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If you’re a .Mac member, you have access to Apple’s Backup 3.1. Among numerous changes since version 2, Backup now backs up new or changed files on each run, without erasing older copies.
To use Backup, you begin by creating a Plan—a combination of items to back up, one or more destinations, and a schedule for each destination. You can create as many Plans as you want. To make the process as easy as possible, Backup provides several predefined templates you can use or modify to suit your needs. Or, you can use a custom template to create your own.
Both predefined and custom Plans make use of canned selection criteria called QuickPicks. These options are designed to help you include data most people want to back up, such as Address Book data, Preferences, your iPhoto library, Safari settings, and so on; you can add third-party QuickPicks, such as the free QuickPick Pack from Wishingline Design Studios. You can also choose specific files or folders to include in, or exclude from, a Plan—either manually or by using a built-in Spotlight search feature. However, this Spotlight search isn’t dynamic. If you use it to find all folders containing the word “finances,” the plan won’t automatically pick up a new folder with that same name later on.
Backup can use any mounted volume as a destination, including your iDisk, local network servers, optical discs, and external hard drives. But Plans can run no more frequently than once per day; if you want to back up certain files more often, you’ll have to create multiple Plans. When a scheduled backup is about to run, Backup launches and an alert appears, with options to run the backup immediately or skip it; if you do nothing, the backup runs in 120 seconds. Backup offers no way to turn off this alert, which is unnecessarily intrusive for backups that do not require you to take any action (such as inserting a disc for burning purposes).
To restore files, you select a Plan and click the Restore button. Backup lists all the dates and times at which that backup has run. Select one of these backups, and Backup displays a snapshot of all the files in the plan as they appeared at the time of that backup. From this list, select what you want to restore and, optionally, choose a new location for the restored files. Click Restore Selection, and Backup restores the files. Unfortunately, Backup offers no way to search your backups for files matching certain criteria, and finding all the versions of any particular file is awkward at best.
When your backup media becomes full, you can force a new full backup and then manually delete earlier incremental backups in which only new or modified files were copied. However, this process is confusing and error-prone; Backup should provide an automated option for deleting older backups when you run out of space.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you want to store a backup of every file on your hard disk—and especially if you later hope to restore an entire disk to a bootable state—Backup 3.1 is not the right choice, as it doesn’t always store information such as file ownership and permissions properly. For keeping archives of commonly used files, Backup is more than adequate. Most users can set up an automated schedule in minutes with just a few clicks, and restoring backed-up files is straightforward. However, someone looking for advanced features such as rotating backups (in which older files in a backup are deleted automatically), sophisticated selection criteria, or flexible scheduling may be disappointed.
[ Joe Kissell is senior editor of TidBITS and author of Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups (Peachpit, 2007). ]Backup’s QuickPicks dialog lets you select commonly used file and data types with a single click.