In Windows Vista, Microsoft made enormous strides with Windows Backup, providing users with both file and complete PC backups for the first time. But what you got differed wildly between different Windows Vista product editions, confusing (and in some cases enraging) users. With Windows 7, Windows Backup is as functionality excellent as ever. But this time around, Microsoft is making the functional difference between each product edition much clearer. That is, all Windows 7 product editions support both file and complete (image-based) PC backups. But if you're using Windows 7 Home Premium or lower, you can only backup to local (typically internal and USB-attached) hard drives. If you want to backup over the network, you'll need Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate.
Windows 7 also supports an interesting legacy feature called Offline files that caches files from the local network on your PC so that you can work with them while disconnected to the network. Offline files was originally designed for the workgroup networks that were common in small businesses a decade ago. But PC users have a way of making software products do things they weren't really designed for. And if my email is any indication, many are today using Offline files for such tasks as syncing their music collection between PCs.
There are much better solutions for that kind of thing. And that's good, because Offline folders is only available in Windows 7 Professional and higher.
Here are some replacement backup and file synchronization choices you should examine. In each case, I've chosen what I feel is likely the best all-around solution, but I'm also providing links to other solutions readers and listeners recommended.
Windows Backup replacement:
EASEUS Todo Backup
Description: EASEUS Todo Backup, supporting Windows 2000/XP/Vista/Windows 7 and Windows Server 2000/2003/2008, is potent FREE backup software providing system backup & restore, hard disk or partition backup & restore, disk clone to protect your system and disk. It can back up whole PC, including the operating system plus your data, applications, settings and everything!
Notes: This seems like the most full-featured Windows Backup alternative out there. There's even a bootable recovery CD you can make and a clone disk feature for those upgrading from a smaller, older hard drive to a newer, larger one. One little bit: If you do want to backup to a network drive, you'll need to map it in Explorer first.
EASEUS Todo Backup.
Other alternatives to Windows Backup
Here are some other reader recommendations for Windows Backup replacements that you may want to check out.
Description: Cobian Backup is a multi-threaded program that can be used to schedule and backup your files and directories from their original location to other directories/drives in the same computer or other computer in your network. FTP backup is also supported in both directions (download and upload).
Cobian Backup is not a usual backup application: it only copies your files and folders in original or compressed mode to other destination, creating a security copy as a result. So Cobian Backup can be better described as a "Scheduler for security copies". Cobian Backup supports several methods of compression and strong encryption.
GFI Backup 2009 Home Edition
Description: GFI Backup 2009 allows you to back up all your important documents, photos, music, emails and program settings using a simple but smart wizard-driven interface to nearly every storage device (including local and external disk drives, LAN, CD/DVD, removable devices, remote FTP servers, etc.).
Offline files/PC-to-PC sync replacement:
Microsoft Live Mesh Beta
Description: Live Mesh provides three key features:
Sync. Stop e-mailing yourself. Get files across your devices by synchronizing them instead. Add each device to your mesh by installing the Live Mesh software, and then choose folders to sync. You can sync a folder with only one or two of your devices, or with all of them.
Share. Live Mesh makes it easy to share your stuff. Invite others to share a Live Mesh folder and keep it in sync on everyone?s devices as files are added or updated. Want to know what?s happening in folders you?re sharing?such as when members are invited or a file is changed? Live Mesh News notifies you every step of the way.
Anywhere access. When you sign up for Live Mesh, you automatically get your own personal Live Desktop?your Windows PC on the web?complete with 5 GB of free storage. Synchronize files to your Live Desktop, and you?ll be able to access them using almost any web browser, no matter where you are. With Live Mesh, you can connect remotely from one computer to another, so you can access files, programs, and settings as if you were sitting in front of that remote computer.
Notes: I've been using Microsoft's perpetually-in-beta Live Mesh for years now and it's never let me down. In fact, Rafael Rivera and I relied on this stable and reliable PC-to-PC file synchronization tool during the creation of Windows 7 Secrets. It worked flawlessly. And don't be put off by that 5 GB "limit." That applies only to content you sync to the web desktop. You can configure shares to sync only to PCs (in a P2P mode), bypassing the web desktop ... and that 5 GB limit. This is software done right.
Microsoft Live Mesh.
Other alternatives to Offline files/PC-to-PC sync
Here are some reader recommendations for file sync.
Cost: $29.95 (Free trial)
Description: GoodSync is an easy and reliable file backup and file synchronization software. It automatically analyzes, synchronizes, and backs up your emails, precious family photos, music, contacts, financial documents, and other important files locally - between desktops, laptops, servers, external drives, and Windows Mobile devices, as well as remotely through FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, and more.
Description: Allway Sync is free file and folder synchronization software for Windows. It uses innovative synchronization algorithms to synchronize your data between desktop PCs, laptops, USB drives and more. Allway Sync combines bulletproof reliability with an extremely easy-to-use interface.