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Back Up to the Web
Offsite backups are the safest way to protect data. These six services--IBackup, XDrive, FirstBackup, Acpana's Data Deposit Box, ElephantDrive, and Mozy--are free or offer no-cost trials. However, you still must provide credit card information to access the trial versions, so be sure to cancel if you decide that a service isn't for you. Most of the fee-based services I evaluated cancel automatically at the end of the trial period, but XDrive rolls over to the pay plan without bothering to ask for your permission first.
Though IBackup is the best all-around backup service I tested, the beta version of Mozy has much to recommend it, despite some rough edges, so it's a service to keep an eye on. Of course, not the least of its virtues is that it's free.
Both IBackup and XDrive cost the same, and their features are almost identical: multimedia streaming, browser-based file management, and file sharing. However, unlike XDrive, IBackup doesn't require that your friends open an IBackup account to view the files you want to share with them.
The service's client software isn't as easy to use as the XDrive Desktop client. IBackup, though, didn't misfire as XDrive did in my tests. IBackup's IDrive feature, like XDrive Desktop, maps your IBackup files to a network drive to let you drag and drop files between the two.
This service supports file sharing and streaming of media files to cell phones. You can manage your files via the XDrive Desktop client, or in a browser via the service's Web interface. Unfortunately, despite its features, the XDrive Desktop client stumbled too many times: I encountered C++ runtime errors and several failed backups. None of the other client programs I tried even hiccupped.
The client software that this service uses is well designed. My only complaint is that FirstBackup lacks an automatic backup capability during a PC's idle time.
FirstBackup provides just one simple pricing plan: $4 per month (three months minimum) for up to 50MB, $8 per month for up to 300MB, $12 per month for up to 1GB, and $2.75 for each additional gigabyte. Those costs are affordable as long as you're backing up only limited amounts of data, but by the time you reach 5GB, the charges come to a total of $23 per month, more than twice what you would pay for the same amount of storage on either IBackup or XDrive.