App can take a crashed system back in time

Score: B

Wild File Inc., Plymouth, Minn.;
tel. 612-551-9998
Price: $69.95

Pros and cons:
+Restores entire system to a previous configuration
+Records document versions for emergency retrieval
+Has supplemental virus protection
– Needs 10 percent of hard drive to work properly

Windows 9x, 486 or faster processor, 16M of RAM, CD-ROM
drive, 10 percent of hard drive capacity

keeps track of all system events and safe points on a PC and, if a crash or another
problem occurs, can take it back to a point in time before the trouble started.

The GCN Lab would like to test a time machine, but so far no vendor has sent us a
working model, nor has Rocky, Bullwinkle or Mr. Peabody. Wild File Inc., however, has sent
a program that simulates time travel for PCs. GoBack can reset a crashed system to a time
when everything was working.

It takes periodic snapshots and records each time you install new software, change a
document, open or close a program, reboot or trigger a system event. Then it sets up
safe-zone time slots in which all system information is backed up. You can view the system
events and the list of safe zones in a menu and set the configuration back exactly as it
was at an earlier time.

Say you install a program at 3:14 p.m. that conflicts with another program, throwing
the system into chaos at 3:16. Pull up GoBack and study the list of system events and safe
time zones. Double-click on a safe time shortly before you installed the new program. Your
system will revert to its status at that time.

I tried several tests to confuse GoBack. For example, I saved a Microsoft Word document
at 11:15 a.m. and then installed new software at 11:16, pretending that it caused a system
configuration error. I knew GoBack would let me reset the system, but I wanted to keep the
Word document, too.

Surprisingly, GoBack let me do it. I reset the system to 11:10 a.m., before the new
software was installed. But I asked GoBack to retrieve the Word document, which was
created after the 11:10 a.m. safe time. GoBack had saved the document’s creation as a
system event.

I pulled other old documents back into being, even ones that had long been erased. I
could view older versions of existing documents because every save is recorded as an
event. Need something from an old document? Revert an existing document to its old form,
or compare a copy of the old document against its up-to-date version.

One of GoBack’s claims did turn out to be slightly unreliable. The instruction
manual said GoBack could disinfect a computer that catches a virus by reverting to a time
before the virus took hold.

I keep a disk full of harmless but stealthy viruses that I use to test antivirus
programs. My favorite is one I created with one of the many Web virus creation engines. It
can replicate itself and hide within programs. The only difference between it and a
malicious virus is that my virus merely hides.

In my tests, GoBack restored my system to a point where the virus was not in the

So far, so good. But if a virus immediately activates and destroys all data, GoBack
itself will no longer exist and cannot restore anything.

Most viruses do hide for at least a brief period before going active, so GoBack’s
restore process could target some of them. Even so, GoBack is no substitute for a good
virus scanner.

It’s also no help if the system is not working properly when you load GoBack. It
sets up a database at the time it is installed, so pre-existing problems are unfixable.

GoBack’s main drawback is that it takes up about 10 percent of the hard drive to
maintain the numerous backup configurations. On a 10G drive, GoBack occupies a whole
gigabyte—a huge amount of space to devote to one program.

Space concerns aside, GoBack works better than I would have imagined. I have seen
similar utilities for servers, but none for the desktop PC. GoBack puts restoration and
backup power right where it belongs: in the user’s hands.  

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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