How do you back up your data? You DO back up your data don't you? You know grahamt's rule? No data is truly secure unless it exists in three different places, at least one of which is offline. But how do you make these copies? Do you copy each and every file asis or do you use backup and recovery software to create a single file containing all the data? If you are a Windows user, as most of us are, you will likely know that Windows comes with backup and recovery software as a part of the utilities. You will find it by clicking on the Start button in the bottom left-hand corner and then following All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Backup. This utility is based on the software originally written by Veritas, who are now a part of the Symantec Empire. I have used this software in the past. It is effective and reasonably easy to use. It creates a single file containing all of the individual files that you have chosen to backup. The backup can be full, consisting of all of the files in the directories that you have chosen or can be an incremental backup of just those files that have changed since the last backup taken. Normally you would take a full backup say, once a month, and incremental backups once a week or even more frequently, in between. Each run creates a new physical backup file so if you keep them all then you will end up with several copies of the same data in different backup files. This has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that you can at least go back to a very old copy of a file if you have messed up a file and then backed it up. The main disadvantage is that the copies take up a lot of space although, since Windows Backup compiles all the copies into a single file it doesn't take up as much space as if they were each individually backed up in their own right. The other big disadvantage is that the files can only be recovered by using the Windows Backup software. There is no other way of seeing into the composite backup file it creates. That is my main issue with Windows Backup and is the reason I went looking for an alternative solution. In Allways Sync I believe that I have found the answer. Allways Sync is not specifically designed as backup software. Its primary purpose is to enable you to identify identical files in different locations and to ensure that you have the latest version in each. It compares file sizes and modification dates and lets you know which is the most up-to-date. It will also tell you where it cannot decide which is the most current and lets you decide. It then does all the copying to synchronise all the various changed copies, in whichever direction they need to go. Starting up Allways Sync for the first time, you are presented with a window that is basically blank save for two address bars at the top, separated by a large blue arrow with arrowheads at both ends, pointing to each address bar. Beneath each address bar are two buttons, View... and Browse... Browse... enables you to select the directories that you want to participate in the synchronisation exercise. View... enables you to look at the structure of each directory and its sub-directories in an Explorer type window. Once you have chosen these, at its simplest you then just click the Analyze button at the bottom left of the window and of it will go to identify the differences between the files in these directories. If you are happy with what you see you then click the Synchronise button and it starts copying the files between the directories to give you identical file copies in each. As the synchronisation proceeds you can see a log of the activity in a window right at the bottom of the screen. As I say, that's it in its simplest form. This way it's ideal for synchronising files between, say a laptop and a desktop, over a network connection. If you take away files on a laptop or create new ones on the move then Allways Sync can ensure that both the laptop copies and the desktop copies are always up-to-date in both places. Allways Sync even has a capability to analyse the differences between three different sources if two is not enough for you! The list of changed files is displayed in the main window and for each it tells you what differences it has identified. For each file pair there is an arrow between them and on a case-by-case basis you can alter the analysis done by Allways Sync so as to change the synchronisation, either so as to prevent the copy taking place or else to change the direction of synchronisation. You can also force the direction of synchronisation by clicking on the main blue arrow at the top, between the directory addresses. The default is bi-directional but you can change it to right-to-left only or left-to-right only. The resultant file information is split up into five sections, New Files, Changed Files, Unchanged Files, All Files and Excluded Files. At its simplest, all files within the nominated directories will be included but selecting the Properties of the job enables you to specifically identify only those files to be synchronised or to identify files always to be excluded from synchronisation. This can be done by directory or file name or pattern. For instance, I always exclude any Temp directories or Thumbs.db files. Of course, you might want to do different synchronisations on different disks or directories and for this Allways Sync enables you to define multiple job profiles, each with its own synchronisation characteristics. Each job will appear as a tab in the window and you can run each job individually. For instance, I have three jobs, one to back up my C: drive Documents and Settings folders, leaving out the Temp directory, another to back up my D: drive, which is where all my data is held and a final job that copies specifically all of my music files. As I have set it up, Allways Sync copies all of the data to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device (a Buffalo LinkStation 250Gbs which I have reviewed here on Dooyoo) that I have attached to my home computer network. I have just one copy here of the files. I have chosen not to maintain various generations of files so that I could go back to older versions, but that is my choice. You could, however, do this simply by changing the destination folder and not deleting the previous one. For my third copy of the data I have a USB attached Freecom 250 Gbs drive and once again I use Allways Sync in order to synchronise the files now backed up to the NAS device from mine and from other computers in the house with the same data stored on the detachable hard drive, temporarily plugged into the laptop for the purposes of synchronisation only. There are many other features of Allways Synch, such as rules for handling errors during synchronisation and also to enable copies of the job profiles to be exported to backup or imported from a different installation of Allways Sync on another machine. There is also a good Help facility to guide you through the various functions. I have been using Allways Sync now for some time and what has impressed me, other than the sheer effectiveness of this utility, is the frequency with which the author produces new enhanced versions. The one I am currently using is 7.1.2. Best of all, Allways Sync is FREE for "moderate" (!?) personal use. However, there is a Pro version at $19.95 if your usage is likely to be business or commercial. I cannot recommend Allways Sync too highly and it seems that I am not alone. This excellent utility has also received top ratings from various industry download sites. So, what are you waiting for? You only have your data to lose!