At long last. Wednesday, November 23, 2005

PRESS RELEASE:

Shirt Pocket releases SuperDuper! 2.0
Heroic System Recovery for Mere Mortals - Better, Faster, Scheduled!

Weston, MA – November 22, 2005:  Shirt Pocket, creator of the 2004 Eddy
Award Winning netTunes, announces the immediate availability of
SuperDuper! 2.0, the most extensive update ever of its popular disk
copying utility for Mac OS X. Every aspect of SuperDuper has been
polished and re-engineered to add new functionality while improving upon
its legendary ease of use. Backups are easier and faster than ever!

SuperDuper can be used as a flexible backup program, but it goes well
beyond mere duplication. Its unique “Sandbox” feature lets you install
potentially risky drivers or system updates without fear of creating an
unbootable or unworkable system – or losing access to your critical
personal data.

SuperDuper 2.0 improves on the acclaimed original in many ways,
including: the ability to easily schedule backups; additional imaging
options; more control over shutdown; better AppleScript support;
hundreds of UI improvements; and a completely rewritten, task-based
User’s Guide.

"We’re incredibly excited about this major upgrade to SuperDuper,”
says David Nanian, founder of Shirt Pocket. “We’ve been working on
it for over a year, taking the time to include the things our users
have been requesting—as well as refining and improving the
usability they expect from us.”

SuperDuper’s power is accessible to all Macintosh users, thanks to its
easily understood interface and complete documentation. Everything that
will occur is presented in a clear summary section entitled “What’s
going to happen?”, ensuring that even the least experienced user is
guided through the process step by step.

“I really like SuperDuper’s speedy and reliable backups,”
says Rich Siegel, author of BBEdit and CEO of Bare Bones Software. 
“Scheduling and Smart Update make it fast and easy to protect my
important data, so I can concentrate on my next great
release—congratulations to Shirt Pocket on theirs!”

SuperDuper 2.0 supports Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, and is available for
immediate download at the Shirt Pocket web site
http://www.shirt-pocket.com. It’s a free update for existing users. The
unregistered version will perform full backups for free. Registration
costs $27.95, and includes many additional timesaving features,
including Smart Update for faster backups, Scheduling, and others.

About Shirt Pocket
Shirt Pocket, based in Weston, Massachusetts, was formed in late 2000 as
a Macintosh-only shareware creator and publisher. Shirt Pocket’s first
product, the 2004 Eddy Award winning netTunes, lets customers control
iTunes on one Mac from any other Mac on the network with iTunes own
intuitive user interface. launchTunes, Shirt Pocket’s second product,
made iTunes’ playlist sharing practical by automatically launching
iTunes on remote servers when needed. SuperDuper!, which allows mere
mortals to back up and restore their systems accurately and confidently,
was released in January 2004.

Shirt Pocket was started by David Nanian, co-founder of UnderWare, Inc,
and one of the original authors of the BRIEF programmer’s editor and
Track Record bug tracking system.

One year ago today Monday, November 21, 2005

Somewhere in the world, it’s November 22nd.

SuperDuper! v2.0 emerged from our engineering labs and was placed into the hands of our first external testers one year ago today.

Over this past year, we’ve released—on average—a build every two weeks. We’ve done thousands upon thousands of test runs, and ended up with over 80 individual testers who put the product through its paces and offered incredibly valuable feedback. We’ve torn into nearly every aspect of SuperDuper!, and have tried to improve the experience in as many ways as we could.

It’s not an easy thing, writing backup software—and it’s not easy to ask testers to depend on a Beta version, no matter how thoroughly tested it was before put into their hands. Every tester contributed to improving the reliability, usability and polish of the product as the months went on.

We had 13 external testers who ran over 200 individual backups each over that time, and one who ran over 600 (655, as of this writing). Major props to each and every tester: you all know who you are, and you should feel incredibly proud.

So, we’re coming to the end of the long process. The web site is ready to go. The press release is written. The documentation is complete. The software is just about as ready as we think we can make it.

Get ready, people. SuperDuper v2.0 is nearly in your hands.

We hope you love it as much as we do.

In praise of Bruce Saturday, November 19, 2005

I come before you today to sing the praises of Bruce Lacey, my collaborator on SuperDuper!

Bruce doesn’t get a lot of direct play in these pages, mostly because it’s my personal blog, but SuperDuper! wouldn’t exist at all without him.

A few years ago, Bruce and I were both testers on some software that most of you use on a daily basis. Bruce had written a little tool—“Seed Volume Utility”—that made dealing with testing a lot easier. What was great about SVU is that it had a terrific copying engine, fast and reliable. Good stuff.

I saw a lot of potential there, and I approached Bruce with a proposition: if he’d agree to have me publish the program, I’d redesign the UI, write documentation, take care of marketing and support, and work with him to do the product planning. Basically, he could concentrate on the programming—the fun stuff—and leave the rest to me.

I’d been doing this with my own products for a while (since 1983), but had always shared in development, so this was a new thing for me. Bruce thought it over for a while, and—even though we’d never met in person—he took a chance, and agreed. We’ve been working together ever since.

You may not see him up here every day, but you certainly benefit from his hard work. Bruce spends a lot of quality time implementing, polishing and improving SuperDuper!—not to mention dealing with my constant tweaking of wording, behavior, layout, functionality—and always with dedication, good humor, and a shared focus on producing a high quality product.

So, while I might use I a lot when I talk about the stuff that’s going on with SuperDuper!, behind the scenes here Bruce is working like crazy to turn our shared product dreams into coded reality.

Here’s to you, Bruce!

Hello? It’s your other anchor calling. Hello? Friday, November 18, 2005

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I’m a fan of the i-mate SP3 Windows Mobile Smartphone.

Mobile phones are one of those things that are difficult to generalize: your reaction to the phone is likely based entirely on what you expect to get out of the device. So, if you’re looking for style and “fun”, there are phones for you. You want an email monster? Got that covered with the Treo or—for the truly disturbed—the Crackberry.

I have some basic requirements:

  1. The phone has to be GSM.
  2. It has to be able to be used as a bluetooth, tethered modem for my PowerBok.
  3. It has to be a good phone, of course.
  4. It has to be reasonably pocketable.
  5. It should work well with Salling Clicker.
  6. It has to support a bluetooth headset.
  7. It has to have a full-featured, totally synced phonebook that isn’t just a list of names/numbers.
  8. The mail client has to be full-featured, with IMAP support and folders.
  9. The web browser has to be fast, reasonably modern, and render well on a small screen.
  10. The calendar/tasks module has to sync, too.
I’ve gone through a lot of phones—a disturbing number—and the big problem I had was getting the “balance” right: they were either focused too much on being just a simple phone (Motorola v600, Sony T610), had flaky software (Sony P800/P900), weren’t phone enough (i-mate PDA2k, i-mate JAM), or just plain sucked (HP 6315).

But, with the SP3, i-mate/HTC got it right, at least for me.

It’s small, light, fast. Unlike a lot of Microsoft stuff, you can tell they not only thought about what the user needed, but actually came up with good solutions for those needs. A perfect example of this is the way you look up names in the phone book—you just start typing on the keypad, and it finds names that match those keys by number, any of the various letter combinations, etc.

It just works. And that can be said for the whole package: it works. Well. That’s a really good thing, and too rare in this market.

And now, they’ve gone and one-upped themselves with the SP5/5m.

The SP5 uses Windows Mobile 5, rather than 2003, and WM5 has made a lot of subtle improvements that definitely make things better, in little ways. The screen has been massively upgraded to a full QVGA unit, and it’s bright, sharp and gorgeous. And, somehow, they’ve put in both EDGE and WiFi support, while keeping the battery life and—for the most part—the small size.

It does have some faults, of course. It’s slightly underpowered, and has some problems pushing all those bits on the new screen. The radio stack, as is the case with most just-released HTC units, is a bit flaky. And it doesn’t have as much free memory as I’d expect it to have.

Plus, Salling Clicker doesn’t work with it yet, though it does work very nicely with the SP3. C’mon, Jonas—the SP5 needs some love!

But the biggest issue right now is that it doesn’t sync directly with my Mac, because it’s not supported by Missing Sync for Windows Mobile yet. No doubt they’ll fix that, but in the meantime I’ve actually managed to get things working reasonably well by making use of my Kerio Mail Server’s Exchange functionality and—of all things—Entourage. More on Entourage and this whole sync solution in another post.

In the meantime, it’s good stuff, and recommended.

Full stop. Thursday, November 17, 2005

As of about five minutes ago, I finished the new SuperDuper! v2.0 User’s Guide. Barring any egregious errors (there’s always one), I won’t have to revisit again for a little while… a relief.

I hope that all of you out there in Blogland find it an improvement and if not—when you get to see it—please drop me some feedback.

On to the next task!

Yakity yak. Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yeah, clichéd title, sorry.

Well, the Computer America show went pretty well last night—it’s amazing how fast an hour can vanish. For those interested, here’s an archive of the show that’ll be up for about a week.

Thanks to Craig and the staff of Computer America for asking me to appear!

Scribble, scribble redux Sunday, November 13, 2005

Writing a manual can be fun, or it can be tedious, but it’s usually a combination of both, which is where I am right about now. But Fun Land is now clearly visible in the rear-view mirror.

At this point the guide is 64 pages long, and it’s pretty much content complete. 64 pages for a program that has a total of 8 windows or so, and maybe 30 controls. Shouldn’t this thing just say “install, and have at it—best of luck, we’re all rooting for you”?

It’s not so much the UI that needs so many pages: as you (may) know, I’ve tried to make the UI as simple as possible. And I think I’ve done a decent job with that. But you can do a lot of things with that UI, and those things are often nerve-wracking, and performed by users who have never done anything like this before or—if they have—they’ve never understood what they were doing.

In the new guide, I’ve reworked much of the existing material, and have added more based on the common questions and tasks I’ve seen users do over the past year or so. There are many sections right up front that cover these common tasks, and I’ve tried to answer the common questions about those tasks right in the section.

Each can pretty much stand alone, and be read without referring to the remainder of the guide. So, there’s some repetition, but I hope it improves the usability of the document. Not that there was anything terribly wrong with the existing User’s Guide—we’ve had great feedback on it. But, constant improvement, in all things. No stone left unturned. Except maybe the about box. Maybe.

What’s left is lots of proofreading, tweaking, and re-shooting a huge pile of screen shots.

And then, when the whole thing is finally locked down, Adobe Acrobat hell.

As I said in the previous post, Acrobat, on the Mac, doesn’t automatically take the structure of a document, and cross-references therein, and generate appropriate tagging for PDFs to produce the nice table of contents and hyperlinking that a long document, like this one, needs. Which sucks. So, my last task is taking the large number of cross-references—which all had to be hand-formatted to look like hyperlinks—and manually tag the PDF to support them. And then, tag the whole thing to generate a real table of contents that’s separate from the main text.

Needless to say, by the end, I’ll be well into Tedious Territory.

Late Night in the Pocket Monday, November 07, 2005

Looks like I’ll be joining Craig Crossman on his Computer America radio program Monday, November 14th, from 11pm to Midnight, EDT.

Don’t know what we’ll be talking about, but you can listen online or at various stations across the country—hope you can tune in!

Scribble, scribble… Monday, November 07, 2005

I’m deep into the documentation for SuperDuper! v2.0, and have already reworked my original plan significantly, which is both a good and bad thing.

Let me explain.

The original SuperDuper! User’s Guide tried to follow the UI, in the sense that it was relatively narrative, and encouraged you to read the whole thing. Rather old school, and while this worked well for many, it required a lot of reading to get to the point where you were actually making a backup.

A short while later, given the feedback we were receiving, I extensively rewrote the early sections (3-5) to be more task oriented, and so tweaked it worked pretty well for most.

But still, there was a need for more task oriented material—basically, a “How Do I?” guide (something I’d also written years ago for our Track Record product). So, as v2.0 progressed, I looked through our support database and worked on various task-based bits of this new “Quick Start” guide, intending to have two completely separate manuals—one quick, one detailed—covering both learning styles, and most common tasks.

Given the number of individual tasks and screen shots needed to illustrate the process, it wasn’t long before the “Quick Start” guide ended up with well over 30 pages. Not so Quick any more.

I decided at this point that the two manual idea is basically unworkable, so I re-integrated the two, retaining the task-based approach for most of the Guide, concentrating on various common activities. The latter part goes through the various UI elements in more detail, and has advanced topics like the Sandbox, shell scripts and the like.

I’m also trying to make everything easier to navigate, which involves a lot of tweaking with Acrobat: unfortunately, the Mac version doesn’t extract the structure of the document from Word (the PC version does), so all the links and tags need to be created by hand—something that’s best left to the end of the writing. Don’t want to do it more than once!

It seems to be coming along, though there’s more writing and screen shots and layout and the rest. But, the fact that the documentation is being finalized also means that we’re quite close to release, and that’s a good feeling—now, there’s not just a single gull: there’s a whole flock of them!

The Ninety-Nine-Per-Cent Solution Sunday, October 30, 2005

A recent post on Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch’s Tales from the Red Shed reminded me to give a bit more of the philosophy behind what we’re doing in SuperDuper!

Wolf points out that we don’t do “temporal versioning”—i.e. traditional “incremental backups”—and he’s right.

The Technical Problem
Doing versioning “right” requires both a non-native file format and a database of what’s been going on over time. (I don’t consider the technique used by some programs—stuffing old versions in special folders on the backup media—a reasonable solution, since it pollutes the original and complicates restore. And, yes, you could store in a parallel location with dated folders… but read on.) You need to be able to reconstruct this database from the backup media. And you need rather extensive UI to manage this stuff. (I could keep going, bringing up other issues like the patent problem, but those are the big issues involved.)

This, by definition, significantly increases the complexity of the program’s back and front ends—which makes the program much harder to QA properly. As Wolf says, it’s incredibly important this stuff works. Of course, that’s our problem—it’s our job to ensure that the features we implement are well tested and work.

The User’s Problem
That added complexity has another major problem: it can alienate and confuse users, and a proprietary, single-vendor format leaves them without an alternative should a problem arise. So, it’s important that any solution be easy to understand, usable, and not have any “lock in”.

Staying Balanced
So, to determine whether that complexity is worth adding, it’s important to ask—when do most people need to restore? In general, we’ve found that “regular users” (and by that, I mean real “end users") need to use their backups when:

  • They’ve made a “bad mistake”, like accidentally deleting an important file, or overwriting one (this kind of mistake is almost always recognized immediately)
  • Their drive (or computer) fails catastrophically, requiring a full restore
  • They sent their computer in for service, and it came back wiped clean
  • An application they installed, or a system update, caused their system to become unusable/unstable
None of these situations require much other than a high-quality, up-to-date, full copy backup. (The last has a better solution than a backup—a “Sandbox”—which we offer in SuperDuper! as well.)

Covering the 99% Case
Given that, it’s pretty easy to see that most end users don’t need to retrieve a two-year-old (or even six-month old) version of a file from a backup. (An archive is a different thing: I’m talking about backups.) It’s just not that common a case. Developers, on the other hand, do need older versions of files, but they should be using a version control system: something a backup should absolutely not be.

But, it is possible that a user won’t notice a problem in a “bad file” until they’ve already overwritten their backup, thus losing any chance of recovery with a “full copy”. I suggest that while this is a problem for some, we have a good solution: rotate more than one full backup.


Any need for this kind of “temporal rollback” can be significantly reduced with a single rotation—say, on a weekly basis—and nearly eliminated with two—a weekly and a monthly. It’s incredibly rare that, on a non-archival basis, you’d need to go back more than four weeks. (It’s similarly likely that a daily incremental would become difficult to manage, and thus “recycled”, in this kind of timespan.)

Storage Space is Cheap and Plentiful
The only real disadvantage? It takes disk space, something that was incredibly expensive and limited when these other schemes were originally invented (floppies, anyone?). But, these days, disk space is cheaper than cheap, with the “sweet spot”, Mac-boot-compatible 200-250GB FireWire drives going for $150-$200. And most “normal” users can store a lot of backups on a 250GB drive or two.

Simple to Understand
The advantages to this kind of approach are many, not the least of which is that a non-technical user can easily understand what’s going on. It’s incredible how many people are confused by conventional backup terminology—“incremental”, “differential”, backups “sets” and the like. And, complicated storage mechanisms require a significant amount of expertise to perform a full recovery in the event of that all-too-common disaster: the total drive failure. (Look, for example, at what you have to do with Retrospect or Backup 3 should you lose your boot drive (very common)—where the vast majority of people also store their “Backup Catalog”. Yes, it can be done. Even if the program works properly, it can take days to recover.)

Simple to Restore
With SuperDuper!, recovery in that situation is literally a matter of booting from your most recent backup. And restoration—which, should you be on deadline, you need not do immediately—is just a matter of replacing the drive and copying back.

Individual files are also easy to restore: just drag and drop from the backup. (Yes, applications without drag-and-drop install, or system-level files, are harder, but can typically be reinstalled/archive-and-installed should that be necessary… or, see the Safety Clone/Sandbox for another rather unique idea...)

The Other 1%
I know this all sounds terribly simplistic to those who run data centers, or large corporate networks, and for that kind of user, it is. And, I have no doubt that some users have need of more complex systems, with the ability to roll back to any given day during a six-month period—or whatever timeframe they choose to work within.

User It or Lose It
SuperDuper!’s approach is the kind of thing that regular end users can do, and feel confident about. And, with that confidence—and with the ease of use and understanding we provide—they’ll actually back up!

Even the most perfect program can’t work unless that happens—so, in some ways, it’s the most critical thing of all.

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