A couple of years ago, I went to the dentist for the first time since the late 1990s. The main reason I'd failed to make dental appointments was embarrassment at having waited so long. I could just hear the dentist chiding me, "Ah, I can see you haven't had your teeth cleaned properly in 5 years. For shame!" The more time passed, the worse the embarrassment grew, and finally it took actual pain and a visible hole in a tooth to overcome it. So I was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that I had several cavities and needed a root canal. The dentist was kind and understanding, but nevertheless pointed out several times that this visit might have been much less painful (and less expensive) had I flossed every day and gone for my semiannual checkups as I knew I should have.

I tell you this story not merely to urge proper dental hygiene, but because maintaining your Maclike maintaining your teeth, your car, your health, or your homeis a good habit whose rewards are having fewer problems later on and being able to recover more easily from problems that do arise. You can sometimes get away without doing any maintenance for a few months or perhaps much longer, but you risk losing data, wasting time, and having to spend a great deal of money repairing or replacing your computer.

This book teaches you the most important and useful maintenance tasks you should perform to increase your chances of keeping your Mac in tip-top operating condition throughout its lifetime. I've organized the tasks according to their frequency: what you should do daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, as well as some important initial steps, some things you should do when a Mac OS X upgrade appears, and some tasks you might want to avoid, contrary to conventional wisdom. Although no amount of maintenance can guarantee that nothing will go wrong with your computer, proper maintenance should minimize both the number and the severity of problems you experience.

Of course, disasters do sometimes occur: hard drives fail, computers are stolen or damaged, and files are accidentally deleted. Good backups are the best insurance against all these problems and more. If you've ever lost dataand I certainly have, on more than one occasionthen you know what I'm talking about. (And if you haven't lost data, you're computing on borrowed time.)

But when it comes to how to back up a computer, the options are so numerous that even the geekiest of us can find it difficult to wade through them and make intelligent choices. Which files should you back up? How often? Onto what media? Do you need to make bootable backups? How many sets of backup media do you need? Which backup software should you use? And what exactly do you do in case of a disaster, when you need to restore files from those backups? In the pages that follow, I offer some straightforward steps you can follow to come up with your own answers to these questions.

Regardless of the details of which hardware or software you use, your biggest concern should be whether your data is safe. What some people call a "backup" is simply copying files from your hard disk onto another volumeeither manually or using a utility of some kind. I'm a firm believer in the principle that "something is better than nothing," so I don't want to make it sound as though this type of backup is useless. However, let me be candid: it's not enough. Too many different kinds of things can still imperil your data under such a scheme. A well-thought-out backup strategy will ensure the safety of your dataand helping you to develop such a strategy is one aim of this book.

Before we get started, I need to mention a few important disclaimers:

  • There's no such thing as the One True Way to maintain or back up your Mac. Everyone's situation is unique, so you may need to adapt these instructions to suit your needsperform certain tasks more often or less often, skip tasks that don't apply to you, and so on. Take these instructions as guidelines, as a starting point to determine your own maintenance regimen.

  • I don't cover in any detail command-line software such as diskutil, cp, or rsync, except for a sidebar (see Rolling Your Own with Unix Utilities, page 150). Although such tools can certainly be used to perform maintenance and backups, my goal is to make the process as simple as possibleideally without requiring you to open Terminal or know anything about Unix. So this book concerns itself strictly with software that uses a graphical user interface (GUI).

  • I've written the backup chapters of this book primarily for people who need to back up either a single computer or a small networknot for system administrators who need to back up dozens or hundreds of machines. As a result, I say little about the expensive, high-end equipment typically used for backing up large networks, focusing instead on simpler devices you can purchase at your local computer store and plug directly into a stock Mac.

  • Finally, this book does not cover troubleshooting or repair; the focus is on preventing problems, not fixing them. If your Mac crashes, fails to start up, or otherwise behaves improperly, you'll need to look elsewhere for solutions. (I recommend some places to look in Appendix A.)


To reflect the diversity of opinion about certain maintenance tasks, I've included several sidebars containing brief conversations among Mac experts, most of whom are authors or editors. These discussions are based on comments made on a preliminary draft of this book.

Although I wrote this book based on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, most of the information should apply equally well to earlier and later versions of Mac OS X. (One of the first suggestions I make is to upgrade your Mac, if possible, to run the latest version of Mac OS X, which is likely to contain fewer bugs than earlier versions.) Likewise, most of this material applies in a general way to machines running Mac OS 9 and Windows. I don't cover these other operating systems in any detail, but do see Windows Files Backup Strategy (page 114), which discusses backing up Windows when it's running on your Intel-based Mac.

The tasks in this book are easy, and they get easier the more you do them. So start developing those good maintenance and backup habits right now. And don't forget to floss every day!


In reading this book, you may get stuck if you don't know certain basic facts about Mac OS X, or if you don't understand my syntax for things like working with menus or finding items in the Finder. Please note the following:

  • Path syntax: This book occasionally uses a path to show the location of a file or folder in your file system. For example, Mac OS X stores most utilities, such as Terminal, in the Utilities folder. The path to Terminal is: /Applications/Utilities/Terminal.

    The slash at the start of the path tells you to start from the root level of the disk. You will also encounter paths that begin with ~ (tilde), which is a shortcut for any user's home directory. For example, if a person with the user name joe wants to install fonts that only he can access, he would install them in his ~/Library/Fonts folder, which is just another way of writing /Users/joe/Library/Fonts.

  • Menus: When I describe choosing a command from a menu in the menu bar, I use an abbreviated description. For example, the abbreviated description for the menu command that creates a new folder in the Finder is "File > New Folder."

  • Finding preference panes: I sometimes refer to systemwide Mac OS X preferences that you may want to adjust. To change these settings, open System Preferences by clicking its icon in the Dock or choosing System Preferences from the Apple menu. Settings are categorized into topic-specific preference panes. You access a particular preference pane by way of its icon or the View menu. For example, to see "the .Mac preference pane," you would launch System Preferences and then click the .Mac icon or choose View > .Mac.


I'd like to thank my editors, Caroline Rose and Jeff Carlson, for their outstanding and speedy work in preparing the text of this book for publication. I appreciate the tremendous effort Adam Engst and Tonya Engst put into making this book a reality, as well as Jeff Tolbert's superb layout work, Clark Humphrey's proofreading, and Rebecca Plunkett's indexing. Special thanks to all the Control Freaks and TidBITS Irregulars who reviewed this book and provided numerous (sometimes very passionate) suggestions. In particular, I want to acknowledge those who graciously agreed to include reasonable facsimiles of their comments here: Andy Affleck, Sharon Zardetto Aker, Geoff Duncan, Adam Engst, Tonya Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Dan Frakes, Peter N Lewis, Kirk McElhearn, and Chris Pepper. Finally, thanks to Nancy Davis and Susan Rimerman at Peachpit Press for making this book possible.


Software: This book was written and edited in Microsoft Word, versions X and 2004 (depending on who was writing or editing), and laid out in Adobe InDesign from Creative Suite 2. Screenshots were captured with Ambrosia Software's Snapz Pro X. Backups of the work in progress were made by Retrospect Desktop.

Fonts: The body text is Utopia (from Adobe); titles and subheads are in Optima (also from Adobe); the monospaced font for pathnames and URLs has the strange name TheSansMonoCondensed (from the also strangely named Luc(as) De Groot).

Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups. Industrial-Strength Techniques
Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups. Industrial-Strength Techniques
Year: 2004
Pages: 144 © 2008-2017.
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