The name brings to mind the substance used to freeze Han Solo into suspended animation in The Empire Strikes Back. Likewise, Carbonite deep-freezes your data , brings it back to life on demand, and lets you store as much as you like for $49.95 a year. The only restrictions are that no one file can be larger than 2GB, and the 15-day free trial version will not let you back up music or video.
Carbonite’s "status dots" in Explorer that let you know at a glance when a given folder is backed up or not. (Click image to enlarge.)
When you first install the Carbonite client, you’re given a few choices as to what to back up automatically: the My Documents directory and the Desktop, all documents and data, or whatever files/directories you manually configure it for. You don't set these through the program itself, but through Explorer -- you right-click on a folder and select "Back this up" in the Carbonite context menu. Consequently, there are no backup "sets"" -- there’s just whatever you’ve selected to be backed up on your system.
AT&T Online Vault
Once you tag files or folders to be backed up, it’s essentially a set-it-and-forget-it operation. The first round backs everything ups, and then every subsequent round of backups (which happens once a day) simply echoes any changes. Consequently, there’s no actual scheduling for backups, but you can right-click on a file and select "Back this up as soon as possible" if you want to force a given item to be backed up immediately.
If you just want to flag a whole drive for backup, you can use the right-click method on the drive icon. The program’s tray icon changes color depending on what’s going on -- green for everything being backed up, yellow for files queued to be backed up, and red for a problem that needs user intervention. Another feature, which I really liked and is enabled by default, tags each Explorer folder with a colored dot that indicates its backup status at a glance.
To restore files, you need to turn on "Recover Mode," which pauses any pending backups and allows you to explore the backed-up files in the Carbonite Drive folder (which appears in Explorer under My Computer). Restoring files from the backup repository is as easy as copying them back out to wherever you want them to be, or you can right-click on a directory and select "Restore To…" to have everything in that folder restored automatically. Other Carbonite options include "Lower priority," which reduces the amount of network and CPU utilization required by the program, and "Stop for 24 hours," which lets you pause any backup activity for a whole day.
One thing that Carbonite doesn’t offer is the ability to restore files directly from its Web site. If you set up a new computer and want to recover files from your Carbonite backup, you’ll need to install Carbonite first, turn on Recover Mode, and then do the restore that way. But that’s really a tiny complaint about a program that’s solid and simple without being simple-minded.
Price: $49.95 per year for unlimited backup (2GB individual file maximum)
Summary: Simple without being simpleminded, Carbonite is a set-it-and-forget-it solution with a very elegantly minimal interface.