What to back up
You can never go wrong backing up every file in your user folder, but if you choose to back up only some of your personal files, consider the following:
1. Active Documents Files you work on actively and change frequently—spreadsheets, presentations, or your novel, for instance—need protection most urgently. Many backup programs have a feature that lets you choose files according to their creation or modification date. Use this to select the files you’ve created or changed during the past month or two, as those are the ones you’re most likely to need again soon.
2. E-mail Messages If, like many people, you rely on saved messages to keep track of important information, make sure you back them up. Apple Mail stores all your saved messages in your user folder /Library/Mail. For Eudora, the default location is your user folder /Documents/Eudora Folder. Entourage stores e-mail, along with contact, calendar, and other information, in your user folder /Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2004 Identities/Main Identity.
3. Calendar, Address Book, and Keychain Data Apple iCal stores data in your user folder /Library/Application Support/iCal. Address Book stores it in your user folder /Library/Application Support/AddressBook. And your keychains—filled with all those important passwords you no longer remember—hang out in your user folder /Library/Keychains.
4. Purchased Audio and Video You can always rerip music from CDs you own, but you need to back up purchases from the iTunes Store. These files are mixed in with your other iTunes tracks in your user folder /Music/iTunes Music. Using your backup program’s selectors, pinpoint files that have an extension of .m4p (audio) and .m4v (video).
5. Your Preferences If you must reinstall lots of applications after a disk crash, one of the most time-consuming tasks you’ll face is reentering settings, serial numbers, and other options. You can greatly reduce the work by backing up your user folder /Library/Preferences.
6. Browser Settings Safari stores its settings, including your bookmark list and AutoFill information, in your user folder /Library/Safari. If you use Mozilla Firefox, the critical folder is your user folder / Library/Application Support/Firefox, which also contains any extensions or themes you’ve added to Firefox.
[ Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]