George R. Welch
4 April 1995

0. Disclaimer

I like BackMaster better than Sytos. I arrived at that conclusion by trying them both. However, I arrived at it before I wrote this comparison, so it comes off sounding biased. I do not apologize for that.

1. Relevant Equipment Used



2. Installation

BackMaster is distributed on one floppy disk. Installation is flawless. You insert the disk, click install, give it a directory, and installation proceeds. The program must install a driver into config.sys, and permission to do is is requested before proceeding. Rebooting is required to activate the driver. All files are installed into the BackMaster directory, and the installation takes up about 1 megabyte of hard disk space.

A caution is reported in the included README file warning about possible conflicts between the BackMaster driver and video or MMPM drivers. BackMaster suggests installing their driver after the video and before MMPM. I have tried it each way, and never found it to make any difference. I suspect this warning is a holdover from some isolated incident, and will have no effect on the vast vast majority of users.

Sytos is distributed on 3 floppy disks. Two of them are used in the installation and the third is used for constructing a disaster recovery disk. Installation is flawless. You click on install, give it a directory, and installation proceeds. During the installation, you are given a choice of hardware to choose drivers from. I selected the Colorado Jumbo. The program must install drivers into config.sys, and permission to do so is requested before proceeding. All files are installed into the Sytos directory, and the installation takes up about 2 megabytes of hard disk space.

Note that although Sytos supports far more devices than BackMaster, I only selected the Colorado. Presumably I would have to add support for SCSI, so I think the difference in disk space requirements between the two programs is real, although trivial in this age of cheap hard disks.

3. Appearance and Ease of Use

BackMaster wins hands down. When it is run, a main window with menu bar opens. The menu-bar has backup, restore, verify, utilities, and help options. All work as expected. From the Utilities menu you can open up preferences, which is a nice OS/2 tabbed settings notebook. The settings are well organized, and seem to be handled by a separate thread. You can change most things (other than the device settings, of course) during other operations. All of the windows are independent, and can be resized or hidden. Iconification or hiding the main window takes the other windows with it.

Sytos has the appearance and feel of an ugly Windows program. When it starts, the main window covers all of the desktop except for the bottom centimeter. Any attempt to resize the window is rejected by the program. The program has a menu-bar across the main window, but the menu choices change drastically according to what mode the program is currently operating in. In the gigantic main window is a bizarre dialog box. The dialog box takes up the entire main window, and contains the principal work area. (For example, this is where file selection occurs.) This bizarre window within a window idea is idiotic, distracting, and ugly. There only appears to be a single thread. There are no tabbed settings, and you must abort all operations to get to the preferences page.

One of my pet peeves are scroll bars that don't work correctly. When one places the mouse on the scroll bar thumb and holds down the mouse button while moving the thumb, the data in the window should scroll. This is what scroll bars are for. All scroll bars in BackMaster work correctly, and none in Sytos do. This is not just a matter of taste, but of sloppy programming versus careful programming.

4. Test Drive

As a first test, I used a preformatted tape to back up my D:\OS2 directory.

From BackMaster, I chose backup. It gave gave a new dialog asking what style of backup. I chose to select files, and a directory icon appeared in the main window labelled D:, preceded by a circled plus (expand-branch icon). One can expand the branch from the icon with the left mouse, or right mouse on the directory icon to bring up a standard OS/2 style menu. The programmers thoughtfully place the mouse on the most likely menu item, which in this case is to include the directory. (If the directory was already included, the default placement is to un-include it.) There is an option under the backup menu to save file selections, and they can later be restored.

Backing up the 57 megabytes of data in D:\OS2 took BackMaster 18 minutes and 37 seconds. This translates to 3.1 megabytes per minute. BackMaster streams the tape drive nicely, but there is still some occasional shoe-shining. In particular, each time the end of a track is reached, the tape is backed up and restarted.

From Sytos, I chose backup. The weird dialog-box-within-a-window, then changed, and I was able to select files. File selection then proceeded similarly to BackMaster, however everything is left-mouse-button only. You select a folder by clicking a little button beside it, or expand the folder by clicking a branch icon by that. These two buttons are far too close together, and it is easy to miss the branch button and hit the select button instead, which can cause you to lose careful file selections that you had previously made. Additionally, the program grinds the hard disk for an obscene amount of time when expanding branches. Something is very inefficient here. As with BackMaster, you can select or deselect files from within a folder by double clicking on the folder. After file selection, you are given the choice of saving you selections and continuing.

Amazingly, under the back-up options window, the choice of software data compression was grayed out (not available.) I was surprised by this, but decided to proceed. The backup took 28 minutes, for just over 2 megabytes/minute. Naturally the very poor speed resulted from the lack of data compression. During the backup, Sytos streamed the tape magnificently. There was no shoeshining even when changing tracks. (It is difficult to understand how they accomplish this, because the tape does stop when tracks change. I think they must actually skip the first part of each track while the tape comes up to speed --- more on this later.)

I searched the program for instructions on how to enable software compression, but could find no reference to it. I searched the entire help file for the string ``compress'' to no avail. I tried other search strings, but got no where. Finally I decided that either the program just does not support data compression (in which case it is worse than useless) or that I received a crippled copy. Two days later, Neal Krawetz (nealk@cs.tamu.edu), a Sytos user, gave me the incantation to enable compression. How he arrived at the correct sequence of mouse clicks is beyond me, as it certainly was not obvious. Maybe he just tried all of them. Anyway, it amazes me that Sytron could try to sell a back-up program that defaults to no data compression. I wonder how many tape driver owners have insulted their ancestry.

After I finally got data compression enabled, I repeated the backup of my D:\OS2 directory. This time it completed in 16 minutes 13 seconds, for 3.5 megabytes per minute. This is a 15% improvement of BackMaster's speed.

5. Full Backup Test

For the next exercise, I performed a full backup of my system with both programs. When I perform a full backup, I usually prune it down a little, just to speed up the backup. For instance, I deselect various log files that I don't care about, and I have a directory full of icons that I deselect when backing up, because they are backed up in a separate place.

One nice feature of BackMaster is that during the file selection process the program constantly maintains an indication of how many total bytes are selected. This is very useful when pruning a full backup that might span several volumes. In order to find out how much space is selected from Sytos, you must quit the file selection process, save your selection, return to the main menu, choose ``preview backup'' and wait several minutes while your hard disk grinds. This is very typical of the difference between the two programs.

With my final selection being 328 megabytes, I started the backup first under BackMaster. After the first 203 megabytes, I was prompted to insert a second tape. (One is amazed that Colorado is allowed to advertise this product as a 250 megabyte tape!) Here is where one of the few weaknesses of BackMaster is exposed. BackMaster will only append, it will not overwrite. If you want to overwrite, you must first erase the tape. Since it is not possible to interrupt a backup operation, you must have all tapes of a multi-tape backup already erased before beginning. The program took a total of 1 hour and thirty-nine minutes to complete, for an average data rate of 3.3 megabytes/minute. After the backup, the user is prompted to reinstall tape 1, presumably so it can update its directory tables.

I then repeated the process with Sytos, and this is where I found its most glaring weakness. I expanded several branches to get to the folder where I store my icons. I clicked on the ``un-include'' button, and poof! Hard disk ground and desktop vanished. Sytos was completely hosed. I do not know how or why this happens, but it is fully reproducible, and kills the program one hundred percent of the time. The only way I found around this was a kludge. I delelected the parent directory, and then I reselected everything in the icon directory except the one object I wanted to exclude. Once again, one wonders how Sytron can sell this program.

I then performed the backup, again of 328 megabytes. After only 192 megabytes, Sytos prompted me to change tapes. I did, and the backup completed after 1 hour and 35 minutes for an average data rate of 3.5 megabytes/minute, or a 4% improvement over BackMaster.

It is worth noting here, that Sytos got 4% less data per tape than BackMaster. I checked the logs of both programs to make sure they were backing up files in the same order, so the only explanation is that Sytos' compression algorhythm is inferior to BackMaster's. Another possiblity is the previously mentioned hypothesis that Sytos is skipping tape each time it changes tracks to avoid shoe-shining.

6. Selective Restore

After the full backups, I chose a somewhat random file and deleted it. By somewhat random, I deliberately chose a file that I knew was on the second tape of the backup sets.

From BackMaster's menu-bar, I chose ``restore''. From that I chose ``select files''. The tape spun about one track, and then I was presented with a folder object which I could expand and select from just like before. I selected the single file I had deleted, and told the program to restore. It spun the tape for about 1 track, this time with a little shoe-shining, and told me to insert tape 2. I did, and the program churned for approximately 5 minutes, with a fair amount of shoe-shining, and then restored the file with no problems.

From Sytos, I repeated the procedure. File selection again was identical to that during the backup process. Again, the program streamed the tape briefly, and asked me to insert the second tape. This is where the differences started. Sytos then started the tape, and proceeded to churn on it, with nearly constant shoe-shining, for what seemed like forever. After thirty-five minutes of this, I left and went to work. Maybe it is still churning away?

7. Things not Considered

BackMaster has no SCSI support, and I have no SCSI backup device with which to test Sytos. Also, Sytos claims to work over a network, whereas BackMaster does not.

Both programs claim excellent disaster recovery, and provide support tools. I have not tested either of them.

8. Conclusion

When it works, Sytos handles the hardware slightly better than BackMaster. It does less shoe-shining, and has a slightly higher data rate. However, that is where it's advantage ends. BackMaster is much easier to use, as it has a very nicely designed multi-threaded interface. Sytos failed reproducibly when file selection was attempted, tried very hard to avoid data compression, and failed to restore files.

Sytos lists in the Indelible Blue catalog for $200, with an MSRP of $300. BackMaster lists for $70, with an MSRP of $80. When one considers the difference in price, the only thing Sytos has in its favor is its SCSI and network support.

George R. Welch is Assistant Professor of Physics at Texas A&M University. He is an OS/2 fan, and a member of the TAMU OS/2 User's Group. These comments are strictly his opinion. He may be reached via email at grw@tamu.edu.

George R. Welch
Wed Apr 5 09:37:51 CDT 1995

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