Singing the Praises of Backup

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If you think of Apple’s .Mac service as little more than an overpriced repository for e-mail and Web pages, how wrong you are. Need proof? Look no further than Backup, a software application that Apple makes available exclusively to .Mac subscribers. And with Macworld taking a look at OS X backup strategies this week, I thought I’d explain how .Mac’s Backup is part of my approach.

Left to its own devices Backup will archive to your iDisk—the Finder-mountable online storage space that .Mac gives you as a subscriber. It can backup content to a local writeable CD or DVD or another mounted drive if you prefer—making it suitable to use as a whole-system archival solution—though you still need an active .Mac account to make it work.

Backup can be set to do this in the middle of the night or at other times you’re not using your Mac to be as unobtrusive as possible—you set the frequency and the time you want it done. Most of the time, I’m not even aware of Backup’s existence, unless I happen to be up in the middle of the night at the time Backup automatically starts up and does its thing.

Mac Backup

This “set it and forget it” configuration really works well for someone like me. I can’t be bothered even to stick new tapes in a backup system, let alone go through the hassle of actually setting up a coherent backup schedule. I usually work with a PowerBook that I leave in different spots around the home and office, so I don’t always have the presence of mind to stick in a writeable disk before I wrap it up for the evening. And I don’t have an external hard drive to use to mirror a copy of my boot volume.

Backup settings
By default I’ve set Backup to archive critical content like my Safari bookmarks settings, Address Book information, iCal data and more. In other words, all the stuff I’d really be put out if I lost, and pretty much everything I need to set up a new system to make it useful for me right away. Mine is a pretty compact info set, so it usually only takes a few minutes to upload to .Mac.

This came in really handy recently when I tested a development version of some software that was supposed to synchronize data between my iCal and Address Book and another application. The new software hosed my data completely: Not only did it not give the other application the content it was looking for, but it managed to mess up my Address Book and iCal data beyond repair as well.

That stuff is distributed in different places on my Mac’s hard disk. I’m not even sure I would have known where to grab everything I would have needed, either. If I didn’t have that .Mac backup to recover from, I’d have lost a lot of information I’d have had to recreate manually. As it was, it was ten minutes out of my life to restore the data which had been archived only the night before.

Backup isn’t the perfect archival solution—it doesn’t let you do incremental backups, for example, and its scheduling features are pretty bare-bones. It’s also designed for a single Mac, so you’ll need to look elsewhere if you need a backup system that can grab data from multiple networked machines. So the makers of software like Retrospect can breathe easy—Backup isn’t a threat to them. but as an offsite or even as a basic whole-system archival solution, Backup is worth its weight in gold, boosting the overall value of a .Mac subscription tremendously.

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