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  8-22-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Protect Your Files or You’re Going to be Very Sorry Someday


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 drive.

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 ever need.

But chances are your backup needs fall somewhere in between.

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 [email protected].

Copyright © 2004 Bob LeVitus



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