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Acronis True Image 2021 review – Complete back-up, security

Acronis True Image 2021 promises to keep your data safe for around A$100 a year. It protects PCs and Macs from disasters, accidents, criminal attacks and ransomware.

What is True Image?

True Image started life as a back-up application. The name refers to the way it creates a copy or an image of your computer data on an external hard drive or cloud server.

Two years ago Acronis added security features adding ransomware protection to back-up. The most expensive version of the software included blockchain certification. I’m not convinced that is necessary. Yet there are those who find it useful.

The 2021 version of the software adds more protection. Acronis says it deals with malware, malicious websites and code injection. This means the security software has to work in real-time.

There’s the timely addition of protection from videoconferencing interference. This is a threat that emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown. The feature is not included in the MacOS version.

In effect, Acronis repackaged its enterprise security technology for individuals and small businesses.

Acronis True Image 2021

One user interface

Having back-up and security controlled by a single user interface simplifies the two processes. That’s important. Many small business buy back up and security then fail to make the most of them because it’s difficult.

True Image 2021 has a clean, straightforward interface. This hasn’t changed since I reviewed True Image 2019 more than two years ago.

It’s not immediately obvious how everything works, but it is easy to learn. The trick is to mouse your way around the user interface and try all the options.

Once you’re done, you can leave True Image to work without day-to-day intervention, although it is likely you will need to revisit the app.

Testing True Image

I tested it on an iMac. Here it adds an icon to the menu bar. Unlike other MacOS apps, this is not a menu, instead it shows notifications. There is an option to open the app’s main screen from here.

Back-up remains the focus. You can create images of entire drives, partitions, folders or even individual files. True Image can back-up your network drives and add back-ups for your mobile phone or tablet.

There are options to do a full back-up, this can take a long time, or to do a differential back-up. This means backing up everything that changed since the last back-up.

Back-up options

You control the back-up frequency. Options range from monthly, which I’d regard as “why bother”? all the way to hourly.

The default is daily. There’s a twice daily option which I’ve set to back-up about half way through my working day and then late at night. That way I’m never going to lose more than a few hours work.

More frequent back-ups are possible, but this can tie up resources.

There are options to remove older back-ups when you are running out of space on your target disc. You can do this manually or leave it to the software. You can also set up validations.

Pricing

There’s a basic A$70 subscription that doesn’t include cloud back-up. You’ll need a local or network drive. Acronis does not appear to allow you to use alternative cloud storage.

The A$98 Advanced plan includes 500GB of cloud back-up storage. There is a A$140 plan with a terabyte of storage. These prices are for one computer.

Acronis’ per computer price drops if you add more, but you don’t get more cloud storage.

This complex price structure is strange given that everything else about True Image 2021 works to hide complexity. I’m concerned that buyers can end up buying more than they need, or not enough.

Back-up updates

There are updates to the way True Image handles back-ups. It no longer duplicates data if a back-up is interrupted, say if you lose your connection. Instead of restarting and doing the whole back-up again, it picks up from where it left off.

While testing I ran into a couple of interesting observations. First, there may be times when you want to turn off protection. I did this when bittorrenting a copy of LibreOffice 7 for review.

True Image’s security stopped my bit torrent client from working. Fair enough. To allow it through I paused the software, then forgot to restart. The next morning an email arrived telling me the scheduled back-up failed. This is excellent. It’s easy to forget to switch back on and leave yourself without back-ups or protection. Getting a non-intrusive reminder is the best way of fixing this.

Safe replication

Likewise, after first installing the application, I chose to make a replica of my Mac hard drive using the Acronis Cloud. All good. Then I swapped out my home Wi-Fi router for a D-Link Wi-fi 6 router review.

The router remained installed. When I went to update the drive replica, True Image responded with a message saying replication would restart after I connected to an approved Wi-fi network.

This protection would stop True Image from automatic drive replication when, say, a laptop connects to public Wi-fi. It takes a couple of clicks to resume replication with a new router.

True Image’s replication will wait until the everyday back-up is complete. It handles tasks one-by-one, not in parallel. This is useful on slower connection.

Fast, if your network is fast

Cloud back-ups are fast. I have a gigabit fibre connection, my Wi-fi 6 router is the bottleneck. It can clock speeds of over 500mbps. On my set-up, when True Image connects to the Acronis Cloud the reported speed fluctuates from around 100 mbps up to over 200 mbps.

Back-up times vary. The time indicator on the user interface gives a rough guide, but don’t take it seriously. It warned me a full drive back-up of 340 GB would take 52 minutes. I left it running and checked 30 minutes after starting to find it had finished.

Incremental back-ups of around 200 MB take a couple of minutes. Again, the times reported on the user interface can be misleading. The ‘less than one minute’ turned out to be a few seconds over two minutes.

Early back-up software, including earlier versions of True Image, could hurt system and network performance. I found this year’s edition of Norton LifeLock ties up all system resources when in full flight and then some. That is another story for another time.

True Image 2021 has no noticeable impact on performance. Automated back-ups can happen while I’m on a Zoom call and I’d never know. I haven’t seen a spinning Mac beachball while using True Image. This is in part down to plenty of headroom on a fibre connection and Wi-fi 6 local network, but, as mentioned, Norton struggles with the same resources.

True Image 2021 verdict

I can’t think of any other application that combines back-up and security in the way True Image does. The price is on a par with buying separate applications to do the two jobs.

You won’t need to pay for Acronis back-up and a separate security suite. You won’t need to learn two user interfaces. This is important if you don’t have full time IT professionals to call on for help.

Getting both back-up and security in a single integrated package from one source simplifies both.

Today, True Image is comprehensive to the point of providing more protection than everyday users or small businesses need.

It could be overkill for your needs.

If your data is precious or your work makes you a security target you should consider True Image.

If you handle other people’s data it could be essential. It makes sense if you work for a company or agency that requires high levels of security. Choose it if losing your data for more than a few minutes will cost you money.

Footnote:

I took my time testing Acronis True Image 2021 for a good reason. The software came the same time as Norton Lifelock, which is an indirect rival. Lifelock trashed my computer. I wanted to give Acronis enough time to screw up before telling readers one is better than the other. After two months, I’m happy to report nothing untoward happened.

Working from home surveillance arms race

The move to working from home means there’s a boom in employee surveillance software. Bosses can check workers are hard at it, not leaning back for a Netflix binge.

Companies have used technology to snoop on workers for years. It ranges from spy-in-the-cab devices used to measure truck driver movements to key-loggers counting the number of keystrokes a desk bound employee makes every hour.

If you want you can check if an employee takes many tea, toilet or lunch breaks. There are even home detention style ankle bracelets used in warehouses and similar workplaces to track where everyone is.

Counter productive

Keeping close tabs on workers can be counter productive. If the metric is measuring the number of mouse movements per hour, employees will focus on moving mice, not on doing what they are paid to do.

What you measure is what you get.

For many tasks surveillance is plain dumb. It’s easier to measure a worker’s output. That’s what matters.

They earn their pay as long as they add value, serve customers, clear call backlogs or otherwise improve profits. It shouldn’t matter how many key strokes, phone calls or trips around the warehouse floor they make to get there.

Snooping

Now companies use similar employee snooping technology to watch staff working from home. The companies who sell these systems have seen their business grow at a cracking pace.

The names of these products say a lot about the mindset of companies using the technology:

  • Time Doctor,
  • ActivTrak,
  • StaffCop.

That last one is vile.

On top of everyday snooping there are products which let bosses watch what is going on through the webcams on home computers.

One product that does this goes by the name of Sneek….

There’s a naming pattern emerging here, at least the people who make this software are self-aware. You’d have to worry about managers leafing through brochures for products with names like Sneek and StaffCop.

Listening in

Others products let managers listen in on people’s home. There are tools that automate camera watching or listen in case trigger words are used.

And then there is this example from the Wired story

“PwC has developed facial recognition software that can log employees’ absences from their computer screens – including for bathroom breaks. The accounting firm insists the technology is to meet compliance regulations as the financial world adjusts to home life.”

Much of this is thought of as normal in the US. The products can be illegal elsewhere in the world. This review of StaffCop in PCMag) evaluates the product without any reference to ethics or morality.

It’s one thing for a company to put this software on computers in its offices, or even on computers that it buys and distributes to staff working from home. Asking people to install the software on their own hardware is another level of evil.

The idea of watching people in their homes using a screen was talked about 70 years ago. That’s when George Orwell wrote 1984. In the book Big Brother has a screen where government spies watch people in their homes all the time.

Orwellian

In other words, it’s no exaggeration to describe these applications as Orwellian. We overuse that term, but it applies here.

Once again we are at a point where 1984 is a training manual, not a warning.

Where they can, workers are fighting back. Wired magazine’s story is about the resistance movement fighting home employee surveillance.

As with the bosses, many of the weapons workers use to counter surveillance are digital. It’s an arms race. A range of new software helps workers get around surveillance. Surveillance software companies respond to block the blockers then the blockers block back.

One trick mentioned in the Wired story, which works if you have a powerful computer, is to use a virtual machine. That is, in effect, a software computer that lives inside of your computer. It can fence off the surveillance software.

There is software to fake mouse movements and software to emulate keyboard use. People even stick tape over webcams or microphones and then claim the hardware isn’t working. The potential to fight back is as unlimited at the potential for snooping.

Toshiba calls it a day: Sayounara

Toshiba portegeAt The Register Simon Sharwood writes: Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

The Japanese computer maker had a long run. It made its first laptop in 1985. As Sharwood says:

Toshiba “…claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.”

It’s no accident that the first tiny, portable computers came from Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s country was ahead of the world when it came to miniaturisation. This is the culture that introduced the world to the Sony Walkman.

Space saving Toshiba

There’s another reason laptops took off early in Japan. They take up less room.

Japanese homes and offices have far less space than elsewhere in the world. Even senior managers would have small desks. A desktop computer, which in those days meant a large and heavy CRT display along with a hefty main box, wouldn’t leave much space for anything else.

Toshiba enjoyed an early success in New Zealand. For years it was one of the top five PC brands. In September, 1993 I interviewed an IDC analyst who told me Toshiba was a leading brand here because its products “allowed executives to take work home with them”. The NBR published this story.

In their day Toshiba laptops were great, but as Sharwood reminds us:

“As the 2000s rolled along Toshiba devices became bland in comparison to the always-impressive ThinkPad and the MacBook Air, while Dell and HP also improved. Toshiba also never really tried to capture consumers’ imaginations, which didn’t help growth.”

Toshiba’s fortunes waned. Japan’s followed. The country was never more than a bit player in the PC business after that. NEC faded from sight, at least in New Zealand. The last we heard of Toshiba was years ago. In 2014, it delivered a Chromebook to New Zealand.

Sharp picked up the Toshiba brand two years ago. By then Japan’s remaining visible laptop maker, as far as New Zealand is concerned, was Panasonic with its range of hardened Toughbook models.

Since this was written, the Toshiba brand has resurfaced in New Zealand with Dynabook models

Intel chip dominance ends not with a bang but a whimper

Intel is considering outsourcing chip manufacturing. The move marks the end of a chapter for the semiconductor sector. American chip foundries no longer dominate.

It matters for the PC sector. Yet the implications go much further and could affect international trade, even politics.

Intel was the world largest chip maker for decades. Although it didn’t always have the best designs, it had the best sellers and the key relationships. The company’s ‘Wintel’ partnership with Microsoft defined the PC.

Apple’s role

When Apple switched from PowerPC to Intel, the dominance looked complete. That relationship lasted 20 years. Now Apple is moving back to its own processor designs. This means Apple can build faster computers and lighter laptops. Devices will be slimmer or have a longer battery life.

Intel was one of America’s key industrial giants. It continued to make chips in the United States long after other manufacturers, including high tech companies, moved their factories off-shore or outsourced to Asian factories.

In its prime the chip giant seemed incapable of making an error. It was relentless.

Economies of scale

One reason for Intel’s might was the economies of scale. The first of a new line of processors would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Towards the end of the run, it could measure the cost per-chip in pennies.

Scale meant it got the best engineers, the best scientists.

And then it all stopped. Apple’s iPhone was the turning point. Intel missed out on making chips for mobile phones and tablets. Instead computer makers turned to companies like Qualcomm. Apple decided to design its own.

Either way, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company or TSMC, got to make the chips. It became better at the job than Intel. If Intel does outsource manufacturing, TSMC is the most likely candidate for the job.

TSMC now makes more processor chips than Intel. It has the economies of scale. It has sharper skills, competitive pricing and everything needed to be market leader. At least when it comes to making processors.

Intel’s designs remain first class. But its rivals have caught up. Take AMD: For years it trailed far behind Intel. That’s changed. AMD’s Ryzen can deliver better performance while using less power than Intel processors.

Intel slow to 7nm

Unlike Intel, AMD is working with 7nm technology. That is, more advanced chip technology. We need to be careful here, 7nm refers to the size of chip components, but different chip makers have nuanced uses of the term.

If losing Apple wasn’t enough, last week the company announced it would delay moving to its 7nm process. The company slipped behind when it was late to market with 10nm technology. Now the 7nm line is at least 12 months behind schedule.

Intel isn’t going away. It managed to grow revenue 20 percent in the last quarter. The company sold almost US$20 billion worth of kit. Even the PC chip business, that’s the bit everyone worries about, was up seven percent.

Yet, it does look as if Intel is no longer the world’s leading chipmaker. It’s brand is no longer a name to conjure with.

Ryzen: When a desktop makes more sense than a laptop

The entire work model we built the concept of laptops around not only doesn’t exist anymore, it may not ever exist again.

Source: Rob Enderle Why a Desktop PC Makes More Sense than a Laptop Today – eWEEK

Enderle has a point when he says that laptops were built for a world we no longer inhabit. He is talking about the way we work has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic upended the idea of heading daily to offices and travelling to work meetings.

AMD Ryzen Pro

While he has a point, it is overstated. That may have something to do with the AMD Ryzen Pro advertisement that shows on the page. It may not. Let’s take the story at face value.

The AMD Ryzen Pro is a range of high-end processors for desktop computers. As always with AMD, there is a focus on performance. Beyond that the new processors are optimised for working from home on desktop computers.

Make that, working from home on a desktop computer when you work for an organisation with IT professionals. Ryzen Pro processors include a dedicated security processor and full memory encryption. They support remote management tools.

Is there really a trend away from laptops?

It’s all interesting enough, yet we’re not here to talk about that. The subject of interest is the trend away from laptops and back to desktops.

Enderle thinks it is a big thing. He writes: “I’m coming around to the idea that laptops as a trend are over, that the new trend will be desktop computers.”

In my book the trend is real enough. I’ve done exactly the same myself. Look out for a post on this when I have some time. In my case I switched before the lockdown and for a different set of reasons.

Yet dumping the laptop is not for everyone. Not by a long chalk.

Sure, we will work away from home less often. For some people it will stop and that’s it. For others there will be less working away from home. Not zero working away from home. When that happens, the laptop is still the right tool most of the time. You could use an iPad if you have a desktop. Many people would prefer to have the one device that works in both cases.

Some prefer laptops

The second reason why there won’t be as big a shift as Enderle suggests is that many people prefer laptops regardless. This may be because people prefer the physical form of a laptop. It maybe because laptops take up less room and do not need a dedicated desk and chair. Not everyone lives in a spacious mansion with a fancy home office.

According to this Statista graph, computer makers sold 166 million laptops in 2019 and 88 million desktops. In round numbers that’s two laptops for every desktop. In 2010 it was 200 million laptops and 157 million desktops, roughly four to three. The blue shows desktops, the dark blue is laptops and the grey shows tablet sales.

There has been a long term drift towards laptops. It stretches back beyond the graph. It’s possible the pandemic trend may halt the drift. Numbers may even drift back a little. But I’m certain desktops are not about to outsell laptops any time soon.