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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Backing up is hard to do (not really!)

Losing all the data on your computer is one of those things that happens to other people. Your computer would never betray you like that. It's loyal, it loves you, it would never freeze up, explode or just delete files. Right, and I'm the richest man in the world.

Data loss happens, even on a Mac - usually at the worst possible moment (thanks Murphy!) You can protect yourself from the inevitable by creating and following a strict backup routine. Making external copies of your files by burning CDs or DVDs or using an external hard drive works well, but only if you make yourself do it.

Luckily, there are a slew of programs that can make backing up easy and painless. These applications allow you create a backup routine - define the files and/or folders you want to backup and the frequency with which they are saved, i.e., once a week, once a day, etc. Some of them are commercial applications, some are shareware/freeware.

Apple Backup (requires a .Mac account) - As a part of the benefits of a .Mac account, Apple has provided a useful and fairly powerful backup application. Backup can save to a variety of places, included CDs, DVDs, an external hard drive, or your iDisk. It has several predefined data sources, but you can include specific files or folders as well. Backup also supports scheduled backups to automate your backups.

Dantz Retrospect - Retrospect is a commercial product, and a little more expensive than the others, but that also means that they will offer better support than some of the other smaller application developers. There are several levels of Retorspect, supporting everything from a home/small office to large corporate servers. Retrospect also supports multiple destinations and scheduled backups.

You Synchronize - As the name suggests, this application focuses on synching up two data sources, one of which, presumably, is a backup. It uses a more advanced comparison technique, rather than simply using a file's modification date, which allows for a more accurate and reliable backup.

Carbon Copy Cloner - CCC is a little more hardcore than the other applications listed here, in that it was designed to create a fully bootable backup of your system. CCC is most useful in copying everything over to a new hard drive. It will make an exact duplicate of your current hard drive, including all file permissions. This application is not for the meek, don't get me wrong, it's probably the best at what it does and it can function in a workable backup routine, but it is a little more daunting to learn.

Deja Vu - Exists as a preference pane, accessible in your system preferences rather than a standalone application. It supports everything the applications support - scheduled backups, multiple files and folders, and it can even clone your entire system, similar to what CCC (mentioned below) does.

iBackup - Similar to the other applications, differing mainly in the trendy use of the "i" at the beginning of it's name. Also, it's free. It will backup files/folders, application preferences, etc, and supports scheduled backups. If you're on a budget, or are simply cheap, it's worth a look.

LaCie SilverKeeper - Also free, this oddly named application supports all the expected backup standards - schedules, multiple destinations, etc. Also worth a look, considering the price.

Another thing to consider when backing up - archives. If you use an external hard drive to back up to, what happens when the disk gets full? Some applications simply synchronize the files and folders which you are backing up, in other words, they create no new files. Others create a new backup file every time they run. These files can be very large depending on what you are backing up, and they will fill a hard drive quickly. A good backup application will allow you to set a specific number of archive to keep and then getting rid of older versions, thus saving you disk space.

My descriptions are far from complete, and I'm sure I left out some perfectly good backup applications, but this list should get you started. Take a look at each application's features, price, and usability - you have to be able to set up the application for it to work properly. And, if all else fails, call yor local Mac Consultant.

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