Sunday, February 08, 2009

Software Review: Stellar Phoenix Macintosh

box-packIt is said that there are two types of hard drives: those that have failed and those that are going to fail. It is simple math: your hard drive will fail, it's just a matter of time. Obviously good backups are your first line of defense. Your second line of defense is a data recovery program like Stellar Phoenix. I reviewed their 1.0 product a few years back and the program was extremely rough around the edges and not ready for the general public. The 3.0 version of the software is a welcome revision, but the program still isn't a truly "Mac friendly" product, often using unix-style prompts rather then standard Mac dialog boxes. The program retails for $129 and has a 30 day money back guarantee.

Stellar is a primarily a PC based software manufacturer and it shows. Their user interface doesn't look like a Mac program. It follows few, if any MacOS design conventions. In particular, their help system uses Windows icons and the Windows help interface. Their marketing material also shows a fundamental lack of Macintosh background. They refer to repair situations that only occur on older systems running OS 9. In addition, they refer to "Lacie" [sic] drives, when they apparently means external hard drives. Why they are using the generic term "LaCie" to refer to external hard drives is unclear, but I'm sure Maxtor, Seagate, and Other World Computing are annoyed by it.

As stated earlier, the interface of the program doesn't follow Mac conventions and is quite confusing. You are faced with three choices for recovery: "Hard Drive", "iPod", or "Recover Photos, Music & Video Files." However, the options are basically the same whichever one you choose, which is confusing. Once you choose one of the recovery types you have to decide between "Formatted media/Lost File Recovery" and "Search Lost/Deleted Volumes." The documentation doesn't make clear the difference. The choices also don't warn you it doesn't recover from FAT32 or NTFS volumes, which many external hard drive and flash drives use. Other programs warn you of this fact, Stellar simply says no data found, which can be misleading at times.

Unfortunately, because development is done outside the US, the program documentation and interface suffers from the typical grammatical confusion that occurs after something is translated from its native language to English. Similarly, technical support is not US based and when I had problems I was unable to effectively communicate with them and have my questions adequately addressed. Do not count on being able to contact technical support if you purchase this product.

In spite of the language barriers and the interface, if you are able to figure things out on your own, the product seems to perform well. Obviously testing data recovery properly is difficult because most recovery attempts change the reliability of future recovery attempts. Nonetheless, I recently had an opportunity to try it both as the first program for recovery and the second program, and Stellar Phoenix effectively recovered data consistent with other programs in the same price range. However, unlike other applications in its price range, Stellar Phoenix does not have a bootable DVD version. You must install Stellar on a computer before you can use it. This greatly limits Stellar's ability to recover in emergency situations. Most other programs cost less and offer more options than Stellar.

Overall, the program does work, although the documentation and interface is quite confusing. This would not be the first nor the primary tool I would recommend to use in a crisis to recover files off a hard drive. If other options fail you, Stellar is worth at least a try with their free evaluation and 30 day money back guarantee.

Pros: Works decently and is another tool to try for data recovery
Cons: Poor interface, documentation and support.

3 out of 5 dogcows
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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right