An email to Carbonite CEO David Friend

A month ago I started using Carbonite on my primary computer at home. Carbonite is a dead simple, turn it on and forget it remote backup service. A tiny client runs on your machine and automatically keeps your important files backed up to Carbonite’s remote servers, which provide an unlimited amount of storage.

Carbonite solves one of the most important problems with backup software, which is that it’s too easy for a person to make a mistake or forget to run a backup. With Carbonite, all you have to do is install the client and relax.

Still, it’s a young product and there are areas where it has a lot of room for improvement. Luckily Carbonite’s CEO, David Friend, puts his email address right on the company’s contact page. I sent him the following email.

Hi Mr. Friend,

Carbonite is a wonderful product that finally gets right what so many others have gotten wrong. It’s the simplest desktop backup software I’ve used, and I’ve tried lots (I even wrote my own before discovering Carbonite).

That said, I do have a few suggestions that I think might make Carbonite better:

1. Windows Vista support.

I’m sure your team is already working hard on this, and I know it doesn’t do anyone any good when you try and rush software development, but I thought I’d let you know that you’ve got at least one enthusiastic customer for whom Vista support is a must (I upgraded just last week).

2. A cleaner, more professional user interface and website.

I know you’re probably aiming at less technical users and I’m not really your core demographic, but one of the things that initially turned me off about Carbonite was the silly, cartoony style used throughout the website and application UI. Once I started using the application and realized how well it worked, I was able to put that aside, but it very nearly made me assume that Carbonite wasn’t powerful or reliable enough for my needs.

As a UI engineer myself, I feel that a clean, simple, professional (but not boring) interface is almost always better than an interface that tries to be too pretty or too colorful. In my opinion, Carbonite’s UI falls into the latter category, with the exception of the system tray icon and the intuitive use of the colored mini-icons that indicate the status of a file in Explorer (both of which are rather elegant).

I’m no marketing guy, but my advice is to ditch the bright colors and cartoony sketches and go for something a little more professional, along the lines of Strongspace (http://www.strongspace.com/).

3. Give advanced users the ability to store their own private encryption keys, so that even Carbonite employees can’t decrypt the data.

I notice in your technical FAQ that this feature is planned for a future version of Carbonite, which I’m looking forward to. I hope it will be implemented in such a way that I can be reasonably certain that my data is secure even from Carbonite employees themselves, not because I don’t trust Carbonite, but because the easiest way to bypass any security system is via a subpoena.

If the only copy of the key is in my possession, I could fight a subpoena to protect my data, but with the key in Carbonite’s possession, I doubt you’d be willing to go to very great lengths on my behalf. I’m not particularly paranoid on this count, but I’d still feel just a little safer knowing that not even Carbonite can access my data without my permission.

4. Allow Carbonite to be used on multiple computers without requiring multiple subscriptions.

I suspect the reason you currently require one subscription per computer is that Carbonite provides unlimited storage space. This makes economic sense for you, but it’s frustrating for me. I have several computers I’d like to back up, but each computer only contains 50MB or less of actual data that needs to be preserved. Thus, it just isn’t worth it for me to spring for the additional Carbonite accounts.

While the unlimited backup feature is a huge selling point, you might want to modify your terms slightly to allow unlimited backup for 1 computer, and perhaps a quota of 500MB to be shared by additional machines. You could then sell additional storage space in blocks so that customers could buy only as much additional space as they need, rather than being forced to purchase additional subscriptions for each machine.

In the meantime, I’ll probably just write a script to have my additional computers copy their important files over to the computer I have a subscription for, which isn’t very convenient.

Thanks for taking the time to read my suggestions. I wish you the best of luck with Carbonite, and I hope to see it become an even better product as I continue to use it.


Ryan Grove
ryan@wonko.com
http://wonko.com/

I haven’t received a response yet, but I’m really hoping Mr. Friend or someone at Carbonite reads emails like this one and takes the feedback seriously. Carbonite has tons of potential.