon 30 years ago, since then we’ve had the web, YouTube, etc, but two global software businesses cannot make something simple enough to back up a couple of Windows 7 PC drives!
I could have done without three hours online last night but [am] pleased to have received their support and a resolution.
The support teams for both Acronis and Norton were courteous, polite and efficient. We're glad the story had a happy ending and commend both companies for their efforts to help Richard Collins. ®
Bootnote – Norton work-around report transcript
Thanasingh Mosae Sathiyaseelan: Hi Richard, my name is Moses from Norton Support, how are you doing today?
Richard Collins: Tired after three hours with your engineers last night until 3am.
TM Sathiyaseelan, TM: I apologise for the difficulties you have recently encountered.
R Collins: They found a work-around to the problem, but I have found a better one. Could you find out what the reference number was? A clue, one LOGMEIN session was number 211952.
TM Sathiyaseelan: Richard, are you able to do the backup now?
R Collins: Yes, with a work-around.
TM Sathiyaseelan: Good. May I know what you did now to fix this issue?
R Collins: The engineers setup a dummy file type of *.ttt AND the Drive/folder I wanted which was I/Tacklers. This ran but it took 28 minutes and scanned every drive on the systems to find *.ttt types, obviously none existed but it slogged through 2.5 GB of disk to find out.
R Collins: MY solution follows.
R Collins: The system fails when just I/Tacklers is specified.
TM Sathiyaseelan: Okay. Do you want me to escalate this case again to the Engineering team?
R Collins: No, hold on.
R Collins: I set up a dummy folder on C, named dummy.
R Collins: When the backup is configured C/Dummy, I/Tacklers then the backup works. It ran in seven minutes, not the 28 minutes your engineers configured.
R Collins: They were going to advise your development team of the problem as the software needs changing. This work-around is easy and works. Okay?
TM Sathiyaseelan: Okay. I will give this information to the Engineering team.
R Collins: Do you know what the case number was?
TM Sathiyaseelan: The new case number will be created after this chat session.
TM Sathiyaseelan: The old case number is case number is SFDC-00607728.
R Collins: Okay thanks,
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org at the end of your chat.
TM Sathiyaseelan: You are welcome. Richard, do you need any call-back from the Engineering team?
R Collins: No I'm done, hope the product gets fixed soon. Bye. ®