Getting back to the future

Posted by Jon Peddie on February 26th 2007 | Discuss
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As your official old-fart, been there-done-that curmudgeon, I’m happy to report that the PC has finally caught up with the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) computer I used to write my thesis on back in 1980.

On that 1-MHz MOS 6502–based PET computer with its whopping 4 KBytes of memory, I had a word proc-essor (which might have been called Wordpro) that was made in England, an add-on program that did real-time spell-checking called “Oops” (that’s not a typo, that was its name), and a real-time keystroke-saving program so every-thing I did was always and immediately backed up. Now to be honest, I did expand the memory to 16 KBytes, and I also added a board (hung on the back) with a micro-controller and some more memory so I could get “high-resolution” bit-mapped graphics. The computer also had Commodore’s BASIC program written by Bill Gates and Paul Allen from their fledgling Micro-Soft Corporation, and I wrote my first computer game using it.

So 26 or so years ago I had a real-time correction and backup computer, and it cost under a $1,000 fully tricked out—the software probably set me back about $50 a program.

Red NTI’s Shadow

ShadowReal-time spell checking finally came to the x86 MSDOS PC with Word 97 a mere 17 years after the PET computer, and recently I have discovered a real-time backup system from NTI called Shadow, so I’m just about where I was in 1980.

The Shadow is another throwback; when I was a kid I used to listen to the radio on Sunday nights anxiously waiting for The Shadow to come on … ”Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men … The shadow knows, ha ha ha …” Man, that was so creepy for a little kid late at night.

NTI, well known for their backup programs, first introduced Shadow V1 about two years ago and the latest version 3.0, which we have was intro-ed at CES this year. It was worth the wait—it works. You can set it up to track everything you do, which if you live in hell as we do here and crash the crap out your system frequently, this is the choice to make. If your life is a bit more normal you can schedule it for a time period, once every 10 minutes or an hour or a day or a day(s) a week, etc. It uses about 5 MBytes of RAM, and watching the Task Manager you can hardly see a CPU hit, so it’s no resource hog at all. The backups are in native format (a Word file is saved as a .doc) and not compressed (which would take time and resources). And you can choose which file formats to back up if you want to restrict the operation.

What do we think?

Thumbs UpIt’s a winner. $29.99 for the basic version, $39.99 for a version that will let you back up to anything you’ve got including HD-DVD and Blu-ray. The two most common types of backup performed are file-level and image-level backup—but neither of these methods is the be-all, end-all panacea to save data. Most average users are just looking for a way to back up a modest selection of important files and emails, an amount notably smaller than the sizeable collection of data both types are designed to back up, and the Shadow is ideal for that, but it can do more if you want it to (http://www.ntibackupnow.com/).

OK, now you’re backing up your system every nanosecond, and you’re going on the road again—now what, Ace? Well, we’ve got the answer for that too. My first thought was to use a Verbatim 2-GByte memory with U3, but I’m such a pig, and besides wanting the latest stuff I’ve done, I also want back issues of TechWatch and MarketWatch, and our reports. Basically, I need storage, but I don’t need, nor will I tolerate, bulk—I gotta move fast and light, and for extended periods of time, so weight and size matter.

VerbatimRed Verbatim Store’n’go

Verbatim had the answer: a 12-GByte HDD the size of a pack of mints. They call it Store’n’Go USB HD Drive, and it comes with a travel wallet and a pre-loaded mobile launch pad. Not only that, you can use the “Add Programs” link in Mobile Launch pad for a listing of available applications, which include things like email clients, games, instant message services, photo managers, media players, and more. Disk drives are becoming miniature systems; how long do you think it’ll be before they toss in a MP3 chip for free?

What do we think?

Thumbs UpBesides being iPod white and cute, it’s a damn handy little thing to have and it holds a lot. All the back issues of TechWatch require 263 MBytes, a little over 2% of the capacity of the drive. This is a winner, and of course it won’t be too long before it doubles in capacity. We live in amazing times, no? gray

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