Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Number 1 Rule Of Computing: MAKE A BACKUP

Now that the manifesto is behind us, here come the Smarticles:

What is the Number 1 rule of computing?


If nobody told you that, for shame. The first words out of any computer guru's mouth to a newbie should be: Make a backup.

Now you are a smarty. You know that deep secret knowledge of computing that was hidden behind all the cultist rhetoric and vagary. There is no ritual, there is no secret handshake, there is no little red book, there is no hidden room behind a secret panel that only the upper echelon of our holy order can enter. You've already been initiated. You bought a Mac (I hope). The secret is yours: Make a backup.

How to make a backup. OK, this is where things get complicated. In the future I will analyze a bunch of backup options. Happily my local Mac User Group did a review of some basic applications and methods last week (relative to this post date). I'll provide a summary in a later post. Meanwhile, I will simply toss you the names of some applications and some brief comments. You can look up all these applications at the great and wonderful (now owned by CNET). The entries there for each application have the price, if any, for the software as well as links to the developer where you can find out more.

  • Retrospect - This was once considered das wunderkind der welt. But EMC, the company who bought the original developer Dantz, has essentially buried the product in its Insignia division for medium and small businesses. If you go to EMC's own website it is literally impossible to find Retrospect listed. Visit instead, which still works. A happy sign that Retrospect may have a future appeared last year when ECM updated the client portion of the server version of the software to 6.2, a Universal Binary, capable of running natively on both PowerPC and Intel Macs. Hopefully an updated version of the server portion of the software will be provided as well, one of these years. The program itself is very complicated but very powerful. It easily provides you with the most backup options of any program I know for Macintosh. It is 100% optical and tape drive savvy with very regular compatibility updates. It is easily the most professional of the current options. Bug: Apparently this now olde, dilapidating version 6.1 of Retrospect is messing up BSD flags, HFS+ extended attributes, permissions, modification dates and ACLs. Conclusion: Wait (possibly forever) for a better, UB version to appear.
  • Time Machine - It comes with every current Mac as part of Mac OS 10.5 'Leopard.' It is super fun and easy to work and play with. It also still has a few bugs and remains somewhat incomplete. Hopefully the 10.5.2 update will complete the program. We shall see. If you've got it, us it! It does require you have an external drive. It is optical media clueless.
  • Backup - This is also from Apple. You can only get it and use it while you are a .Mac member. (.Mac is Apple's niffy kewl online service for Mac users. I love it. I'll have mine with extra SPAM! Actually it has a very good SPAM filtering system. Buy a year's subscription of .Mac via Amazon [CLUE!] as it only costs $80. Otherwise it will cost you $100). The latest version is the first respectable version. It was rubbish in the past. It works great for making daily backups of your most crucial files to your .Mac iDisk space. Apple provide 10 GB. Set it and forget it. It just works.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner - Thank you Mike Bombich! It's free, it's free! Thank gawd allmighty, it's free! This is the single most powerful freeware backup application you can find. Its most famous attribute is the ability to make a bootable backup, meaning that if you use it to back up to an external hard drive, you can boot your Mac from that hard drive. The vast majority of backup programs for Mac, sadly including Apple's own, do NOT provide a real life full complete backup that is bootable, which sucks. CCC is now a Universal Binary. Praise the lawd.
  • SuperDuper - Following in the footsteps of Mike Bombich, this application also makes bootable backups. In 'unregistered mode' it is a rather minimal but effective backup program to an external hard drive. Pay up the $30 for registration and you get bells and whistles well beyond CCC, well worth the cost. This program is beloved among the Mac cognoscenti.
  • iBackup - This is a great little donationware program for backing up files to drive space connected to your computer. It does NOT make bootable backups, it is totally clueless about optical drives. For what it costs, I like it. Use it as a substitute for Apple's own Backup program from .Mac.
  • SilverKeeper - This is about as minimal as you get. But it's free from LaCie. It only backs up to connected drives.
  • Data Backup - Well respected and rated, powerful backup program, a not-quite replacement for Retrospect. Fab! It can make bootable backups. It can write to optical media as well as connected drives. The only things missing are tape archiving ability and unmounted network client capability. It has a decent interface that is less confusing that Retrospect. 30 day trial. Costs $59.
  • Toast - Great for a quick DIY backup to connected drives or optical media. The current version allows spanning a backup across multiple optical discs. Way kewl. I use it a lot. It's biggest failing: You can't make bootable disc images. Don't argue with me. Read the manual. See? You can't. Don't even try.
  • DiskUtility - It comes with Mac OS X! It is a bit less capable than Toast, but does the job for a quick DIY to a connected drive or optical disc. Again, no bootable backup capability.
  • Sync - There are three versions: Backup, Standard and Pro, costing respectively $25, $35 and $45. Each has a 30 day trial. I have never tried them. Previous versions had bugs that dropped metadata from files. Apparently the latest versions are much better. Folks like the interface. It is limited to connected drives. It does not make bootable backups (as far as I know).
There are piles of other backup programs for Mac. If you search for 'backup' at you'll get a list of 205 sort-of-related programs, usually yawners or very old. But I have left out a few gems for particular niches. These include the 'Synchronize!' series, Deja Vu (which comes with Toast), SmartBackup, AASync, MimMac, FolderSynchronizer, and BRU (which may well be a reasonable replacement for Retrospect).

VERY IMPORTANT: I suggest you check out the article linked HERE to review the potential bugs in a variety of Mac backup programs, including several I mention above. When you read this article, take note of the version they are talking about. This article is now OLD (April 2006), and many of the applications have since been updated with solutions to these bugs.

Use your knowledge. Ancient Techno Geek Proverb: He whose hard drive crashes and has no backup, gets what he deserves. --Sad but true.

Share and Enjoy,