Backup Basics

1999 – I don’t back up my files nearly often enough. Theoretically, one should do it at least once a week. I do well to get to it once a month. It’s just a matter of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, and there always seems to be something more urgent to do than hooking the PowerBook up to the Zip drive and going through the routine of dragging my files manually to the backup Zip disks.

Iomega Zip drives and disks

Sooner or later, I will probably get burned. In eight years as a Mac user, I’ve never experienced any data loss due to hardware failure, and indeed have never had any hard drive problems at all, but anything mechanical can fail (and inevitably will fail eventually), so someday the law of averages will no doubt catch up with me. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to lose data, such as the time accidentally I threw my documents folder in the trash, and emptied it (don’t ask).

File Recovery Is Unreliable

What got me ruminating about the backup issue was Todd Stauffer, The Upgrade Guy’s, latest column on MacCentral, which proves that catastrophic data loss can happen to anybody – even the guy who wrote the Mac Upgrade and Repair Bible.

Kanga PowerBook G3In Todd’s case, a seemingly routine system freeze corrupted the boot sector of the hard drive on his PowerBook G3 (original “3500” model). Repeated attempts to repair the disk with Disk First Aid, Norton Disk Doctor, and MicroMat TechTool Pro over a period of two days ended in failure. The hard drive had to be reformatted, which of course erased any all his data.

Todd was relatively lucky in that some of the work he’d produced since his last backup had been sent to publishers on disk or been copied to another machine. However, one work-in-progress had eluded the last backup – and he lost six weeks of Quicken entries and many weeks worth of email archives.

Todd found that TechTool Pro was able to recover, somewhat laboriously, a fair bit of his lost data, but far from all of it. A cautionary tale to be sure.

My Backup System

Personally, I find that my ultra-manual backup “system” works for me – so long as I get around to doing it. I just keep a set of backup folders on Zip disks (in the old days I used to use floppies) with the same names as corresponding folders on my hard drive. When I do a backup, I sort the folder list view by Date Modified, which allows me to easily check what files have been created since the date of the last backup, and I just group select the new additions and drag them to the backup disk. To back up my email files, I drag my entire collection of Eudora Folders to the backup disk, which is somewhat inefficient space-utilization wise, but quick, simple, and relatively foolproof.

This backup method is far from perfect, but it suits my particular taste and temperament. There is of course a fair quantity of odds and ends on my hard drive that get missed, but the stuff that would really ruin my day (year!) if I lost it are covered. I don’t advocate manual backups for people who are not fairly compulsive about keeping their files organized.

The backup strategy Todd Stauffer recommends is to back up all of your important files at least once a week, rotating between three or four backup disks. Todd suggests that every three or four weeks you drop one of your disks or tapes out of the rotation to serve as an archive which provides an extra element of protection against corrupt files and viruses as well as data loss.

For myself, I figure that the odds of experiencing a simultaneous hard drive failure and a corrupted or failed Zip disk must be pretty long, so I generally just keep one set of backup files. However, last summer I got my son to burn all my eight years of archived Mac document files to a CD-R, where they should be reasonably secure for the foreseeable future. It occurs that CD-RW, if I ever get one, would be an ideal backup medium.

There are of course more sophisticated and automated ways to backup your hard drive than dragging folders to a backup disk using the Finder.


The “gold standard” in Macintosh backup software has long been Dantz Development’s Retrospect, which has been published since 1989. Macintosh version 4.2 was recently released, including new cross-platform client support and advanced networking features.

Dantz publishes a wide range of backup solutions from individual backup to network-wide backup. Retrospect Express is an easy to use personal backup for CD-RW and removable disks. The $175 Retrospect Desktop Backup is Dantz’s industrial strength product for most any storage device. And Retrospect Workgroup Backup for comprehensive backup of small networks.

Retrospect 4.2 adds flexible application-based client licensing that allows any Macintosh running Retrospect to easily back up both Macintosh and Windows computers across a network. (Retrospect 4.2 is a free upgrade to registered users of version 4.1 and has been be available via the Dantz Online Store since October 1, 1999.)

With the release of version 4.2, the names of the Retrospect products for Macintosh were changed. Retrospect becomes Retrospect Desktop Backup, and Retrospect Network Backup Kit becomes Retrospect Workgroup Backup.

New Retrospect 4.2 Features

  • HTML Help: Retrospect’s online help system is now easier to navigate and search. Hypertext links allow users to quickly access information within the program or on the Dantz Website.
  • Updated Disaster Recovery CD: The new Retrospect 4.2 CD boots all currently shipping Power Macintosh computers, including iMacs, “blue & white” G3s, and “bronze” G3 PowerBooks (Lombard). The CD boots Mac OS 8.6 and includes the latest versions of Apple’s Disk First Aid and Drive Setup utilities, offering users the fastest method of repairing and restoring a hard drive.
  • DES Encryption: Retrospect 4.2 ships with the US government standard DES encryption. Previously unavailable internationally, this robust 56-bit encryption is now standard with all versions of Retrospect.

Registered owners of Retrospect version 4.1 are entitled to a free upgrade that can be downloaded from their web site. Customers wishing to receive the new Mac OS 8.6 bootable disaster recovery CD will be charged a small handling fee. Owners of previous versions of Retrospect may upgrade to Retrospect 4.2 in the U.S. and Canada by calling 1.800-225-4880, by emailing, or visiting their web site.

Backup Mastery

A competitor for Retrospect is CharisMac’s $130 Backup Mastery 1.05 [discontinued].

Backup Mastery 1.05 offers scheduled unattended backups and backup scripts, and it walks you through the process of backing up your data to a variety of popular media including tape, floppy, optical, Zip, Jaz, SyQuest and CD-R. Backup Mastery will help you restore your data quickly and easily if you do suffer a data loss.

Backup Mastery gives you the option to only backup files that have been changed since your last backup saving you time and money by eliminating any unnecessary operations.

Backup Mastery Features

  • Works directly with CharisMac’s Discribe CD mastering software for CD-R backup to virtually any CD-R drive. Lets you backup in your choice of standard CD formats
  • Supports virtually all SCSI tape drives
  • Supports backup to floppy, Optical, Zip, Jaz, SyQuest or to any mounted volume
  • Selective backup capabilities, only backing up selected files, or Backup an entire volume
  • Perform immediate backup of selected volumes, folders, files or any combination
  • Can backup up any mounted volume
  • Schedule unattended, automatic backups, including start up and shutdown if necessary
  • Open a Backup Mastery script and execute at any time
  • Set backup criteria on a file by file basis including: backup always, backup only if changed, or backup if changed after a specified date
  • Restore a backup set in its entirety, or restore selected files
  • Supports multiple tape backups for large volumes
  • Span backups across multiple tape drives for unattended backups of large volumes
  • Accelerated for Power Macintosh (Native support)
  • Supports Apple’s SCSI Manager 4.3 and System 8.x
  • Advanced features on all Quadra and Power Macintosh models, System 7.1 or higher
  • Site licenses available for large organizations
  • Competitive upgrade pricing available

There are also a couple of less comprehensive backup software alternatives for people who don’t require the power of Retrospect or Backup Mastery.


Redux Software is reviving its $40 Redux 2.6 backup system for Macintosh computers.

Redux is a personal backup system for all Macintosh computers, featuring incremental backups, filtering to selectively backup just a few files or entire volumes, scheduled backups, an easy to understand scripting language, and straightforward retrieval of archived information. Redux will backup files to any desktop-mountable device, including external hard drives and removable storage media.

Redux features incremental backups, automatically detecting and backing up only those files which have changed. Redux will also let you retain files in the backup which have been deleted from your main drive, freeing up storage space for current files. Manual overrides can be set through a simple checkbox interface.

Redux will allow you to schedule backups at regular time intervals, and on system events such as shutdown. You can change the parameters at any time, or set it once and forget about it.

Straightforward retrieval of archived information is key to the usability of Redux. Users have the choice to save files in normal Finder format, or use Redux’s database format. Either option allows you to locate and retrieve files or applications without wasting time or energy.

Redux’s powerful filtering enables you to selectively backup just a few files or entire volumes. Redux allows you to select combinations of file properties – for example choose to backup only files created on last Wednesday, only those with certain characters in a name, or everything in certain folders. Filtering is set with intuitive popup menus and checkboxes, making it easy to understand and use from the first time it is used.

Customized backups can be scripted using BackTalk, Redux’s English-like scripting language that makes it simple to write instructions for filters and scheduling without a knowledge of programming. Scripting commands such as “Check all items that start with R” or “Check all items newer than two days” make it easy for anyone to read and write BackTalk scripts.

During a power failure, Redux will automatically create a script that will pick up right where it left off when power is restored. Redux can run in the background while you do other work.

More information, including the latest on when Redux will be again available, may be found on Redux Software’s website.

Personal Backup

ASD Software’s $49 Personal Backup 1.2.3 is a control panel that backs up files to desktop storage devices. Personal Backup offers basic backup features, plus timed backup, and can also synchronize files between folders.

You can try a free Personal Backup 1.2.3 demo version, which works for only 14 days. When the demo expires you must download the full version and purchase a serial number to continue using the product. A Personal Backup User Manual for configuring and using Personal Backup on your Macintosh can be downloaded from the Personal Backup Website.

With any of these programs, once you have done an initial global backup, you can choose to just back up files that have changed since the last backup session. The advantage of maintaining a global backup, is that if you do suffer a catastrophic hard drive failure, it will be quite easy to restore your files to their status at the time of the most recent backup.

On the other hand, global backups mean that you have to have backup media with at least as much storage capacity as your hard drive. Since you probably have, for instance, CDs (or even floppies) containing master copies of much of you software applications, you can elect to back up the installers (the stuffed files will be fine) of software that has been downloaded from the Internet.

In backing up only selected files you have to be really careful not to miss something really important. My backup priorities are as follows:

  1. Documents: These represent many hours of real work, in my case mostly article and column manuscripts.
  2. Email archives: I have thousands of email messages on file that would be incredibly difficult to replace, and perhaps should be considered the No. 1 rather than the No. 2 priority in my case, because my documents are usually “backed up” redundantly on Websites and with editors. email files would be impossible to restore for the most part.
  3. Any software installers not backed up elsewhere.
  4. The Preferences Folder from your System folder. Saves a lot of configuration time and rooting around for serial numbers during a restoration. Don’t save your Web browser’s cache files, though. Big space waster.
  5. Other stuff like address books and Quicken files and FAX files that might not be considered “documents.”
  6. Less crucial but very convenient is to have a fully configured clean copy of your System Folder backed up. This can also be handy for doing a quick reinstall of a clean system without having to go through the installer process. Just drag it on to your HD.

If you have really vital stuff to back up, it is a good idea to make a backup copy of your backup and store it in a separate place (off site is best) in case of theft or fire.

Backup Media Options

While weekly backup would be an improvement on my personal backup habits, daily backups are not a bad idea, especially if you use a dedicated tape backup drive. Other possible choices for backup media are an external hard drive; and removable media drives like Jaz, Zip, SuperDisk, Orb, Magneto-Optical, or SyQuest; CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD-RAM disks. There are also several Websites that allow you to backup your files to secure storage over the Internet.

I use a Zip drive for backups myself, which works for me because most of my critical stuff is in text files that are relatively small. However, the Iomega Zip drive’s 100 MB or 250 MB media are getting a bit small for many people’s backups. Imation’s 120 MB SuperDisk is another similar solution, but it is even slower. Either Zip or SuperDisk is an expensive solution media-wise for large backups.

Iomega’s Jaz 2 GB drive uses rigid media similar to that found in hard drives, but housed in a removable cartridge. However, Jaz disks are very expensive, and there are reports of spotty reliability.

Magneto-optical drives hold up 2.6 GB per cartridge and are very reliable, albeit relatively slow.

CastleWood’s new FireWire ORB drive is a newcomer contender that should make a promising backup medium.

CD-Recordable (CD-R) and CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) disks make economical backup media. A blank recordable CD costs about $2 and provides 650 MB of storage. However, you need special software to support CD burns (Retrospect and Backup Mastery both support burning CDs). Reliability is excellent, and you can also use a CD-R or RW burner for other cool stuff besides backups.

DVD-RAM drives, such as the Que! Mac-compatible unit just released by QPS Inc., offer 5.2 GB of data storage space at 2.6 GB per side (they must be flipped to use the other side), and should make excellent backup devices.

Quarter-Inch Cartridge (QIC) tape drives are available in capacities up to 20 GB and are more economical than comparable digital-audiotape (DAT) drives, but are slower and media is more expensive.

DAT drives offer inexpensive media and fast transfer speeds. Standard Digital Data Standard (DDS) tapes are available in sizes up to 24 GB and cost as little as $6 per tape, thus representing your lowest cost per megabyte stored.

Publisher’s note: As a Mac information systems manager, I deal with backup every day. With a network of Macs with huge hard drives, high storage capacity becomes a real issue. Shoot, that’s even the case with some of our single Macs with 20-40 GB of storage space! On the high capacity end, AIT is very impressive. Using Retrospect, we’re getting about 35 GB per 25 GB cartridge, thanks to data compression, and speeds up to 60 MB/minute over 10Base-T ethernet – and over 300 MB/minute using 100Base-T.

A good rule of thumb: Your backup media should be able to handle one complete backup, which is a good reason not to use Zip. (Despite that, it’s what I use at home. With a 2.1 GB hard drive, I really do need to switch to something bigger. Swapping disks is a real nuisance.)

Dan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac

Keywords: #backup #macbackup

Short link:

searchword: backupbasics