Bob “Dr. Mac” Levitus Loves SuperDuper! Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Super Duper by Shirt Pocket Software,, is free if all you want to do is clone one hard disk to another. But if you register your copy, for $19.95, great new features appear, including filters, scripts and the amazing Safety Clone, which lets you install new software and still roll back your drive to the way it was if things go wonky.

And Shirt Pocket’s customer service is superb. When I was unable to register my copy, I sent an e-mail on a Friday night, and the solution was in my mailbox Saturday morning.

(via Dr. Mac’s column in the Houston Chronicle, Thanks, Dr. Mac!)

Behind the curtain Saturday, May 14, 2005

We try to keep “upcoming release” information quiet here at Shirt Pocket, or at least relatively so, until we’re close to releasing new a version. The last thing we want to do is frustrate our users by announcing something and then not shipping.

But, let’s pull back the curtain a bit on the next release of SuperDuper!

As you might (or might not) expect, Bruce and I have been working on v2.0 for months. We’re working hard to achieve two main things:

  • Improve the user experience even more
  • Add scheduling

There have been a ton of changes to the way SuperDuper! works internally, each of which ties into these two goals.

I’d like to show you one example of what we’ve done, both to whet your appetite for what’s coming, and to show you how we approach changes. (If you enjoy this post, let me know and I’ll do the same for other new features, too.)

So, let’s start with…

The Status View

It’s not commented on a lot by our users, but the SuperDuper! status view—what’s displayed while the backup is going on—is a model of not-very-good design. Sorry to everyone who’s had to deal with it up to now, but there’s a happy ending, so read on!

While the existing status view gives basic information about what’s going on, it’s not nearly as helpful as the “What’s going to happen?” section of the UI that appears elsewhere in the UI. And it’s pretty ugly. And what’s up with those two progress bars? And, hey—I know it was successful and all—but what happened while I was away from the computer?

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

For background, SuperDuper’s UI is specifically designed to be as unambiguous as possible. I’m really careful to not use generic placeholders like “source” or “target”. I try to avoid some of the “conventional” backup terminology like “incremental” or “differential” because they tend to confuse and obscure what’s really going on. We try to cut our features to the bone to make sure the product isn’t overwhelming.

The idea is that I’m really trying to eliminate the worry that surrounds the backup process—that “Am I doing this right?” feeling that makes you not want to back up, or not be confident in the result.

SuperDuper’s simple UI, stripped down functionality, and “What’s going to happen?” section does this, as does its rapid and accurate operation. So, the question was: how do I carry that same feel through?

The first thing I thought of was: well, the “What’s going to happen?” part of the UI was pretty successful, so why not just do that? You could kind of “bold” each part of the description and turn it different colors as it went through… but, no.

Yes, the WGTH? section is reassuring and very popular with users. It’s a narrative of your choices. That’s very helpful when you need the “expert” pointing out what exactly you’re going to accomplish when you hit the button. But, once you’ve told SuperDuper to go and do the backup, you’re basically entering “Computer World”, where things are far more linear, structured and concise. Trying to shoehorn that into a paragraph just would not work.

Instead, I felt it needed to tell you things in a different voice—still helpful, of course, but more “mechanical”.

After thinking about it for quite a while, I settled on an approach based on a classic speechwriter’s maxim: first, you tell the audience what you’re going to tell them. Then, you tell it to them. Finally, you tell them what you told them.

And so, after a lot of prototypes:

that’s what I did:

This is a real shot of a recent build of SuperDuper! v2.0, running an actual backup. I’ve broken the backup into different major “Phases”, each of which has a bar. A phase is grey when pending, blue when currently in progress, green and checked if successful, and red with an X if it failed (not shown).

Each phase has a number of steps, and each step changes to show whether it’s pending, current, successful or failed as well. The wording of the step changes, too, following the maxim: going to do it, doing it, done!

Everything follows our ‘no placeholder’ policy, and tells you exactly what drive it’s operating on, and what it’s doing. We’re also giving significantly more information about the process of copying (and will likely provide even more in the final version).

So, in the end, it seems pretty simple, and I think it feels pretty great in use. (The static picture here doesn’t show you the nice compositing Bruce does as the steps complete, nor the way that a step automatically expands when there’s more info to show, but you’ll see all that soon enough.)

What do you think?

Ted Leung on SuperDuper! and Support Friday, May 13, 2005

My conversation with Dave goes above and beyond what I’d call “support”. Not only that, I hadn’t even registered SuperDuper! yet—I planned to if it worked for me, but I was in the middle of proving that out, and I didn’t mention that to Dave at all. This kind of support is why I’m happy to “pay for software”. I put that in quotes because in my mind, I’m not really paying for the software, I’m making sure that Dave has time to continue to be amazingly responsive to questions like mine…

(via Ted Leung on the air, Thanks, Ted!)

Dog Nurse, Going Macintosh and the Birth of netTunes Tuesday, May 10, 2005

It’d been a few months since I’d left Compuware and set out, once again, on my own. Shirt Pocket was initially formed to create products for PDAs, a market segment that I’ve always found interesting… hence the name.

I was still working on a PC—an IBM ThinkPad T23—and while I had some good ideas, I was having a lot of trouble getting going. The design part was relatively easy—I knew what I wanted to achieve—but transitioning to coding was going poorly.

Our dog Ketzl needed TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, pretty radical stuff) surgery to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (Skier’s Knee for Dogs—who knew?), and that required an extended rest-and-recovery period: a time where she required near constant nursing. Since I work at home, I got to be the “dog nurse” as well.

Ketzl needed attention fairly often—a constant interruption. I’m usually pretty good with that kind of thing, but I was finding it difficult to keep focused on the task at hand: coding the new product.

Just. Wasn’t. Happening.

I put the whole thing to the side for a while and focused on Ketzl. And read. And listened to music. And got frustrated with my CDs. It was just too hard to find the music I wanted to listen to.

While I’d spent a little time ripping some CDs to my computer, it was clear that the PC-based music players just didn’t have what it took to be usable. I tried all of them, even wacky and obscure ones like B&O’s BeoPlayer (stylish, but absolutely horrific usability): they just weren’t working for me. It was too difficult to find music, even with a modest amount encoded, and I’m not of the type to shuffle everything… I know what I want to hear, and that means I need to find it.

Years ago, we’d used the Macintosh at UnderWare to do our in-house email and various other things that Macs were good at, but after Zabeth had a horrific experience with a 6300CD (from the Dark Days), we stopped buying Macs here (and tossed that one off the roof, which was strangely satisfying). And when the Newton was discontinued, I stopped following what Apple was doing very closely. While there was a lot to admire in Mac OS, it seemed to be maturing poorly, and OS9 just didn’t do it for me.

The introduction of OSX, though, piqued my interest. I’d had a NeXT cube back in the day, and did a lot of Track Record’s design—and nearly all its internal documentation—on it. Although its screen eventually became too dim to use and the whole thing was sent to the Computer Museum (aka the basement), it served me well for years: it was even UnderWare’s mail server back when we were “”. And now, it was back—sort of—on the Mac. And, when I went to take a look at it, I saw one other thing, too: the Mac had iTunes.

One quick look at iTunes made it clear that it was an excellent application. It organized things well, presented a simple and logical UI, and excelled at searching. Clearly great stuff. OSX looked good too: it felt less polished than iTunes—less well thought out—but had potential.

So, I made my very first computer decision as a user, as opposed to as a business owner. I bought an iBook. And, while taking care of Ketzl, I started ripping my CDs.

I outgrew the iBook really quickly: it was almost disturbingly obsolete, for my use, in days. Sold it and bought a PowerMac G4, then a Powerbook… an obsession had well and truly started. And OSX was better than I’d hoped. It was terrific. I was enjoying using my computer again. It’s good to be a user!

As the time taking care of Ketzl went on, I’d managed to rip about 2000 CDs (don’t ask—I’ve been collecting music for a long time), and had begun to realize one big problem with digital music: sure, I could use it on the computer, and on an iPod (or whatever), but it didn’t connect very well to my “real” stereo. And here I have a whole-house system that was crying out for that connection.

That wasn’t so easy! The main receiver was in a totally different part of the house. Running an audio cable was out of the question… but I could network up there, and attach another Macintosh, and share the disk that has the music library…

So, that done, another problem reared its ugly head: the computer playing the music was far away from where I was listening, and heading over there every time I wanted to find music was no fun at all. I tried using Apple Remote Desktop and VNC, but they were awkward (at best)—I didn’t want to take over the whole computer, I just wanted iTunes.

And that’s when I came up with netTunes. I just wanted iTunes, remotely. Exactly iTunes. So, that day, I became a full time Macintosh developer: learned Cocoa, designed and wrote netTunes, released it… and haven’t stopped—or developed for the PC—since. (More about the design process in a future post.)

Not where I expected to be when I set out again in this business. But I’m awfully happy I’m here!

SuperDuper! design error #78,272 Friday, May 06, 2005

I didn’t know it at the time, I made two huge mistakes when I settled on the various sweated-over terms used in SuperDuper! While the vast majority of the wording is clear to the vast majority of users, it’s pretty obvious at this point that Safety Clone and Copy Script have “prior experience” associations that interfere with what I was trying to get across.

Let’s take Safety Clone first.

Sadly, I no longer remember exactly what I was thinking when I came up with it (probably involved dancing through the Land of Chocolate, or maybe a funny monkey), but what I didn’t consider was that it might be confused with “Cloning” in the “full disk copy” sense. (Yeah, I know—seems obvious now, after all, it does kind of include the word “clone”.)

Some users come to SuperDuper! with prior experience, and rather than reading the (hopefully helpful) What’s going to happen? section of the UI, choose one of the Safety Clone scripts to back up all their files.

As I said in my previous Safety Clone post, this does not back things up. But, to some, it sounds like it does. Bad mistake.

I’m pretty sure this is going to be easy to fix in v2.0 with a wording change. Rather than calling this a “Safety Clone”, I’m thinking of calling it a Sandbox—so the two scripts would be “Sandbox - shared users and applications” and “Sandbox - shared users”. The “Sandbox” term clearly resonates with users, and I don’t think it’ll be confused with a full backup/clone. That’ll make the two real backup scripts—“Backup - all files” and “Backup - user files”—stand out much more.

Copy Script is a bit more problematic. A copy script is really just a way of specifying files you’re going to copy, ignore or share. It has a text field for a description that’s shown in the What’s going to happen? section, and a way to “build” on scripts that are already created. That’s about it.

What it’s not, then, is a script. It’s kind of a file picker. With some other useful stuff.

Anyway, it implies a complexity that isn’t really there, which scares users away. (And, it has a poorly designed UI, which we’ll be addressing eventually, but that’s the subject for another post.)

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet come up with a better term, so Copy Script it is… for now. I just don’t like File Picker or File Selector or Selector or Chooser or… Roget’s, take me away!

Mister Squid Hates SuperDuper! Thursday, May 05, 2005

You know, I was about to purchase SuperDuper but I found it incredibly confusing. I wanted SuperDuper to produce a disk image that could be restored using Apple Software Restore. I did NOT want SuperDuper to make the target drive “identical” to the source drive as I have files resident on the target drive that I do not want altered.

(via Apple’s Discussion BoardsSorry, Mister Squid, but thanks (really!) for the feedback, more of which can be found in the thread I linked to.)

As I indicated in the thread, users can accomplish this by selecting “Disk Image...” in the destination pop-up in the main window. Anyone else confused, or have suggestions on how we might make this less confusing?

Dan Slagle loves SuperDuper! Thursday, May 05, 2005

I restored my clone using SuperDuper! and, as usual, it went flawlessly. (Side note: He could charge triple for that program, and I would pay)

Just tell me where to send the bill, Dan!

(via The Unofficial iMFAQ NewsThanks, Dan!)

MacCompanion Loves SuperDuper! Wednesday, May 04, 2005

My experience — the software backed up my 80 GB (actually available 74.52 GB) containing 42 GB of data (204,483 files) in I hour and 15 minutes, a time comparable to other products I have reviewed for macC. Hurray, it passed the ultimate test of the backup software. My backup booted when I selected it as my startup disk. If you can’t boot it up as a startup disk, the backup is less flexible. Nevertheless, you can indeed recover you user files from it. Buy it and switch — I did. Do it now, not yesterday.

(Via MacCompanion: Thanks, anonymous reviewer!)

Is it safe? Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hey, look ma, no exclamation point in that title! Had to happen sometime.

So, the Safety Clone.

The Safety Clone is one of the most unique things that SuperDuper! does, but also one that is potentially misunderstood. I was really happy to see Ted Landau’s Macworld post suggesting it for Tiger, as it’s a pretty painless way of testing whether an OS upgrade works, but it’s important to understand what it is, and what it isn’t.

First off, the Safety Clone is not (not!) a “backup” in the conventional sense, so please don’t use it this way. We provide two scripts—“Backup - all files” and “Backup - user files” that are intended to be used as backups… hence their names. But the Safety Clone is something entirely different.

The idea is this: the Safety Clone isolates a copy of your system on its own partition. When you boot from it, you can install system-level updates (like Tiger) in this “Sandbox” while still retaining the ability to “roll back” to your original should something go wrong.

How do we do this?

Basically, the Safety Clone copies the “system” files that are considered to be “owned” by Apple: most of the things outside your Home folder. And, it shares those files that are “owned” by you.

For the more technically inclined, we “share” the files by symlinking them as appropriate. Details of what files are shared and what files are copied can be obtained by examining the script involved. If you have questions, ask!

So, we create two copies of your system—one in the “Sandbox”—but have only one copy of your user files, which reside on the original drive. When you boot from the Sandbox, you’re on an isolated system, but you’re changing your original user files. That way, when you boot back to your original OS, all the changes you made are there—because you changed the original files!

Just remember: it’s not a backup. It’s a checkpoint of your system that allows rollback of the OS. You must continue to back up your original volume if you want to protect against data loss. (Backing up the “Sandbox” isn’t usually necessary, since the things stored on it aren’t “personal”.)

Tips and tricks about “rolling back” in the next tedious installment!

Khoi Vinh Loves SuperDuper! Monday, May 02, 2005

First, I made a complete and bootable duplication of my PowerBook on a recently assembled 300 gigabyte external FireWire drive. In the past, I’ve used Carbon Copy Cloner for this task, but due in part to the fact that it hasn’t yet been updated for Tiger, I opted for Shirt Pocket’s elegantly simple SuperDuper! — I now happen to prefer it over Carbon Copy Cloner, anyway.

(Via Khoi’s great Subtraction blog, which kicks design ass: Thanks, Khoi!)

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