Symantec’s first attempt at Norton Online Backup earlier this year lacked many capabilities we expect from an online backup service, capabilities provided by competitors Mozy, Carbonite, and SOS: open-file backup, version saving, and search of backup storage. Norton did have a slick Web-based interface and let you back up files from up to five PCs, however. In addition to addressing many of the deficits in this newest release, Norton Online Backup 2.0 ($49.99 per year for 25GB of storage space), Symantec has also added tabs to the interface, simplified setup, and added Macintosh support.
A 30-day free trial with 5GB of storage lets you test the service; if you opt in and you need more space, it’s available for an additional cost. (Norton 360 users get a limited version of the online backup service with their account: They can restore or download backed-up files, but can’t manage backups online.) Major competitors offer what they call “unlimited” storage, Mozy for $59.40 per year (with 2GB accounts free) and Carbonite for $54.95. SOS is the priciest, at $49.95 for 15GB. Norton’s policy is reasonable, as uploading more than 25GB gets unwieldy, and for your most important documents and media, it’s probably sufficient.
The key improvements in Version 2 are a Mac OS version, file-version saving for up to 90 days (in case you mistakenly change a backed-up file), search, open-file backup, and storage management, with the ability to purge files from your backup list. The service can also now handle mapped network and local drives, including temporary USB key drives. But perhaps of greatest interest is that the service will now let you share access to specified files or folders backed up online. Since the data’s already in the cloud, why not let users securely share it from any Internet connection?
Norton Online Backup can be installed on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 systems, as well as Macs running Mac OS X. Ubuntu support is expected in March 2010, according to Symantec. You need to create a Norton account, and then you download a small local client software program (5MB on the PC, 10MB for the Mac) and install it. A wizard makes this easy. You have to allow the installed program access through your firewall for the service to work. After this, Norton automatically backs up your contacts, Internet Favorites, pictures, financial files, and Office documents.
With this release, Norton has brought its online backup service’s features into the mainstream. Support for multiple PCs, including Macs, in one account and a slick Web-based user interface make this a Norton Online Backup 2.0 a real contender.
Restoring, Downloading, and Sharing
The first version of Norton Online Backup impressed me with its ability to restore from one PC to another in your account, whether or not you were present at either. The app still does this, but adds three big features: search, version saving, and file sharing. The search is a simple box, but, in my tests, it got the job done, quickly finding the files and folders whose names I typed. You can also simply choose a folder or navigate your directories for a particular file, and you can show details.
It’s in this detail view where you can get to all versions created within the last 90 days. A History drop-down shows the versions, and you can choose the one you want from the list; each entry shows the date and time of creation. This is better than Mozy and Carbonite’s 30 days, but nothing can top SOS’s unlimited version saving.
I could easily share a file from my online storage from the Home screen. I just had to click on the File Actions button for the PC I wanted to share from, and choose “Email File Links.” This let me enter multiple recipients’ e-mail addresses and specify a download password (if I wanted one), and offered the same search or directory tree navigation to find the files I wanted to share. It didn’t let me specify a whole folder to share, though you can choose Select all to include all a folder’s files. (The recipient does not need to sign up for a Norton account.)