By Bob LeVitus
There are some things in life you can be sure of, like
death and taxes. And there are some things in computing
you can be sure of as well, including the harsh reality
that your hard disk will cease to function someday.
Today’s episode of Dr. Mac concerns what to do when
it happens to you, as it surely will. It happened to me
just a few days ago. I walked in one morning to find my
Mac totally crashed. I couldn’t move the cursor,
force quit, or use the keyboard, so I pressed the reset
button and hoped for the best. Alas, it refused to even
recognize my internal hard drive much less boot from it.
I tried all the tricks in my book(s)—running Alsoft’s
DiskWarrior, Symantec’s Norton Utilities, Apple’s
Disk Utility/First Aid, resetting the PRAM, and so on—but
all for naught. The drive was totally hosed, but I didn’t
panic. Because, as you’ve heard me say many times
before, if you don’t have important files backed
up (and backed up more than once if you want to be safe
about it), you will almost certainly lose them someday.
It’s happened to me so often I’ve become obsessive
about backing up important folders several times a day.
Once I’d established that my diagnostic and disk
repair utilities weren’t going to resurrect the hard
drive, I booted from an OS X install CD and used Disk Utility
to initialize (erase) the disk, then restored the whole
disk from my most recent backup. The entire affair took
less than an hour; after that my Mac was up and running
as if nothing bad had happened.
To me, that’s nirvana. I hate to lose even an hour
of work, so I’ve configured my backup software-of-choice
for the past ten years, Dantz Development’s excellent
Retrospect (currently at version 5.1), to automatically
back up important folders and the files they contain every
two hours, all day long. The backups rotate between three
external FireWire drives to provide additional safety and
security. And, just to be safe, at the end of each day
Retrospect duplicates my entire hard disk, making a bootable
mirror-image of it on yet another external FireWire hard
In a pinch I can take this drive to any other Mac, boot
from it, and go back to work immediately. Or, if my crashed
internal hard disk been totally dead the other day, I could
boot my Mac from this drive until I found time to buy and
install a replacement.
If it sounds complicated, don’t worry. The point
I’m trying to make is that if you’re not doing
something to protect your files, you’re going to
lose them forever someday.
Your backup routine probably
doesn’t need to be as
sophisticated as mine. For many users, copying a folder
or two onto a blank CD, DVD or to an external hard drive
every so often is all the backup protection they’ll
But chances are your backup needs fall somewhere
In my humble opinion, Retrospect is the best backup software
money can buy. For my needs, nothing else even comes close.
But it’s not cheap. Since I realize your backup needs
are probably more modest than mine, next week I’ll
discuss a variety of less-expensive backup solutions that
may better suit your needs.
Retrospect Desktop (2 clients); S.R.P. $129. Retrospect
Workgroup (20 clients); S.R.P. $499. Retrospect Server
(100 clients); S.R.P. $799. All versions run on Mac or
Windows computers; clients run on Mac OS 9 or X, Windows,
or Red Hat Linux.
Dantz Development Corporation. Walnut Creek, Calif. 925-948-9000.
Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on
Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The
Little iTunes Book and
Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to
Copyright © 2004 Bob LeVitus