March 31, 2011

Desktop Synchronization Shootout: Comparing the Best Linux Backup Tools

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Desktop Synchronization Shootout: Comparing the Best Linux Backup Tools
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The Linux landscape is littered with backup tools for the desktop — but which is the best? Choosing a backup solution can be confusing, but don't sweat it — we've looked at the best Linux backup tools for the desktop to help you select the one that's right for you. We'll help you choose between Dropbox, SpiderOak, Déjà Dup, and the rest.

The good news is that you have a lot of options. This hasn't always been the case — five years ago, backing up your Linux desktop was a royal pain. But lately the solutions have gotten much easier to use and much more robust. Let's take a look and see which one is the best for you.

Simplicity Itself: Dropbox

Let's start with what is likely the most popular backup service for Linux users — Dropbox. Dropbox was early in the market and early to give Linux users support. It's a cross-platform backup solution that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

As the name suggests, you have a "dropbox" for your files. When you set up Dropbox, you select a single folder to back up and it just magically syncs into the cloud. Well, maybe not "magically" but it does happen without any input on your part.

The nice thing about Dropbox is that you can use it not only to back up your files, but sync them between computers and (to a limited extent) share with others. You can use Dropbox, for example, to sync between several Linux machines or between Linux machines and Mac and Windows boxen. Dropbox also has a Public folder you can use to share files with anybody via the Web so long as they have the link.

Dropbox also has some lightweight collaboration features. You can share a sub-folder with others in Dropbox and sync between accounts as well as between computers. So if I have a friend I want to share a few pictures with, I can share a folder with those pictures that isn't accessible publicly. This, however, requires that they have a Dropbox account with enough space to sync the files.

Dropbox pricing is free for 2GB, $9.99 a month up to 50GB, and $19.99 a month for 100GB. That's it. More than 100GB? I guess you're out of luck. Aside from the fact that Dropbox is not free software, and I have to rely on someone else's servers, this is my biggest gripe with Dropbox. What if I only need 60GB or even just 20GB? Obviously, Dropbox is counting on users who need just a bit more than the free plan but not 50GB. The company uses Amazon S3, so that means that the storage you're not using is storage it's not having to pay for.

Aside from simplicity, Dropbox has one killer feature for me — LAN sync. If you're running Dropbox on several computers on the same network, with the same account, it will sync between the computers on your network as well as uploading to the cloud. This means that if I'm writing an article or working on a document on my laptop, it's being synced to my desktop very quickly. I can close Vim on my laptop, go to my desktop and it's already synced without any intervention on my part.

Files are encrypted with Dropbox, so they have no access to your files — just the metadata. It's unclear from the help whether Dropbox can access your account in any event, but they do assure users that their employees only see metadata when troubleshooting, etc.

Another nice thing about Dropbox? You have clients for Android and iOS, and Web-based access as well. No matter where you are, if you have a network and Web browser, you should be able to get to your files.

If you're really paranoid about security, you'll want to check out SpiderOak.

Security and Privacy First: SpiderOak

SpiderOak is a service similar to Dropbox, but with some important differences. Like Dropbox, SpiderOak provides remote backup that happens seamlessly in the background. How it does this is a bit different, though.

SpiderOak is not hosted on top of Amazon S3, and it encrypts user data so that even SpiderOak can't see what you've got stored. It "sees" the size of your files, for billing purposes, but it can't examine the files. This also means that you cannot recover your password if you happen to lose it. You can change your password from a computer that's running SpiderOak with your account, but the change takes some time.

Like Dropbox, SpiderOak does have revisions of your files, so you can recover prior versions of your files that have been changed.

The way that SpiderOak handles syncing is a bit different as well. Dropbox works on the idea of having a single folder and everything under that synced. If you add computers to the account, you can select which folders under the Dropbox folder are synced. SpiderOak allows you to add computers without any relationship between their synced folders, if thats what you want to do. For example — if you have a Linux machine and a Mac, you can choose to sync the iTunes folder on the Mac and a different directory (including your home directory) on the Linux box.

SpiderOak is going to appeal to users who want a lot of control over their backups on a per-computer basis. It also looks like a really good solution for a family account — share one account and back up on a per-computer and per-user basis. (If you're OK with the rest of your family seeing your files, of course.)

SpiderOak also has Web-based access and sharing features similar to Dropbox. I'd give SpiderOak a very slight ding here, simply because its offering is a bit less user-friendly than Dropbox. I do mean very slight, though. It could use a bit of work, but it's not exactly rocket science either.

The pricing for SpiderOak is pretty reasonable and it gives better options than Dropbox. It's free up to 2GB, like Dropbox. After that, you get 100GB for $10 per month, and can add additional 100GB buckets for another $10 a month or $100 per year. SpiderOak isn't open source, but they have contributed some pieces to the FOSS community.

SpiderOak has packages for most major Linux distros and (of course) Windows and Mac OS X.

Bring Your Own Storage: Déjà Dup

Dropbox and SpiderOak are proprietary solutions that impose specific providers on the user, which might not be a good option if you care deeply about free and open source software. For that matter, it may not be a good option if you care deeply about privacy and control of your data.

While SpiderOak takes steps to protect the privacy of your data, you're still at the mercy of someone else's servers. Now, I've never noticed even a nanosecond of downtime with Dropbox — but that's no guarantee they'll be up tomorrow. I'm comfortable that they will be — but you might not be. So if you're a bit on the paranoid side, Déjà Dup lets you choose your provider. You can back up to a hard disk, over SSH, WebDAV, a Windows Share, an FTP server, or to Amazon S3.

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