Ken's Windows hard drive died and it took us two days to recover from a full backup we'd made with Norton's horrible software. So I went looking for better recovery software. And I may have found it in ReBit, either as $25 software or $140 with a 500 GB backup drive.
MacOS' Time Machine sets the standard for consumer backup software. ReBit isn't quite as impressive but it's pretty good. It's a simple install-and-forget backup solution. No configuring backup schedules, no managing disk space. Just plug in a big USB drive, click a couple of buttons to install, and forget about it. The rest of this blog post is pretty technical, but a key selling feature of ReBit is you don't need to know any of this technical crap. Just trust the frog and you can get your files back.
A word on Windows backup. You have three choices: remote file backup, local file backup, or local disk image backup. I like JungleDisk for remote backup but it's not suitable for recovering a failed 500 gigabyte system disk. Local file backups are also not very useful for disaster recovery; you'll have to reinstall Windows from CD. Recent versions of Windows have a cool Volume Snapshot Service that lets you make consistent copies of a full disk image, but the built-in tool seems to not support making shadow copies to an external disk. (Ie: useless in the event of a disk failure.)
ReBit seems to work by using the VSS every 24 hours to make a recovery point. In addition it is continuously doing incremental backups while you work; every time the mouse goes idle it'll start backing up changed files. In practice it works quite well, although I find the chattering hard drive a bit annoying.
Backup is easy, what really matters is the restore process. Restoring individual files is really simple. The backups just look like another drive in Explorer, you can open or copy off the files you need. You can also get to older versions of individual files, but it's a bit awkward and there seems to be no facility for getting back an entire folder at once from some old version. So not ideal, but good enough for typical file restores. And very, very easy. I haven't tested a full system recovery; don't really want to chance wiping my drive. The restore disc booted just fine on my system into a simple Linux GUI that presumably knows how to a system restore.
ReBit's not perfect. The CD I bought from Amazon didn't support Vista/64, so I had to contact support to download a more recent version. The software has some activation-based DRM that locks the software to one machine. I'm ok with that, but they damn well never require activation to recover data from the backup. There's a few minor UI bugs here and there. But ReBit's email support has been good and the important stuff, the backup and restore system, seems to be working just great.