A simple insurance policy should a tech disaster strike your home, Google's free cloud sync tool has some great new features.
Traditionally the simplest way to protect your important files like digital photos, school assignments and business reports was to copy them to a USB drive, or perhaps to a Network Attached Storage drive tucked away in the spare room.
This setup might protect you against hard drive failure and accidental deletion, but you're still in big trouble if fire, flood or theft claims both your computer and your onsite backups.
That's why you need the extra protection of offsite backups, and this is where the cloud comes in handy. Watch out for home network drives which sell themselves as a "Personal Cloud" – to allay cloud security fears – and keep all your backups on the premises. Your home's files aren't truly protected against disaster unless you have copies safely stored elsewhere.
By default, Google Backup and Sync protects your Desktop, Documents and Pictures folders rather than expecting you to move important files into a new sync folder.
Desktop software which automatically uploads your files to the cloud for safekeeping can be divided into two main camps: Sync and Backup.
Sync services like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive are primarily designed to sync files between your computers, with the added benefit of keeping copies in the cloud.
Sync software is easy to install and you tend to get a few gigabytes of free storage. The biggest frustration is that to protect your files you need store them in a special sync folder on your computer, there's no easy way to point the sync software at your entire My Documents folder.
Meanwhile, dedicated Backup software tends to offer a lot more granular control over which files you backup and how often your backups run. You can point your Backup software at any folder, rather than a special sync folder, but one trade-off is that Backup services tend to be more expensive.
To further complicate things, most of the major dedicated Backup services have added Sync features in the last few years to help ward off competition from the likes of Microsoft and Google. At the same time some Sync services are fleshing out their Backup options, which brings us to the new Google Backup and Sync which is available for Windows and MacOS.
Your files can stay put
The biggest change with Google Backup and Sync is that you can now choose which folders on your computer to backup. By default it covers your Documents, Pictures and Desktop folders on PC or Mac, but you can add other folders.
Log into Google Drive on a computer, smartphone or tablet and below My Drive you'll find a new option called Computer where you'll find the files backed up from your computers.
Straight away this makes Google Backup and Sync easier to install on the computers of less-tech-savvy friends and relatives, because you don't need to force them to change their habits and start saving their important files in a special sync folder. Sometimes it's hard enough to get them to ensure all their important files are somewhere within their My Documents folder, let alone a special sync folder.
Admittedly it's possible to tinker with Windows and redirect the My Documents folder so it lives within a special sync folder, I've done that before for OneDrive, but there's no need for this hassle if you're backing up to Google.
Google lets you throttle the overall upload and download speeds, to ensure your backups don't choke your broadband connection, but you'll need to keep an eye on your monthly data limit if your ISP counts uploads (which most do). It only uploads new and changed files, so after your initial backup it shouldn't chew through too much data.
Unlike dedicated Backup services, Google Backup and Sync still doesn't offer the ability to restrict your backups to specific file types or sub-folders. Nor can you create multiple schedules to backup some files more often than others.
Thankfully Google Drive does store previous versions of your files online for 30 days, letting you turn back time if you fall victim to a cryptolocker ransomware attack. You need to manage this on a file by file basis, you can't choose a point in time and rollback an entire folder in one go.
Google grants you 15GB worth of free storage, which will meet the needs of many basic users and is a lot more generous than OneDrive or Dropbox. You can upgrade to 100MB or 1TB for $2.49 or $12.49 per month respectively, with a discount if you pay by the year.
If you want more storage space from Google you can opt to upload your photos into Google Photo in "High Quality" rather than "Original", so they don't count towards your storage limit. The trade-off is that it downscales large images to 16 megapixels. Digital SLR owners won't be happy with this, but it isn't a problem if you're only shooting happy snaps on a smartphone or compact digital camera.
There's also the option to automatically backup images from USB or SD cards inserted into your computer, which makes life easier for people who don't want the hassle of manually dragging photos into their desktop My Pictures folder.
Stay in sync
Google still offers the same Sync features as before, ensuring that anything in your sync folder on your computer is automatically uploaded to the cloud and downloaded to your other computers. Thankfully you can control which cloud folders are synced to which computers.
You can also access these synced files via Google Drive but keep in mind that, unlike Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive won't let you edit Office files in the cloud (it copies them as a Google Doc which you can edit). Nor will Google automatically download files you've created online and store them as Office files on your computer.
Google Backup and Sync won't cut it for everyone, power users will probably still find it too basic compared to the granular control you get from dedicated backup services. Business users, even small/home office users, might also prefer more advanced restore options with the ability to easily rollback entire folders.
That said, if you're responsible for looking after the computing needs of less tech-savvy friends and relatives then Google Backup and Sync provides them with a handy insurance policy should disaster strike.
If your loved ones don't have any kind of backup protection then get them onto Google Backup and Sync today, while you weigh up your options. If their tech problems become your tech problems, Google Backup and Sync might save everyone a lot of heartache.