Backing up’s not hard to do

(And what to do if you didn’t.) or, to keep the rhythm, (But if you don’t, what do you do?)

by Deborah Shadovitz

As the New Year approaches we tend to access past behaviors and resolve to do better. So I’ve 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 I’ll help right now, by providing some advice.

First, in case you’re 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 application’s 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 don’t have a satisfactory solution — if your file becomes corrupted you’ll 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 I’ll introduce you to backup.

What should I backup?

Wihile it’s ideal to backup your entire hard drive, that takes up a ton of disk space. Actually, it’s 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 week’s work, address, appointments, finances, etc. It’s best to backup after each workday. This is the backup I’d 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 you’re 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, you’re protected in case one backup is stolen or damaged by fire, flood, etc. (If you don’t 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 project’s backup disk. Before each break or major change to the database, I pop in the Zip and drag the project’s folder onto the disk, then append the folder’s name with the date and time. Maybe it’s 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 isn’t 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, it’s best to backup to a removable disk. That way the disk won’t be damaged if your Mac is, it’s easy to carry the disks off-site, and it’s least costly to create multiple copies.

Any reliable removable medium will work. I wrote about a few last month. In the most affordable arena there’s Iomega’s Zip for Mac ($110) and iMac (soon or newly out) with 100MB disks (10/$98) Imation’s exciting SuperDisk Drive ($147) and 120MB removable disks (5/$70) for iMac and Syquest’s 230MB EZFlyer ($149.99) for Mac (disks 10/$200). In the gig arena are Iomega’s 1 or 2GB Jaz ($290/$380) for Mac (cartridges 3/$250 or 3/$290), and Syquest’s 1.5GB SyJet ($300) for Mac (cartridges 3/$250) or (if released) 1GB SparQ ($250) for iMac (disks $40). (,, 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,

What software do I need?

While possible to backup simply by dragging your files to a spare disk, it’s 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 folder’s entire contents are copied. The next day you want to backup the files you’ve changed. The MacOS doesn’t know to copy only files you’ve changed. Instead, it wants to replace the entire folder. It’s 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 day’s backup. You could append the first backup’s name with the date, then copy the entire folder again, keeping both folders, but then you’ve got a ton of redundant information if most files hadn’t changed.

Retrospect Express

Dantz, ( 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.

Speed Doubler

Another way to backup is to take advantage of Connectix’ Speed Doubler’s 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 won’t 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,

And if you didn’t backup and the worst happens?

So I’ve 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 you’ve lost ability to mount your hard drive and read your files?

Did you happen to have Tech Tool Pro and use it’s 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 don’t show up… What next? Believe it or not, there’s a do-it-yourself answer — a shareware(!) called Data Rescue (by Sylvain Demongeot). I learned of it at where readers raved that it saved them. It’s easy to use and very powerful. It’s so small you can keep it on a floppy so it’s handy when needed. Impressively, it also handles HFS+ drives. [HFS+ is reputed to be more stable than Apple’s 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 or remember Sylvain’s site, I recommend downloading it, trying it so you’re comfortable with it, then keeping it handy. Unregistered, you can restore one file at a time so you to see how well it’ll work before purchasing it. (Incredibly fair and impressive.)

(In case you’re wondering, I recommend Tech Tool Pro, but its full abilities are another story. Sorry, I can’t recommend the latest Norton Utilities.)

If you’re lucky your drive will never crash and your files will never corrupt — but I don’t 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