Password Managers Relieve Password Headaches

Passwords Are a Hassle

I’ll be the first to admit I can’t remember all my passwords. Most of us can’t, so we pick a few passwords that are easy to remember and then use them with multiple sites. This results in two immediate problems. A password manager can help with both of these problems. First, passwords that are easy to remember are typically also easy to guess. Second, a compromised password is a risk to every site where it has been reused. A password manager both of these problems since it can generate a secure and unique password for each site, but only requires that you remember a single password to unlock the database. While it is possible, to create passwords that are secure and memorable, it is more difficult to do this with the significant number of passwords we frequently use in modern life. I detailed some additional problems with passwords in previous articles Your NYE Resolution—Pick Better Passwords and Data Evaporation and the Security of Recycled Accounts. I find that password manager with solid browser integration is well worth the initial setup time and expense.

While there are many good options, my password manager of choice is 1Password from AgileBits that is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. I consider it an indispensable tool and I use it daily both on my desktop and my phone. 1Password integrates with many popular browsers, which makes logging into web sites faster and more convenient. The application allows me to easily switch between multiple browsers and multiple devices without worrying, which browser I might have saved a particular password.

When I first looked at 1Password in 2006, I thought there was no way I would be willing pay for it since all modern browsers ship with password management functionality. Shortly after I started testing the application I found it so convenient, I changed my mind and purchased it. Nearly six years and many major upgrades later, I have no regrets. I have nearly eight hundred logins saved in 1Password. Even though I regularly clean out duplicates and entries for dead services, this is still a ridiculous number of accounts. Look at it this way, I test services so you don’t have to.

We All Forget Passwords

A 2007 paper A Large-Scale Study Of Web Password Habits of more than half a million users found that about 1.5% of all Yahoo! users forgot their password each month. Yahoo Mail alone has more than 200 million accounts, so this is a significant number. The authors found that the “average user has 6.5 passwords, each of which is shared across 3.9 different sites. Each user has about 25 accounts that require passwords, and types an average of 8 passwords per day.”

Complicated Passwords and Compact Keyboards Don’t Mix

The current crop of smartphones ship with highly capable browsers, but entering lengthy passwords on a phone keyboard is even more error prone and frustrating on the desktop. Here again, a password manager can reduce the complexities of entering many different password strings on a mobile device. The application allows you to make a mobile keyboard optimized and possibly simplified password that protects your longer more complex passwords and notes. This is of course a security tradeoff.

Mobile Safari on the iPhone and iPad does not permit plugins, so the 1Password application on iOS devices embeds a browser that is able to offer the automatic login feature. I prefer the default browser, but unfortunately there is no option for direct integration. The 1Password bookmarklet makes it relatively quick to look up an entry in the database and then copy and paste long passwords from its database far more easily than trying to type them in by hand

Other Advantages of 1Password

I regularly use multiple browsers. I also frequently delete my cookies and browser settings when I test services. This would typically cause a nightmare of needing to re-authenticate to each web site where I deleted the cookies. Since all of my login information is stored in 1Password rather than the browser, I don’t have to care about which browser I am currently using or even if my cookies still exist.

Since 1Password is also a general form filler it can cope with login forms that have partial entries or multi-stage. For example, many services require that users re-enter their password to access account management features even if they are already logged in. This is to prevent another person from simply walking up to your unattended computer from viewing or making changes to billing information, email forwarding, and passwords. In most cases, 1Password is able treat the re-authentication sign in forms exactly like a standard sign in form.

Some sign in forms are multi-stage where login process is split across several forms. For example, many online banks are multi-stage sign in forms. In the first stage, the user enters a username and their browser must acquire a cookie from the bank. If the user does not already have a cookie from a previous session, the user must enter a second authentication factor such responding to a text message with a unique code or entering the code from a hardware token. Next, on a second form on a separate page the user enters a password.

In cases where 1Password is confused by multiple stage forms, the work around for this type of site is to simply make two separately named entries in 1Password. For example, the first entry would contain the username and the second entry would contain the password. The user must go through the full sign in process the first time to received a cookie from the bank by completing the two-factor authentication process and has create a 1Password entry for each step in the form. Each subsequent login to the bank will be treated like all other sites and can be automated with the auto-login and auto-submit features.

Here is a small laundry list of other features I regularly use and appreciate about 1Password.

  • General form saving support. 1Password can save and replay many kind of web forms, which is a useful feature if you find yourself filling out the same information over and over again.
  • Support for “identities” where the application stores commonly used bits of information such as name, email, phone number and can populate this information into many types of forms with little effort.
  • Basic anti-phishing protection since by default 1Password will only post usernames, passwords, and other forms back to the same domain name as the original.
  • The application can generate random passwords with several different templates that will satisfy most password requirements.
  • In addition to usernames, passwords, forms and identities, 1Password also supports encrypted notes.
  • The Mac OS X desktop application will sync over the local wired network and WiFi for iOS devices
  • 1Password will sync with Dropbox for all desktop and mobile applications including Windows and Android

Limitations of 1 Password

There are several important limitations with 1Password. The application cannot handle login forms built with Adobe Flash. Previous generations of 1Password supported login forms with HTTP basic authentication, however the new plugin architecture for Safari and Chrome do not offer support for HTTP basic. AgileBits says it is working on a solution for Firefox.

The features of the Windows version of 1Password are not quite yet on part with the Mac, for example it only supports 32-bit Internet Explorer, 32-bit Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. This said that covers most browsers that user’s need.

Pricing

1Password for Mac and 1Password for Windows is $49.99, 1Password Pro is $14.95 is available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

1Password Bookmarklet Gone Missing

If you are a frequent 1Password user, particularly on iOS devices, you may have noticed that AgileBits discontinued support for the 1Password bookmarklet, which was the best option for integrating with Mobile Safari rather than the integrated browser in the application. Fortunately, Kevin Yank and * have produced a working 1Password bookmarklet. I have reproduced it here:

javascript:window.location='onepassword://'+window.location.href.substring(window.location.href.indexOf('//')+2)

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ForeverSave Prevents Lost Work on the Mac

It’s happened to all of us. You are busy writing, entering data, or working on a slide deck and all of a sudden something freezes and then the application crashes. If either we recently saved the document all is well, otherwise the inevitable explicative follows. It is 2011 and there is no excuse for not having autosave, but there are still a depressing number of applications that do not automatically save documents. Blaming the user who lost work to an application or operating system crash is blaming the victim. People are far better served by applications that automatically name, save, and version their files without requiring manual intervention. This way users can easily undo or revert to an older version after application crashes, machine hangs, and power outages, no swearing like a sailor necessary.

Tool Force Software’s ForeverSave ($15) largely solves this problem for Mac OS X applications. ForeverSave allows you to configure the application to automatically save documents from many applications including Apple’s iWork, Microsoft Office, and most Adobe products. The configuration process is quick and straightforward. You simply select the applications that you want to enable autosave. There are options to save after a fixed time interval or when switching to another application.

ForeverSave can also automatically create backup copies of your documents. You can set the maximum number of backup copies and a maximum size for the backups overall. One advantage of multiple backup copies is that it is that you can quickly preview old versions of the document with QuickLook. Restoring an old version is a one click operation. One interesting feature is database sharing. This allows you to share all the historical versions of a document, which is useful to show a colleague how a project evolved over time.

If you use any of Apple’s iWork applications including Keynote, Pages, and Numbers, then you absolutely want to use ForeverSave. The applications in iWork are well designed and I use them often, but unfortunately, as of the most recent version iWork ‘09, Apple has not seen fit to include an autosave feature. Each of the applications crash periodically, It also means that you have lost any work form the last time you remembered to manually save. If you have not named and saved the document at all yet, then everything is gone.

When an iWork applications crashes, all remnants of unsaved work is gone. After a recent crash with Keynote, I decided to experiment to see if I could find any traces on my file system. I scanned my temp files and the swap files and found nothing other than the images in the document. This is a terrible oversight and I expect better from some of Apple’s high-profile applications. Judging from the many complaints I found on the Apple discussion boards and elsewhere online, I’m not remotely alone.

Overall I highly recommend ForeverSave, the price is well worth the insurance against lost work. I experience two annoyances when using the application. First, saving is a blocking operation in the iWork applications, so if you have a large document such as a Keynote slide deck with many slides it will force you to wait each time it saves the document. This is technically the fault of iWork and not ForeverSave, but it is still a detractor. The second annoyance is that ForeverSave requires you to name the document the first time. This typically comes up when I start to work on a document and right when I get into a flow, then the save window pops up asking me to name the file the first time so it can save. I would rather the application not interrupt me and simply pick a reasonable name and let me rename it later.

ForeverSave is $15 and has a 30-day trial. ForeverSave Lite is a stripped down version that offers autosaving only, without backups, versions, QuickLook, or database sharing.

Time Machine vs. CrashPlan for Backups

Trouble in Time Machine Land

In my recent article, A Simple and Effective Backup Strategy for Mac OS X, where I recommended a three part backup system: 1) a full disk clone, 2) local incremental backups with Apple’s Time Machine, and 3) networked incremental backups with CrashPlan. I found Time Machine problematic for my own setup, for reasons I explain below, so I now use CrashPlan for both local and networked backups.

For most people with configurations that are not highly customized or complicated, Time Machine is a great “set and forget backup” solution. The primary interface is a single on or off toggle switch. Its ease of use can make the difference between having backups and not having backups for many. At the same time, Time Machine has some notable quirks and limitations that can make it far less desirable in some circumstances. In these cases CrashPlan provides a solid alternative for local backups in addition to network backups. CrashPlan also has the advantage that it works equally well on Windows and Linux.

Clones are Key to Fast Recovery Time

Let me emphasize that maintaining a recent clone is the key for you to rapidly recover your data in the case of a disk failure or theft. Most incremental backup solutions, including Time Machine and CrashPlan, do not backup your entire computer including all the system files and boot records. This means that you must first reinstall your operating system and then restore your files from the incremental backup on to the newly installed operating system.

The process of recovering from a disk failure with a clone is much faster and more efficient since you can connect your cloned disk and boot from it. You computer will be in the same state as it was when you made the clone. You will only have to restore files that have changed since you last made the clone. No other recovery process is nearly as quick recent clone and an incremental backup. The difference is substantial.

Advantages of Time Machine

  • It’s free, supported by Apple and ships with every copy of Mac OS X
  • The setup is impressively simple and it generally just works after that
  • The overall user experience for backup and recovery is substantially better than most alternatives
  • You can manually mount a Time Machine disk on any computer and copy files from it

Disadvantages of Time Machine

  • When you restore from a Time Machine disk, the backup is invalidated and you must start your backups anew
  • Time Machine only backs up changes to your files once an hour, so there is always a potential lag in your backups
  • If you use FileVault, Time Machine will only backup your home directory when you log out
  • If you use FileVault, you can only restore your entire home directory (missing out on the great restore interface) unless your home directory is on Mac OS X Server
  • Time Machine can get confused if you plug more than one Time Machine backup disk into the computer
  • Moving a backup to a new computer is a complicated process and typically requires editing system files

Personal Observations About Time Machine

  • The combination of FileVault and Time Machine makes logging out very slow
  • I found the Time Machine volume occasionally got corrupted and I would have start over
  • Time Machine would sometimes cause large amounts of disk IO with high memory usage that substantially slow my machine down. This would typically happen after longer periods of not backing up due to travel etc.

Advantages of CrashPlan

  • Backups are continuous and files are backed up as soon as they change (note while CrashPlan can be used in local mode for free, continuous backups require a subscription to CrashPlan Central)
  • All backups are encrypted by default
  • Straightforward to configure multiple local and networked backup destinations

Disadvantages of CrashPlan

  • You must use the CrashPlan software to restore a backup, it needs to be installed first for recovery
  • Higher memory usage with 64-bit Java on Snow Leopard (see note below)
  • User interface is functional but, not nearly as nice as Time Machine, it’s also a bit slow to start up
  • If you use FileVault, you must be logged as the FileVault user for backups to happen

Personal Observations About CrashPlan

  • Simple fix improves memory usage
  • Appears to have much smaller impact on my system resources once memory is reduced
  • FileVault complicates install process

Notes on Reducing CrashPlan Memory Usage

I found that CrashPlan could use up significant amounts of memory with the 64-bit Java on Snow Leopard. The most recent version of CrashPlan places a 512 MB memory limit on the process, but that is still quite large. I limit my to CrashPlan process to 150 MB and it has not caused any problems, although this is lower than you will generally see recommended and you will want to carefully monitor your logs to look for memory errors if you set it this low. This post CrashPlan using too much memory on Mac OS X from offTheHill explains how to reduce the memory footprint of CrashPlan.

A Simple and Effective Backup Strategy for Mac OS X

Disk is inexpensive compared to the value of your time and data. My personal backup configuration consists of three types of backups. The following combination has proven itself over the last several years and I recommend it. It includes 1) A full disk clone, 2) an incremental backup, and 3) an online backup service. This setup is redundant, quick to configure, needs little maintenance, and allows for rapid recovery of data, even with a catastrophic failure.

Details of the three part backup strategy:

  1. A clone is a replica of your disk. One great feature of Mac OS X is that you can boot directly from a clone. This means if your hard drive dies, you can reboot from a clone on an external drive and be back to work in minutes rather than hours. I recommend SuperDuper ($28) as the user interface is very well done. Carbon Copy Cloner is an excellent alternative that is free to use, although the author encourages donations. Both applications support scheduling backups for a time when your system is not in use. Both applications also support incremental updates to substantially reduce the amount of time needed for subsequent backups. The hard drive for your clone must be as large as the amount of data you wish to back up.
  2. An incremental backup application called Time Machine ships with every copy of Mac OS X that archives any file changes every hour. Time Machine has a unique time-based interface that allows you to easily find and restore previous versions of files. Overall, Time Machine is simple to use and works well unattended, but it does have several detractors. First, if you have a hard disk crash, you must manually reinstall the base operating system from the DVD and then use Time Machine to a restore the rest of your data. This makes time machine most useful in cases of accidental file deletion or data corruption. Time Machine works very well when combined with a clone as you can quickly restore from a clone and use Time Machine to restore any files more recent than the clone version. Time Machine is far less useful on drives with FileVault enabled. I recommend giving Time Machine at least two times as much hard drive space as the amount of data you want to back up.
  3. An online backup service allows you to have offsite backups for cases of theft, natural disaster, or large mugs of coffee. Online services also allow laptop users to continue to make backups in any place that has a network connection. I have used the CrashPlan service for about 18 months and I find the service reasonably priced and reliable. CrashPlan automatically archives file changes in real-time and encrypts all backups. This is nice if you use it on a laptop because it means that you have backups even when you travel. CrashPlan also allows online restores from a web-based interface. The unlimited service is $25 a year for a 10GB service, $50 a year for unlimited service for one computer, and $120 a year for a family unlimited plan for up to ten computers. Multiyear subscriptions are discounted.

CrashPlan has a backup seeding service for $125 where they send you a 1TB drive. You then run the initial backup locally and ship the drive back to CrashPlan. Depending on the size of your disk and the speed of your network connection, the initial backup can easily take weeks. Companion emergency recovery services are also $125. Expedited shipping is extra. CrashPlan also offers a computer-to-computer backup mode. This means you could backup to another machine in your house or to a computer in a friend’s house. The computer-to-computer backup feature is free. The paid version provides real-time versioning with fine-grained control over the versioning settings, stronger encryption, the ability to restore from the web, and the client is ad-free. CrashPlan works with Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, and Linux operating systems

I last wrote about backup options in We Need Simple Backup Solutions for Complicated Data.

iPhone Screenshot and Photo Smart Album Hack

I take a lot of screenshots when I research products, both on the desktop and on the iPhone, so having some way to automate organizing my collection is important. The problem is that screenshots images taken with the iPhone have no EXIF metadata. This means there is no straightforward way to produce a list of all your screenshots.

After a little bit of experimentation, I found a workable but not ideal solution. You can use the lack of EXIF metadata as conditions to group all the images. Screenshots are saved as PNG files on the original iPhone and the iPhone 3GS (the two models I had access to) and have no EXIF records. The only other metadata fields available are filename, file size, and modified, and imported dates. The PNG extension for the filename is the one existing feature you can search for, all others have to be unknown. I selected two features aperture and ISO, even though one would work in the hopes that this would reduce any false positives.

A Smart Folder recipe for iPhone Screenshots

  • Match all of the following conditions
  • Aperture is Unknown
  • ISO is Unknown
  • Filename contains PNG

iPhone Screenshot 3 Item Smart Folder.png

Photos taken on the iPhone are saved as JPEGs and contain EXIF metadata. The iPhone 3GS embeds many more fields than the original iPhone. The easiest feature to select is “Camera Model.” The field type must be is or is not, there is no option for contains, so you will have to specify each phone separately.

A Smart Folder recipe for iPhone Pictures

  • Match any of the following conditions
  • Camera Model is Apple iPhone
  • Camera Model is Apple iPhone 3GS

iPhone Pictures Smart Folder.png

Searching for Screenshots from the command line

All iPhone screenshot images have a width 320 pixels and height 480 pixels in portrait or landscape. It is possible search for these files using the Spotlight command line tool mdls to integrate them into other scripts. There are many other options for searching for images with the full Spotlight syntax and it is possibly to execute these as Raw Querys in the Finder or use a Spotlight front end such as HoudahSpot, but that is a topic for another post.

mdfind -onlyin $HOME/Pictures 
  'kMDItemKind == "Portable Network Graphics image" && 
  kMDItemPixelHeight == 480 && kMDItemPixelWidth == 320'

Notational Velocity – Elegant Note Taking for the Mac

Notational Velocity is a free and open source note taking application for Mac OS X that is extremely simple, fast, and stable. I find the minimalist interface very functional and pleasant to use. It is one of my favorite applications.

I mentioned Notational Velocity’s ability to sync with the Simplenote iPhone note taking application in my Messaging News Magazine column Great iPhone and iPad Apps for Reading and Sharing Docs. The combination of Notational Velocity and Simplenote allows me to create, edit, and manage notes that are seamlessly synchronized between my desktop and iPhone without worrying that I will have the latest version on the other device.

Dropbox and SimpleText.ws allow for synchronizing Notational Velocity across multiple machines. The author of SimpleText.ws provides the source code you can run your own private server on Google App Engine.

Aside from the ease of use and speed some of the features of Notation Velocity I like are:

  • Makes no distinction between searching notes and creating new notes
  • Displays search results incrementally to help rapidly filter documents
  • Saves automatically, no save button needed
  • Allows data export with a single click
  • Preserves creation and modification timestamps for both import and export
  • Optionally stores notes as plain text, rich text, or HTML
  • Optionally stores notes as a single database or as plain text files in a directory
  • Optionally encrypts the database and provides secure text entry mechanism
  • All commands have keyboard equivalents

* This article originally appeared as Notational Velocity – Elegant Note Taking for the Mac in my Messaging News “On Message Column.”

We Need Simple Backup Solutions for Complicated Data

It’s that time of year when our thoughts of New Year’s resolutions are just beginning to fade. So let me remind you of one resolution you should probably keep. Do have backups of your irreplaceable data? Are those backups recent enough that you would not loose anything serious? If the answer to either of these questions is yes then congratulations, you are solidly in the minority. Could you restore or work from those backups and not lose more than a couple of hours of work? If so, then you are in great shape, but hopefully I’ll still have something for you in this article. I will talk about online backup and storage services that serve as excellent complements to disk-based storage.

The Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) ratings of hard disks are largely disconnected from reality. Common street wisdom says you are lucky if your drive makes it 30 days past its warranty period. As many have said, the question of data loss is when, not if. Once you assume that data loss is inevitable, then backups are clearly essential—unless you are prepared to sacrifice your email, photographs, bookmarks, draft letters and other data to the great data cemetery in sky.

The problem of course is that our data and thus our backups have gotten far more complicated in recent years. Increasingly, portions of our data and even the backup themselves are stored in the cloud—data and services that reside in a collection online services, network drives, virtual servers and places we often just refer to as online.

These days, I suspect most of us have complicated data, some of it is stored on home desktops or laptops, some on work machines, some of it online in the cloud, some backed up and some not. We may have multiple copies of sections of data and yet we may not have any copies of other data. Complicated data lends itself to complicated backup solutions. We often have good intentions about complicated solutions, like New Year’s resolutions, most of which we never get around to.

Online Backup Services

Online backup services are a viable option for many people to backup at least their critical data. They are relatively inexpensive, commonly about $50 USD a year for 50 Gigs of data and are a good compliment to other backup options. I currently do not recommend using an online service as your sole backup option unless you have less than 10 GB total as larger collections may take a week or more to upload, depending on your broadband connection, and many days to recover a most of the data. I do recommend keeping multiple backups and multiple types of backups at least a clone and an incremental backup, just to insure against accidental failure of the backup itself.

Most collections of emails and word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentation decks are of relatively modest size and thus simple and fast to backup. Music and photos take substantially more space with video being even larger. Current online services are less ideal for very large collections. Another issue is that while many services can make backups to a local disk, they do not backup the entire disk and thus there is no way to do a bare metal recovery. You will still want to keep a clone of your hard disk to dramatically reduce the amount of down time in case of a disk failure.

Some common online backup services are Carbonite, CrashPlan, Jungle Disk and Mozy. Carbonite and Mozy both work with Windows and Mac OS X, while CrashPlan and Jungle Disk work with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. My current favorite is CrashPlan. The software seems easy on my system resources and the UI is reasonably well done. One interesting feature is that CrashPlan has a peer-to-peer mode where you can backup to another local machine, even on a different platform, or to any other machine accessible on the Internet. CrashPlan even lets you back up to a local hard disk, carry that disk to a friend’s house and continue the backup from that point, thus potentially saving weeks of waiting for the initial transfer. A single CrashPlan instance can accept backups from multiple clients. There is a business version of CrashPlan that will let you manage multiple clients in small business settings. CrashPlan comes in two versions, a $60 USD version that will make continuous backups as files change and a free version without continuous backups. The online CrashPlan backup service costs $50 USD a year (for 50 gigs), which is similar to Carbonite. CrashPlan says they plan to offer storage to Amazon’s S3 in the future.

Jungle Disk offers many features similar to CrashPlan and Carbonite and offers the additional feature of working as a general network drive. The service stores your data on Amazon S3, which will give you the benefit of only being charged for the data you use. However, this means that billing is month-to-month, you can not simply pay a yearly fee and be done with it. Jungle Disk also offers a feature called Jungle Disk Plus which is $1 USD a month and gives you the ability to do partial file updates, restart transfers, potentially faster file transfers and optionally obtain access to your files from a Web interface. I found Jungle Disk’s user interface and billing slightly more complicated than CrashPlan, but a solid choice overall. You will also have to set up an Amazon S3 account. Jungle Disk plans to use Amazon’s upcoming aggregated storage feature in the future to simplify billing.

Mozy is the one service that offers unlimited data storage for a single price, although only for its home users and not for business users. Unfortunately, I find Mozy has become increasingly problematic, especially on the Mac and I have seen it fail repeatedly without adequate warning. Mozy is the most resource intensive of the bunch, often dramatically slowing down my Apple notebook when calculating a backup.

Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) is increasingly used as the storage back-end to many Web-based services. It is possible for consumers to store data on S3 directly, however the service is not yet particularly consumer friendly. The most sophisticated application for end users to work with S3 and Amazon’s CDN CloudFront is probably Bucket Explorer, a $50 USD java application that works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Bucket Explorer’s UI is serviceable, but could be simplified. The application provides control over low level details of S3 buckets—the way Amazon partitions space for individual users. The software comes with a command line tool called Bucket Commander that can automate transfers to S3. S3Fox is a free Firefox extension that allows you to work directly with S3 and CloudFront.

Cloud-based Storage

Another compliment to online backups is cloud-based storage. Originally, these services were typically called network drives and were little more than a virtual flash memory drive, however recent offerings are much more sophisticated. Services such as Microsoft Live Mesh, Apple’s MobileMe, SugarSync and Dropbox offer replication between the local disk and the cloud-based storage.

My current favorite online storage service is Dropbox. I like the service because the user interface is largely invisible. The software works like this; Dropbox appears as a local folder and you simply copy documents in and out of it. These documents are then automatically synchronized with the Dropbox service in addition to any other machines you have running the Dropbox software. As files change, Dropbox keeps copies of the changes allowing you to retrieve older versions of files or retrieve files that have been deleted. Dropbox also makes it easy to share files with other people, you simply share a file with an email address of another Dropbox user and the file will appear in their Dropbox folder. Dropbox is free for up to 2 gigabytes of storage for $10 USD per month or $100 USD per year for 50GB of storage. Overall the service is impressive, however it would be nice if they provided better tools to clean up extraneous versions of files after a time and if they added additional pricing levels. Dropbox uses Amazon’s S3 Web service for file storage.

As a final word of caution, I advise you to never blindly trust your backups. At the minimum, always test them by attempting to recover at least a small bit of data periodically. If you have never tested your backup, how can you really know it exists? It would be painful to think you have viable backups until the point at which you actually need to recover something and then find that your backups were never actually there.

* This article originally appeared as The Need for Simple Backup Solutions for Complicated Data in the in the February 2009 issue of Messaging News magazine.

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