Earlier versions of Genie-Softtook out the top spot in our 2004, 2005 and 2006 series of reviews. This year we review their latest release: version 8.
While V7 was just an incremental move forward V8 adds a whole batch of new and useful features.
Notable among these is a disaster recover facility that allows the operating system to be restored without the need to re-install Windows. It's Vista compatible as well.
Also new is the use of the Windows Shadow Service to copy open files. This eliminates one of the standard backup traps where backups fail because a user has left open a program such as Outlook that exclusively opens files. Such files cannot be accessed or backed up using normal windows functions but using the Windows Shadow Service eliminates the problem.
Other new features and enhancements include improved online backup, better handling of disconnected backup devices and improved scheduling.Genie is available as a $ 49.95 Home version, a $ 69.95 Pro version and a $400 Server version as well. The Pro includes differential backup, tape backup and more advanced controls while the Server adds MS Exchange and SQL Server support plus CPU management features. The Home version is perfectly fine for the needs of many users but we tested the Pro version which we felt offered the best value. You can find a full version comparison here.
Installation is as simple as it gets. The usual round of choices, EULA acceptance and picking the installation folder and then the files are copied into the target folder. It should take no more than about 45 seconds after which you need to reboot. The installation file is 18.0 MB.
After rebooting a "tip of the day" panel appears. The same panel offers a feature list and easy access to a "how-to" guide, backup and recovery tutorials plus additional web based resources. Users new to backup will find this orientation material useful.
Once the Welcome panel is closed we are presented with the main user interface. It's a clearly laid out screen offering backup, restore and disaster recovery options along with the choice of "Normal" or "Easy" user interfaces The difference lies in the number of options offered the user. Frankly, the "Normal" setting is quite easy but rank beginners may want to elect the "Easy" option. In practice you can switch easily between modes at any point so the initial choice is not that important.
Genie has one of the most complete feature sets of any backup product on the market.
First and foremost it can back up to just about any type of media currently available including USB drives, Genie's online backup service or your own remote FTP server. It fully supports automatic media spanning so you can back up across multiple CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray DVDs. Now in V8 you can also back up to Iomega REV drives as well as the older ZIP and JAZ formats. The Pro version can back up to tape in addition to the other media supported by the Home version.
Backups can be on-demand or scheduled. They can be full, incremental or mirror and in the Pro version, differential as well. They may be compressed and/or encrypted or not. They can be verified on completion if you so wish.
Genie has a full scripting language for complex backups. This is unlikely to be used by home users but business users will definitely benefit, particularly if there is a need for command line operation from within batch files..
An important new feature is Genie's ability to copy locked files using the Windows Shadow Service. This allows successful backup of files that otherwise could not be accessed. For example Outlook files can be backed up even if Outlook is running and the data files are open. This is a very useful feature as leaving programs open is a common cause of backup failure. The last version of Genie handled this problems via a separate $39.95 product called File Access Manager. Now this functionality is included within Genie itself.
Another nice feature is the Catalog module. This has been around since version 5, but in version 8, it’s made it to the status of a major player. It lets you open any backup job and extract files on a one-by-one basis. This is a real time-saver, since you don’t need to restore an entire job’s files just for one or two that need to be restored.
Another feature that's been improved in V8 is the email backup notification. This is an important feature for ensuring reliable backup and the newly added SSL capability means that notification emails can now be sent to GMail and other SSL based email services.
Unlike most other backup programs, Genie's backup sets are compressed in standard ZIP format rather using a proprietary format. That means that the backup can be read by any Windows program capable of handling compressed files. This is a very useful feature because it means that you do not need to have a copy of the backup program on hand, just to examine (or recover) your backed up data. Of course, you can encrypt the backup files if you want to keep them from prying eyes.
GBM also offers the option of creating the backup as an executable file or "self-restorable" to use their terminology. This means that you can recover the backup simply by double clicking on the file. That's about as easy as recovery can get.
But the big new feature in V8 is disaster recovery. This allows users to recover their Windows system after a system crash. Having this feature means that you don't need to re-install Widows; instead you can restore a snapshot of your Windows system taken before the crash.
In the past we've complained that with Genie the initial task of setting up backup tasks could be a bit daunting for beginners. This stems in part, from the wide ranging capabilities of the product but the design of Genie's user interface played a role as well.
In more recent versions including V8, this problem has been addressed by offering users a choice of interface: Normal or Easy. The Normal is the default mode while the Easy interface has fewer options and easy access to tutorials that guide users through the backup process.
It's a big improvement over earlier versions and even computer novices should now be able to set up backup jobs.
Further improvements are possible. In the Easy mode I would prefer to see a really good wizard to guide users rather than the tutorials. A wizard would be particularly useful when it comes to deciding what data to backup which beginners find often find confusing.
We set up our test backup jobs using the default "Normal" mode.
The opening screen is clear enough. Once you press "Backup" to create a new backup task you are led to a backup job screen where you name the job. After that there is a "where to backup" screen where you state where you want your backups to be stored. From there you go to a set of three screens where you define what is to be backed up. These screens are in tabs called My Profile, My Folders and My Plugins. Once you've defined what data is to be backed up you are lead to a backup settings screen where you define the backup type as well as compression and encryption settings.
Some users may initially find this myriad of options somewhat overwhelming. But actually they simplify the task of defining a backup job rather than complicate it. Here's why:
The My Profile tab gives you an easy way to to back up all sorts of important data that is stored in some quite obscure locations on your PC. This includes your Outlook Express, Outlook or Eudora email, the Windows Registry, Internet Explorer favorites, your MP3 play-lists, your Windows Desktop and much more.
All backup programs allow you to back up this data but with most, you have to tell the backup program exactly where the files are located on your computer. Many users wouldn't have a clue where this data is located. Consequently, they rarely back it up.
With Genie, it's simply a case of ticking an option box. And frankly, that's exactly the way it ought to be.
The My Plugins tab takes this idea further my allowing you to back up the data from a wide range of specific programs that you may have installed on your PC. For example you can back up your Firefox profile or Opera settings and many more. You can even back up your GBM settings, a nice touch.
The number of plug-ins included in the standard GBM download is limited but you can download dozens from the ever-expanding list at the Genie site.
Saving this program-related data could save you a lot of time should you have to recover from backup. Again, Genie makes this quite complex backup task as easy as ticking some boxes.
So in the end, the Genie's initial setup complexity ends up simplifying things. So don't be daunted by all the options in all the tabs, just wade your way through and you'll be amply rewarded.
And you'll only have to do it once. Once set up, you can run future backups (or restores) with the press of a single button. If you elect to use Genie's automatic scheduled backup feature, you won't have to do anything at all.
I was impressed with Genie's data backup capabilities and was keen to try out the new disaster recovery feature that allows you to back up and restore a copy of the Windows Operating system itself.
When I tied to test this feature I got a shock; it's not included in the standard product but is a separate 122MB download! Yes it's free and yes, it can be downloaded automatically from within Genie but with a file this size you sure don't want to be using a dial-up internet connection.
Fortunately I have a broadband connection so it only took a few minutes for the download. Once downloaded, installation was automatic and seamless.
After installation you are offered an online tutorial in disaster recovery. It's clear but rather minimal and may not be terribly useful to novices. Genie then suggests you create a bootable rescue CD. This only took about four minutes to burn.
Once the bootable CD is created you are prompted to create a disaster recovery backup job. In essence this means burning a copy of the operating system files to removable media or to a separate drive. I elected to burn to DVD-R. This required two disks and completed in 58 minutes. This is quite slow; Acronis True Image completed a similar task in less than half the time. Slow it may be but the ability to back up Windows is a most useful capability and one that is not commonly found in data backup programs. If you ever need to recover from a system crash you will glad the capability is there, slow or otherwise.
To test the disaster recovery system I deliberately corrupted Windows using a raw disk editor. The damaged system was unbootable. I then booted using the disaster recovery CD.
The options offered by the disaster recovery CD are impressive. They include full recovery or recovery of specific files, recovery from removable media, hard drive, network drive or online server. Additionally a number of tools are offered including the DISKPART partition manager, a web browser and a FTP client.
I selected full recovery using the DVDs I created earlier. Initially I was unable to locate the backup job file until I realized that it was on the last backup DVD. That sorted, it took about 35 minutes to restore my Windows system to perfect working order.
Overall I was impressed with Genie's disaster recovery. It's not as fast or as slick as that offered by the best drive imaging programs but it is perfectly capable of doing the job. It is a most useful addition to a program principally intended for data backup.
However as Genie data recovery works on a file by file basis rather than disk sector by sector in the manner used by drive imaging programs it cannot back up the boot sector of a drive.
Genie is one of those products that feels rock solid. And that folks, is a very good quality in a backup program.
And it's not only a question of "feeling" rock solid. It was rock solid throughout our tests. It performed flawlessly backing up and restoring perfectly with every different backup storage media we tried.
It's an impressive performer too. It was the fastest program we tested for making backups and the fastest in restoring. Not only that, it also produces the smallest compressed backup files. (see table below)
Help & Support
T he main interface between publisher and user is via either a support ticket system or direct contact using Microsoft Messenger or ICQ.
To use the ticket system you need to log into your account. To create that account you'll need the email address you used when you purchased the product
I lodged several anonymous support requests using the ticket system over a period of several days. I got answers in all cases but they were slow coming. When I last tested Genie support in 2007 average response time was around 48 hours. This time around it closer to 72 hours which is a move in the wrong direction.
I don't use Microsoft Messenger but I did try the ICQ service. This proved difficult as there was often no support person online at the times I tried. Finally I met with success and received courteous service.
There is also a user forum as well but it's not particularly active. Of three test questions posted response took several days for two of the questions while the third remained unanswered.
No e-mail support is offered nor support by phone. The company feels that they can offer a faster response when customers use the online ticket system.
Overall I'd rate the support offered as average for products in this price range.
On the plus side, there is no set time limit for support. Once you register a program, support doesn’t depend on any kind of subscription.
We note that Genie-Soft offer a 21 money back guarantee. This will provide considerable comfort to buyers.
The bottom line is that this is a full featured and reliable backup program which has the capacity to back up the Windows Registry, Favorites, email files, media files and more in addition to normal user files and folders. It's only downside is a somewhat complex array of options for creating new backup jobs that may initially throw some raw beginners.
The new disaster recovery feature works well, if a little slowly, and allows an unbootable PC to be restored from a backup copy of the operating system.
Overall we were most impressed with Genie and felt that overall, it had the best combination of features and performance of any product tested. Anyone who is looking for a capable and reliable data backup program should this product at the top of their list.
Table of Features
Version tested: Pro 8.0.259.429
Price: $49.95 Home, $69.95 Pro, $400 server with 21 day money back guarantee.
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