Jan 30, 2011

Make a backup and restore from it on N900 (Maemo)

Note: this is an instruction for N900 (Maemo) users who are not very familiar with Linux. If you live and breathe Linux, go to Maemo wiki page on Manual backup and restore instead.

Recently, my N900 developed a severe case of USB port failure, which required me to send it in for repairs (luckily, it was still covered by the 1-year producer warranty). Annoyingly enough, Nokia as part of its privacy-protection policy will erase all your data (presumably reformatting/reflashing your phone, or whatever is the correct term for what they do to smartphones there...). And no, you cannot opt out of this :( Kind of makes me curious - what guarantee do I have that Nokia techs will not snoop around my phone all they want anyway before they clean the data? But I digress.

Unfortunately, there is no good guide to making backups (or restoring from them). The manual  has a brief and decent information on creating or restoring from a backup (p.102-103, see also p.111); it however assumes your backup will be on phone's drive or a microSD card, which is not always the case, and forgets some crucial details (such as the importance of the file structure - more on that later). Maemo wiki pages (Manual backup and restore and what I presume is the page about the backup app) are, as usual, written in the higher geek, which may be fine if you know your way around Linux. For non-Linux users like myself, they are (as almost everything on Maemo wiki), pretty useless :( I found only one page online with a partial guide and some screenshots... hence, I decided to write this one.

It took me a while, but I was able to master the N900/Maemo backup/restore, and I even figured out how to do so with a faulty usb cable, no microSD, no wireless or Internet connection. Even in the perfect situation, with no hardware failures, backup/restore is not very userfriendly - I certainly wouldn't expect my parents to be able to do it.

So, to save you all some time, here's my guide to back and restore with N900.

1. How to access the default back-up application (in high geek the app seems to be called osso-backup, not that I can find that name in the application GUI...):

1.1 Access menu (top left, the symbol below - but if you don't recognize it, really, how long did you have the phone?):
1.2.Scroll down to the backup application, open it.

Here are the three applications useful for backup operations.

2. How to make a backup (using the default app mentioned above).

2.1 Click on New backup button in the bottom left, the procedure is fairly simple. On the first screen, you name your backup and select whether the backup's location is your phone's harddrive or a microSD card (if you have one in your phone); on the second you can (de)select stuff to backup (but why would you...?) and once you click select button, the backup will proceed. It should take about a minute or so.

The backups will be saved in the "backups" folder in the whatever passes as the top-level (root) directory (for Maemo's default File Manager and my Windows Total Commander when it accesses Maemo; note that there is some weird Linux hidden structure that you can access with other apps, like Mindnight Commander; I find it confusing as heck...). Whatever you chose as the name of your backup will be the name of the relevant subfolder in the "backups" folder (so, if you named your backup "backup december", you'll find the "backup december" subfolder in the "backups" folder). Simple, right?

 This is the backup app main menu. Pretty self-explanatory, no options are hidden at the top or are "right-clickable" anywhere, as far as I can tell.
Note that based on the screen above, you'd expect to find a "backups" folder in the root directory, and within it, two folders: "Backup test" and "Backup december."

2.1.1 As the backup app itself notes, it will back up Communications and Calendar, Bookmarks, Settings, Application list. What it means is that it will not backup anything else, such as: Application settings, your documents, photos, music files, and such. If you want to back them up, you'll have to manually copy them to wherever you keep your back-ups (and I strongly suggest you keep them somewhere outside your phone, like on your computer harddrive). Now if your USB cable is working, you can transfer the backup folder to your computer. I suggest you transfer the entire "backups" folder, because you'll need it for restoring (it is not created by default after a fresh install...). How to copy that stuff? Assuming you have a working USB cable, I use Total Commander on Windows. Your platform and soft may vary (although for Windows, I do believe TC is "the best" file management tool there is...), but you should be able to access N900 and copy files over just like you'd do with any removable drive

2.2 Note that if your N900 is connected to something (your comp, presumably) by a USB, and that device can access files on your smartphone, the backup application will not work, it will complain about "USB cable connected." If you are just charging, it should still be ok, but if you connected in the mass storage or pc suite mode, it won't.

2.3 If you have a microSD card, after you click the new backup option, the backup app on the screen where you name your backup will have a choice of where you want to save your backup (location: your_device or external_memory_card). You can also copy the "backups" folder between those locations manually. If the proper file structure was preserved - as in "backups/your backup name" is in the card's root directory), the backup app will see them.

Frankly, unless you find  yourself in the unlikely situation with broken USB port, no Internet/wireless and an urgent need to make the backup before your device fails completely, skip the 2.4 and go to 3 (restore) section.

2.4 If you want to use Bluetooth, don't - unless it is your last resort. It is much more painful than using the device drive/copy over the USB method (preferred) or the microSD; I had to do so because I found myself with a device with a broken USB port, no microSD (I should've just bought one...), no wireless or Internet connection. If so do you:

2.4.1 Make the backup on device harddrive as instructed above.

2.4.2 Establish a Bluetooth connection between N900 and the device (your comp) you want to transfer files over. This is the part I find very annoying, I was following the manual / guides on both devices, yet it took ages before they saw one another. I have no desire to waste hours of my life trying to replicate it, plus even if I did, it would only cover Windows XP on one end. If you know any good guides to N900 Bluetooth, post them in the comments.

2.4.3 Once you have a Bluetooth connection between your platforms, use the phone's File Manager to transfer files. Annoyingly, it cannot transfer folders, fortunately, you'll only have to transfer six files. Start the File Manager, click on your N900 (or the microSD if this is where you saved the backup), go to "backups" folder, go to your folder, click on each file, chose share, chose Bluetooth. On your target device, don't forget to copy the files to the "backups/name of the backup" structure properly. Note that File Manager, just like the backup app, will not work if another device can access the smartphone's file structure (which shouldn't be the case if you have restored to using Bluetooth, but keep that in mind for some weird occasions).

To use File Manager Bluetooth transfer, "right click" on the file, chose Share, and this menu will appear. Alternatively, you may be able to use some better file manager on your computer to access N900. I think I was able to use something on XP, but I am not sure (it was a month or so ago). If you cannot, use the File Manager option I discuss above.

2.5 Come to think of it, you could probably use an email to send the files, or share them through a website, FTP or in some other ways. As when I was doing my backup I had no Internet connection or even wireless, those where not an option for me.

3. How to restore (using the default app).

3.1 Select backup to restore (highlight it), click restore. Keep in mind that the backup has to be in the proper file structure ("backups/your backup name") for the backup up to see it. The backup app can find them on N900 harddrive or the microSD. Note that a fresh install will not have a "backups" folder, so if you just copied the "your backup name" folder, you'll have to recreate the "backups" folder in the phone's root directory (or on the microSD card). This caused me some grief as I did not realize the importance of the "backups" folder early on, and I spend a while researching things on the net trying to figure out what to do with those files, before I realized (myself, no help to the net) that I need to recreate the backup folder structure in the phone's root directory... on the bright side, this folder is just a name, nothing special (but keep in mind it is a lowercase "backups", not "Backups").

This will NOT restore your applications, to do so you need to go to Application Manager, and from the top menu, chose Restore applications. This will give you a list of the applications you can restore, based on your backup file, all checked by default. Uncheck those you don't want, proceed to the installation (make sure your device is plugged in, this will drain the battery quickly). This may take a while, check the device periodically to click through some license/warning screens. I ended up redownloading and installing 300mb content in an hour period.

 To restore applications, go to Application Manager, click the Application manager pull down menu at the top, and you'll see the following three options. Chose Restore applications, obviously.

Of course, this will not restore stuff not backed up (documents, music files, etc.). Copy those over manually (if you have backed them up manually before).

If you have some problems, try to ensure you have no more than one backup to restore from (I am not sure how the app handles multiple backups). And it seems to give me grief when I try to restore applications for the second time ("operation failed" trying to generate an app list), so make sure you select what you want properly the first time (or you may have to install them manually one by one later).

I hear there are other backup applications out there. Links to any how-to-use guides and reviews there will be certainly appreciated.

Oh, and for a while now I've been thinking that I should post a review of N900... we will see :)

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