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  8-29-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Backing Up is (not) Hard to Do


By Bob LeVitus

Last week I talked about backing up and told you that I trust my data backups to Dantz Development’s Retrospect.

Since I realize Retrospect may be more program than you need, either in capability or in price, this week I’ll focus on other, less-expensive and less-complicated backup solutions.

Of course most Macs include an optical disc writer (CD or DVD or both), so you can always just insert a blank disc, copy some files onto it, then burn it, all without the need for any additional software whatsoever. At the very least you should be doing this for files you couldn’t live without. Ideally, you’ll have a second (or third) disc with recent copies of important files stored off site.

Another option that works great and costs nothing is Mike Bombich’s Carbon Copy Cloner (, a fabulous free program that makes a bootable mirror-image backup of your OS X boot disk with just a few clicks. Of course this requires a second hard disk at least as large as the first. But if you have one (it’s almost worth going out and buying one…), you can’t beat Carbon Copy Cloner for making a clone of your startup disk quickly and easily, and you can’t beat the price—it’s free unless you care to make a donation, which you should if it comes in handy, which it will.

There are other options as well. ProSoft Engineering’s ( Data Backup is the U.S. version of the excellent Tri-Backup, from Tri-Edre ( in France. It’s a very good $50 backup program that’s perfect for a single user/single Mac (it isn’t designed for network backup).

Or, if you’re a member of Apple’s .Mac ($99/year) you’re entitled to a copy of Apple’s home-grown backup utility, the eponymous Backup, which can backup folders to CDs or DVDs. Its claim to fame is that it can automatically back up files to your remote iDisk via the Internet.

There are also a bunch of useful shareware programs with the word “sync” in their names, which can synchronize two folders or disks automatically. As long as you’re careful they can be used to create a backup routine of sorts.

But the software and media you use for backing up are far less important than remembering to actually do it. The best software/hardware/media combination in the world is worthless if you don’t use it regularly.

I got a note in response to last week’s column from an old friend—David Ramsey—a long-time Mac user who, among other things, is the author of MacPaint II (and the Zebra Lady Easter egg). After accusing me of being the one he knows more obsessive about backing up than him, he went on and put this whole backup thing into perspective by saying that it’s all about automation.

I agree. Automation is the key. If a backup routine can be set up to run automatically, in the background, without (much) human intervention, your backups will perform without fail. Conversely, if you rely on your wetware (brain), it’s a good bet that your backups will fail without performing.

That’s a good part of why I prefer Retrospect—it offers the best and most reliable tools I’ve found for automating the backup process. I set it and forget it, which is the way it should be.

Ramsey, who is the self-proclaimed “de-facto network monkey” for his company, says he uses Retrospect and its robust remote backup clients at work and home because, “it works perfectly.”

After more than 10 years as a satisfied Retrospect user, I couldn’t agree more.

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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