Linux life savers for paranoid penguins
When one safety net isn't enough
Best of Linux So far, in my look at Linux compared to Mac and Windows, I've covered music players, photo organizers, and video editors. But all those apps – and all the documents they create – are lost if your hard drive crashes, your laptop takes a spill, or some other catastrophe strikes.
If you have documents, you must have a backup solution - Mac users at least have the option of Time Machine and Windows offers Live Drive. In this final installment of my look at the Linux desktop, I'll assess how Linux stacks up against backup solutions for Windows and OS X.
To keep things simple, we'll divide backup options into two camps: those that backup to a disk, and those that backup to web servers. For the latter, there is some degree of trust involved. While all of the options I've outlined offer secure encrypted connection, if you still aren't comfortable with the idea, then web-based backup services are not for you.
Ubuntu One: dead simple and nicely integrated with the desktop
Also remember that, as any good paranoid can tell you, one backup is never enough. Rather than deciding on one of these options, consider using several in conjunction for an even more fool-proof backup system.
Most Ubuntu users are probably aware of Ubuntu One by now. The service, launched with Ubuntu 9.10, gives Ubuntu fans a simple, cheap way to backup documents to Canonical's servers. In addition to simple backup, Ubuntu One can be used to sync files between your PCs.
Ubuntu One is dead simple to use and nicely integrated into the Ubuntu desktop. Once you set up an Ubuntu One account, your files will be backed up on the web and synced to any other registered Ubuntu computers. In addition to file syncing, Ubuntu One can also track your contacts, Firefox bookmarks and notes.
Ubuntu One is free for the first 2GBs of data and in our experience, while it's glitchy, it has never lost any of my data so it's at least worth turning on.
No hiccups: Dropbox lets you access your files, no matter the system
However, web access to your documents can be especially flaky. Upgrades rolled out with the release of Ubuntu 10.10 seem to have improved the overall stability of Ubuntu One, but it still has the occasional problem.
Ubuntu One also got a few new features with the release of Maverick Merekat, including the ability to stream music to Android devices. Unfortunately you won't be streaming for free. There is a 30-day free trial period, but after that you'll have to pony up $4 per month - plus any bandwidth charges from your mobile provider, depending on your contract.
Still, if access to your music on the go is something you'd like, Ubuntu One is the only solution here that delivers and the price isn't too bad - particularly if you've got an unlimited data plan on your phone.
While most of Ubuntu One's features are free, and work reasonably well, it's worth taking a look at the rest of the pack before you commit.
Some other similar services include Dropbox. Dropbox is cross-platform, which means you can easily sync files from Windows or Mac to your Linux machine, and it also offers a web-based interface that gives you access to your files no matter what computer you're using.
There's no music streaming out of the box, but unlike Ubuntu One, Dropbox has never so much as hiccuped in the nearly two years I've been using it - though the Dropbox server did recently go down for a few hours.
Dropbox's prices are inline with Ubuntu One, but because Dropbox runs on any platform, you end up getting a bit more for your money, assuming you need to sync across different platforms and PCs.
Back-In-Time: a Mac-like option hidden in Ubuntu's repositories
If you're not a fan of Dropbox in particular but like the idea of automatic web-based backup there are several other options including JungleDisk (also cross platform) and Box.net, a Linux desktop client of which is in the works but you can sync manually by mounting the server in Ubuntu.
For those wanting something a bit more Linux-centric, there's also SparkleShare, which hopes to be like Dropbox, but more tightly integrated with the GNOME desktop. So far, the project doesn't have any code available but it's worth keeping an eye on.
If you're not comfortable with online backup services having your data, or if you just want a local backup as well, fear not, local backup software for Linux has a long, storied history.
If you're looking for something like Apple's TimeMachine there are several options.
The first I tested is Back In Time, which is included in the Ubuntu repositories. Back In Time makes versioned backups of your files and, in my testing, worked without issue. There's also a handy GUI for setting up a cronjob to run Back In Time on a regular schedule.
FlyBack is yet another take on the Time Machine paradigm that uses Git behind the scenes to create versioned backups of you files. While FlyBack worked just fine, it lacks some features of Time Machine - like automation - and the issues page in Google Code has a number of reports of FlyBack failing.
While neither app has the visual polish of Time Machine, both accomplish the same thing.
FlyBack: lacks Time-Machine's polish and, reportedly, its reliability
If none of these quite tickle your fancy there is always the granddaddy of backup tools - rsync. In fact, some of the apps above use rysnc behind the scenes - others use version control systems like SVN, Git or Mercurial.
RSync by itself isn't pretty, it's just a command-line utility, but there are plenty of GUI wrappers that can help you set up regular, scheduled backups and chose which folders to back up and which files to ignore. Just search for rysnc in the Ubuntu software center and try a few until you find something that works for you.
When it comes to backing up your files Linux is every bit as good and, in many cases, much better at the job than anything you'll find for Windows or Mac. Whether you're looking to backup your files on the web, to a local drive or - ideally - both, Linux has you covered. ®