Backing ups not hard to do
by Deborah Shadovitz
|As the New Year approaches we tend to access past behaviors and resolve to do better. So Ive got a question for you: Do you backup your Mac? Be honest now
Is the answer no, or sometimes? If so
(can you guess?) I have another resolution for you. But unlike the one about losing weight or getting fit, this is easy and Ill help right now, by providing some advice.
First, in case youre relying on automatic backup within a program, (such as within Quicken, MYOB, or Word), lets clarify something. While that does make an extra copy of that applications file, it probably places the copy on your everyday hard disk. Therefore, if your disk corrupts, the backup is no more accessible than your original. It may come in handy if your original corrupts, but not if your hard drive becomes unreadable. In fact, even if your drive remains in perfect shape, you still dont have a satisfactory solution if your file becomes corrupted youll be backing up a bad file, replacing your good backup with a bad one. Did that change your "yes I backup" to an "oops, guess I don?"
In this column Ill introduce you to backup.
What should I backup?
Wihile its ideal to backup your entire hard drive, that takes up a ton of disk space. Actually, its not necessary to backup applications, since you can simply reinstall them. In fact, a crash is a good excuse to do a fresh install of your programs. More importantly, backup every file you create for your own use, since those are not available anywhere else at any price. Retrospect Express (mentioned later) makes it very easy to backup only your own files. I also backup my System Folder, so I can simply drag the copy back to my drive if my System corrupts. (Both Retrospect and Speed Doubler make this easy.)
When should I backup?
Backup whenever you create files you prefer not to lose. If you only backup once a week, be willing to lose a weeks work, address, appointments, finances, etc. Its best to backup after each workday. This is the backup Id do with Retrospect Express. The recommended pattern is to create two backups, updating each on alternating days, always storing one set off-site. With dual copies youre protected in case a disk goes bad or if you unknowingly backup a corrupted file and need to revert back a couple of days. By storing a copy off-site, youre protected in case one backup is stolen or damaged by fire, flood, etc. (If you dont keep an offsite copy, at least leave a backup with a friend any time you leave town.)
In addition, when doing an intricate project such as a database system, I do an extra project backup. I designate one Zip disk as that projects backup disk. Before each break or major change to the database, I pop in the Zip and drag the projects folder onto the disk, then append the folders name with the date and time. Maybe its overkill, but it makes me feel safe. I can also carry that disk with me to the job site in case I need something from it.
What do I backup to?
As mentioned, saving a backup to your everyday disk isnt helpful if the disk becomes totally corrupted. Likewise, backing up to an extra internal or external hard disk is risky; should lightning or fire damage your computer, it might also damage that drive. By far, its best to backup to a removable disk. That way the disk wont be damaged if your Mac is, its easy to carry the disks off-site, and its least costly to create multiple copies.
Any reliable removable medium will work. I wrote about a few last month. In the most affordable arena theres Iomegas Zip for Mac ($110) and iMac (soon or newly out) with 100MB disks (10/$98) Imations exciting SuperDisk Drive ($147) and 120MB removable disks (5/$70) for iMac and Syquests 230MB EZFlyer ($149.99) for Mac (disks 10/$200). In the gig arena are Iomegas 1 or 2GB Jaz ($290/$380) for Mac (cartridges 3/$250 or 3/$290), and Syquests 1.5GB SyJet ($300) for Mac (cartridges 3/$250) or (if released) 1GB SparQ ($250) for iMac (disks $40). (Iomega.com, imation.com, syquest.com) Many businesses use tape backups. Others backup to CD. There is also Magneto Optical. Or, perhaps a friend has an unused, trusty Iomega Bernouli. [Prices: Cyberian Outpost, outpost.com.)
What software do I need?
While possible to backup simply by dragging your files to a spare disk, its definitely not the fastest or most efficient way to go, for many reasons. Imagine you backup a folder by dragging it to your removable disk. The first time the folders entire contents are copied. The next day you want to backup the files youve changed. The MacOS doesnt know to copy only files youve changed. Instead, it wants to replace the entire folder. Its all or nothing so you have to recopy the entire folder. Not only do you waste time recopying files needlessly, but you are also deleting the last days backup. You could append the first backups name with the date, then copy the entire folder again, keeping both folders, but then youve got a ton of redundant information if most files hadnt changed.
Dantz, (dantz.com) the long-time leader in backup software, provides are far more efficient method. It actually offers two programs: Retrospect Remote, for businesses and high-end users, and Retrospect Express, perfect for the average user.
By default, Retrospect Express does an archival backup so previously backed up files are kept until you choose to remove them. This is more convenient than a disk mirror backup, which would delete files from the backup if you delete them from your hard drive. It is also safer in case of file corruption because it saves each version of your documents. To demonstrate, imagine you spend weeks working on a document (and backup daily). One day, realizing you made a mistake, or discovering the document corrupted, you simply retrieve a former, good version.
Another nice Retrospect Express feature is the ability to pre-select which files will be stored in a backup by creating catalogs called StorageSets. You might create a set to backup your business files, and another for your personal files, or one for your work and another for an associate. You can even combine files from various drives or from a connected network into one set. When a StorageSet outgrows its first backup disk Retrospect asks for another disk (called a member) and tracks the set across the disks. StorageSet catalogs are stored on your hard drive, so you can use a catalog to view its the list of files without mounting the disk. Unlike the scenario of copying the files yourself, Retrospect does an incremental backup by comparing the files to be backed up against the StorageSet, then copying only those which are new or altered.
Another great feature of Retrospect Express is its eight real-world predefined criteria (called Selectors) for appointing files for backup. For example, you can choose Documents & Preferences, which copies your files, but not your applications or system. (Since Preferences are important personalizations, it does include them.) Another Selector lets you backup everything excluding items you assign the Cool label to in the Finder, or copy only those you label Hot.
Retrospect Express is fully scriptable and easy to set schedules for. Its documentation is good and I find Dantz staff terrific.
Another way to backup is to take advantage of Connectix Speed Doublers smart replace option. It compares modification dates, then recopies only files which have changed. However, if you remove a file from your hard drive, that file will also be removed from the copy. Therefore, this wont be an archival backup, but a disk mirror. The Copy Agent feature also lets you schedule backup copies using a simple 4-step interface. (You can also synchronize files between two disks.) I love the smart replace and rely heavily on it for file copying, also using it to do quick backups for individual projects. (I also love everyone I deal with at Connectix, connectix.com.)
And if you didnt backup and the worst happens?
So Ive provided some great advice here and you vow to begin backing up in 99. But before you get around to it .you crash. What can you do when youve lost ability to mount your hard drive and read your files?
Did you happen to have Tech Tool Pro and use its Protection feature? Or Norton Utilities FileSaver? If so, you can follow their respective directions and recover your files. But, well you never got around to that either and now your drive has crashed and the files dont show up What next? Believe it or not, theres a do-it-yourself answer a shareware(!) called Data Rescue (by Sylvain Demongeot). I learned of it at maccentral.com where readers raved that it saved them. Its easy to use and very powerful. Its so small you can keep it on a floppy so its handy when needed. Impressively, it also handles HFS+ drives. [HFS+ is reputed to be more stable than Apples older standard HFS but without applications that worked with it, I hesitated to use it. Now that I have Tech Tool Pro and Data Rescue I feel comfortable and converted all my drives.] You can find Data Resue via versiontracker.com or remember Sylvains site, wildbits.com. I recommend downloading it, trying it so youre comfortable with it, then keeping it handy. Unregistered, you can restore one file at a time so you to see how well itll work before purchasing it. (Incredibly fair and impressive.)
(In case youre wondering, I recommend Tech Tool Pro, but its full abilities are another story. Sorry, I cant recommend the latest Norton Utilities.)
If youre lucky your drive will never crash and your files will never corrupt but I dont know anyone that lucky. Unfortunately, even with Macs, these are issues we live with at this stage of computing. Fortunately, with these simple, inexpensive precautions the inconvenience of a crash is minimal.
Happy New Year
©Deborah Shadovitz 10-1-1998