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Me and My Shadow

by Alan German

Recently, I had a slightly-panicked 'phone call from a friend whose computer was refusing to boot. He was working on a scientific paper and was leaving for a conference in Germany in just a few days. His computer had a USB hub, bristling with memory sticks and external hard drives but, of course, he had been busy, and hadn't backed up his work for some time. Could I help?

Two things came to mind. Either, the hard disk had crashed, in which case the data files might be gone for good, or there had been a failure in some other hardware component in the machine and it might be possible to recover data from the disk.

The computer was in a sorry state. Lights came on in the front panel, fans roared into life, one of the two CD drives blinked incessantly, but neither drive would open and the computer’s display screen showed absolutely no signs of life. Furthermore, the machine gave no POST-type beeps on the system’s speaker, and did not respond to pressing function keys to access the BIOS or boot menus.

In an earlier conversation, Bob Gowan had told me how easy it was to install a spare hard drive in an enclosure, and hence turn the disk into an external USB drive. Now was the time to put this sage advice into practice. So, it was off to the computer store to purchase such an enclosure. As Bob had indicated, installing the disk was extremely simple, connect a couple of cables, tighten a few screws, and – voila – an instant USB drive! Now, all we had to do was to plug in the power brick, and insert the USB connector into a spare port on a second machine. The green progress bar in Windows Explorer took a disconcerting age to run across the top of the window but, eventually, the complete contents of the 250 GB drive were listed. The final part of the process was to back up the relevant data files to another external USB drive. No more chances were being taken with this puppy!

So, that solved the immediate problem. But what of the future? Sure, we could replace the dead machine with a newer, faster, and more powerful computer, but how were we to ensure that when the next hardware failure occurs – perhaps this time to the hard drive itself! – that the important data will be backed up?

The ultimate solution may well be to add yet another machine and, as outlined by Rick Claus at our November, 2007 meeting, install Windows Home Server ( products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/) in order to provide a platform on which to back up all of my friend’s computers, laptop included, automatically, and on a regular basis. Folder synchronization programs, such as SyncToy ( are fine, but they generally need the user to run them regularly – or even occasionally – to generate backup files. Clearly, my friend had failed the latter test! So, is there another option? Is there a folder sync program out there that will run automatically, preferably in real time, and duplicate my friend’s work as it is completed?

Well, of course, the answer is a resounding yes. And, even better, there is a free solution to the problem – the “unregistered” version of Quick Shadow Backup. This utility promises to monitor one or more file folders on a drive and create on-the-fly backups to a second disk.

To test the system, I dug out an old 16 MB SD card that originally came with the purchase of a digital camera (and was quickly replaced with a 2 GB card) and inserted the old card into the built-in reader on my machine. While having insufficient storage for digital images, the card would be perfect for my test setup which was to backup a data folder with around 7 MB of files. Recycling at its finest!


Quick Shadow


The setup process was simple. I specified the path for the data folder to be backed up and the drive letter for the SD card, thus forming a “backup set” in Quick Shadow parlance. I also configured the settings on the options tab to have the program ignore any system and hidden files, to delete files on the target disk when the equivalent files were deleted from the source, and to log the program’s operations. Finally, I clicked the button on the program’s main screen to initiate the file monitoring and copying process, sat back, and waited.

The test initially consisted of downloading and storing a couple of files in one of the sub-folders being monitored. One of the files was an update to a previously-stored set of minutes of a meeting, and the other was a new file with the draft minutes from a more recent meeting. Then I started work on the document for the article that you are reading. This included creating a new Word file in a different sub-folder, grabbing a couple of screenshots of Quick Shadow’s operations, packaging these into the final article, and then deleting the original image files.

As you can see from the screenshot of the program’s log file, Quick Shadow did indeed store copies of the various files as they were created and updated, and deleted the temporary files once they were no longer needed. The log file contained many entries for deferred file copying and renaming operations (multiple similar entries were removed from the file used in the screenshot) presumably, because the source file was still open in Word. However, when the file creation and editing process was complete, the result was an exact copy of the entire file folder, including all the additions and deletions to the associated sub-folders. Perfect!


Quick Shadow log file


So, Quick Shadow Backup offers a real-time backup solution for important data files. The program comes in registered and unregistered versions. The unregistered program provides the basic functionality described here, and is available at no cost. The registered version (US $25) has additional features, including the ability to specify up to ten backup sets, two-way folder synchronization, and management for multiple file versions.

Are your important files backed up? Do you do this on a regular basis? If the answer to either of these questions is no, perhaps you should consider an automatic solution such as that provided by Quick Shadow Backup.

Bottom Line:

Quick Shadow Backup
(Registered - US $25 and Unregistered - Free)

Originally published: November, 2010

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