Rebit sells itself on ease of use, but the most inescapable characteristic of this “ridiculously simple” backup device for Windows is cuteness. How can even the most technophobic Windows user feel threatened by that cute little frog? And look at the announcements you get if you’re a backup blogger or tech columnist: “Rebit to Donate to SavetheFrogs.com. […] Rebit will celebrate international “Save the Frogs” day on Tuesday, April 28th by donating $10 from each purchase at its online store to the international “Save the Frogs” campaign. Purchasers will receive a commemorative wristband. We also have an additional savings offer for April 28th on the Rebit Facebook page in hopes that Rebit will be able to make a hefty donation to save the frogs.”
But back to saving your data. I said last week that I was going to talk about attempts to make Windows backups as simple as Mac backups, and Rebit definitely sets out to do that. This was true back when I reviewed the earlier, one-PC version of the product in 2007, and it’s still true today. Plug it in, turn it on, connect it to your PC, and enter the product key when prompted.
Long-time readers may remember that all did not go smoothly in my first experiments with the Rebit. It was, in fact, the slowest backup I had ever experienced. (That was before my first encounter with Memeo.) Backing up my 80 GB C drive took 20 hours, and the best efforts of the tech support team couldn’t figure out why that should be the case. Worse for me was the fact that the recovery CD got confused by the fact that I have two separate physical drives in this machine.
In the approximately 18 months since then, the Rebit team has not been slacking off. The new 1 TB, 5-PC model they sent me represents a substantial improvement over the original device. (It’s bigger, of course, but a fairly standard size for an external drive, being only slightly longer than a typical 3.5” drive enclosure.) First, speed. I started by connecting it to my netbook. I started with Mena because I figured she was least likely to have problems, being only a few months old with only one backup program installed so far, and not too much on her hard drive. The likelihood of the kind of conflicts that have interfered with testing on Enna seemed small.
It took less than 5 minutes to set up. As soon as I connected the Rebit, a prompt came up inviting me to install Rebit. Once I entered the product key from the back of the Quick Start Guide, I got a friendly screen welcoming me to Rebit and a pop-up notification from the system tray indicating the progress of the backup.
This was when I first saw the “Rebit light.” The power light on the Rebit is a primary-color blue a few shades darker than your standard computer LED, but the activity light is an equally bright green: not the pale green of the Rebit’s packaging or logo, but a pure, color-circle green. Both the green light and the little frog icon in the system tray flash when the Rebit is copying files from your computer. If you hover over the flashing frog, it will tell you how many files still remain to be backed up, and then says “Teach me how to use Rebit.”
If you click on it, it takes you to the Rebit support page, where there’s a useful Technical FAQ and some contact info. To get to the detailed help file, right-click on the frog and select “help” from the menu. It might seem, after all that emphasis on simplicity, that you wouldn’t need instructions in the Rebit’s use. The Rebit backs up everything on your drive, and all partitions of your drive, so there’s nothing to configure. You don’t really need lessons on how to back up with Rebit, but you’re going to have questions about how to get your data back when it comes time to restore it.
But I was speaking of speed.
The Rebit backed up both partitions of Mena’s (admittedly nearly empty) 160 GB drive in the time it took me to shower. I live in California. Even if I didn’t care about the environment, it’s too expensive to take long showers. That was fast.
I thought I’d try next on Astarte, the aging Dell I’d finally reclaimed from my housemate when she got her own laptop. But Star’s one USB port is shot, and the PS2-to-USB adapter, which works fine for my wireless mouse, doesn’t work for the Rebit. So no go there, unfortunately; it’s NAS backups for Star.
I tried the Rebit on my housemate’s new computer, for good measure. Unlike my machines, which are all one flavor or another of XP, hers runs Vista. Except for that extra annoying “enter your administrator password” step, setting the Rebit up was just as easy. Backing up the machine (too new to have much on its drive) took a couple of hours.
And then, the moment of truth: how would the Rebit get on with Enna? Awkwardly, at the first go; things kept freezing up, so I uninstalled it. But the second attempt, started one afternoon when I was using Star to work, went much better. It took somewhere between 6 and 8 hours to back up both Enna’s internal hard drives (80 GB apiece, both nearly full), but the backup completed successfully. That’s certainly an improvement over 20 hours to back up just the C drive.
There’s still something about Enna that the Rebit doesn’t like, or something else on Enna that doesn’t like the Rebit. I keep getting errors where Windows Explorer shuts down, usually when I’m in the middle of copying files. And also—even more vexingly—problems with Windows Live Writer, though it has so far (knock wood) not frozen up while I’ve been typing this post. Too many different backup programs that have locked file support, I bet. That’s gotten me in trouble in the past. Too much stuff running in the bac
kground. Too many fragments of old programs littering the registry. I have got to reinstall this machine, or none of the hardware or software manufacturers are going to want to speak to me. Just because I can’t find anything in the Event Viewer doesn’t meant nothing is happening.
So, Speaking of Restoring Data…
Once you’ve installed your Rebit and backed up a machine or two, you’ll notice a new entry under “My Computer” in Windows Explorer—at least if you can get Windows Explorer to stay open. There under your internal and external drives and your control panel, you’ll see another cute little frog icon, predictably labeled “My Rebit.” Expand the icon and you can see every machine that’s been backed up onto your Rebit. If you click on one of the folders, you see a list of files on a froggy background.
This Rebit explorer doesn’t work quite like Windows Explorer, as you’ll notice if you right-click on any of the items. You can explore, open, and copy—but not delete. Once a file is backed up to the Rebit, it stays there until Rebit’s “Neverfull” technology decides that the oldest versions of every backed up file have to be deleted in order to make room. The only way to take files off a Rebit is to remove the whole PC, which means deleting the entire backup and starting over. (If you want to take that drastic step, right-click the frog icon, choose “More” from the menu, and then select “Remove a PC.”)
You can also drag and drop, which is probably the easiest way to restore individual files from the Rebit to your computer—or to a different one of your connected computers, for that matter, since you can browse all the backups from any computer unless you decide to password-protect them. Rebit duplicates your computer’s file structure exactly, so if you know where the file you want to retrieve used to live, you won’t have any trouble finding it. (If you’re not sure where the file was stored, you can search for it, the same way you do in Windows Explorer.)
If you’re exploring your C:\ drive and want to check out which versions of a file you’ve backed up, just right-click on the file. You’ll see the frog again, next to an entry that says “My Rebit.” If you click on that entry, you’ll see the date and time the file was last backed up and the option to browse the file in My Rebit, which will show you every version of the file it has.
At least, it will do this if 1) you have the Rebit drive connected at the time and 2) your computer isn’t fighting Rebit with all it has. I think in my case the problem is Mozy, which integrates with Windows Explorer in a very similar way, as you can see from the screenshot above. Last night when I went to test the Rebit Explorer so I could write about it, Windows Explorer froze up so spectacularly that I had to restart the machine, at which point I gave up and decided I would make more progress by connecting the Rebit to Mena.
Which I did, until this morning when the Rebit demanded an activation key, something it does after 30 days have passed. (That information is buried in the help files.) I pressed the button to generate one, and it allegedly worked (“Activate software” is no longer an option on the “More” menu), but the Rebit is not backing up. Something to be sorted out with the support staff, clearly. Curiously, when I connect the Rebit to Enna, it starts backing up immediately.
The Rebit scores very highly in the categories of ease of use and user-friendliness. I have complete confidence that my mother could use it with no problems, at least for ongoing backups and individual file restorations. It also comes with built-in prompts to connect it: warnings from the system tray, and little chirping noises from the drive itself.
As for the excitement of testing the complete bare-metal restore from the CD to see whether the improved Rebit can now handle my dual-drive laptop, that will have to wait for my overdue reinstall. Which will be very soon. Really.
I’m dying to see how Seagate’s new Replica stands up to the Rebit. (Seagate, are you listening?) It’s a sleek-looking device designed with exactly the same purpose in mind. It could turn out to be equally effective. It definitely won’t be anywhere near as cute.
If you’d like to buy one of these charming devices (for which I get no kickback at all), hop on over to the Rebit website. I don’t think I can recommend it for Mozy users, though.