Joe's Recommended Strategy
What I recommend for most users is a two-pronged approach: periodically scheduled (say, weekly) duplicates of your entire hard disk, and even more frequent (say, daily) archives of your data files.
The duplicates will provide you with a complete, bootable copy of your hard disk, while the archives will pick up all the files that change regularly. Users with extensive photo or video data may need to go a step or two furtherseparating that data from their main backups and using special strategies to keep it safe without incurring enormous media and equipment expenses.
You should create duplicates (onto hard drives, ideally) of your primary disk and any other startup volume you normally use. If you have a single, unpartitioned hard disk, then you have only a single volume to worry about. If you have multiple partitions (or multiple internal or external hard drives) that contain bootable systems, I recommend making duplicates of all of them. If a hard drive fails, after all, it can take with it all the partitions it contains; and a disaster that wipes out a single drive could wipe out all of your drives.
When you create a duplicate, you copy everything from the source drive to the target driveincluding, of course, all the files that make up Mac OS X. Therefore, there is no need to install Mac OS X on your external drive before creating a duplicate.
Most duplication software enables you to deselect individual folders you wish to exclude from a duplicate; some use selectors, exclusions, or both (see Selectors and Exclusions, page 147). Although you could make an argument that some files are not worth including in a duplicate (such as the cache files located in ~/Library/Caches), the safest and most reliable tactic is simply to include everything. A file or folder that seems irrelevant to you may turn out to be crucial to the functioning of your system.
The archives you create should include all your important files (on each volume you use regularly, if you use more than one). The main question, though, is how you determine which files those are.
Some people suggest performing a full archivethat is, archiving every single file on your disk, just as you do when creating a duplicate. Others suggest performing a selective archive that includes only user-created data files, especially those that change frequently.
With a full archive, you have yet another copy of all your files besides your duplicatesan extra insurance policy. Restoring a full archive to an empty disk requires fewer steps, and less time, than restoring a selective archive (since in the latter case, you must restore a duplicate first). On the other hand, a full archive requires significantly more storage space, increasing your media cost, and takes longer to run. In addition, some backup software does not enable you to restore an archive as a bootable volume. My own preference is for selective archives, though I would not discourage you from performing a full archive if resources permit.
If you do choose to archive selectively, a good starting place is your home folder. By default, this folder contains most of your preference files, the files shown on your Desktop, and data for many of Apple's applications (Address Book, iCal, iTunes, iPhoto, Mail, Safari, and so on), among others. Although you can organize your hard disk however you want, Apple encourages you to keep all your user-created documents in the ~/Documents folder or elsewhere in your home folder. So it could be that all your important, user-specific data files exist somewhere inside your home folderand if not, presumably you are aware of the locations of folders you've created elsewhere.
But even if you have assiduously colored within the lines and kept all your personal data in your home folder, should you archive the whole thing? In some cases, the answer is no.
Because Apple designed the home folder as a catch-all, it has the tendency to swell to enormous sizes. For example, if you maintain the default settings in iDVD, iMovie HD, iPhoto, and iTunes, all your digital media will be stored in your home folder. If, like me, you've imported your entire collection of CDs into iTunes, you may be looking at a huge Music folder (mine is well over 20 GB, and that is small compared to some). If you store digital video on your computer, your Movies folder will certainly be even larger.
Although there's nothing wrong with adding all those files to your archive, it may not be strictly necessary eitherbecause all those files should already be backed up safely as part of the duplicates you maintain. If, as in the case of imported CD tracks, digital photos, or video downloads, you modify those folders less frequently than you perform duplicates, you might consider saving time and space by excluding them from archives. But if in doubtespecially when it comes to irreplaceable photos and videoerr on the side of including them; having an extra backup just may save your bacon one day. Purchases from the iTunes Music Store also require special handling as I describe next.
Besides digital media, you may wish to manually exclude certain other files from an archive, if needed to save space. For instance:
Having determined what you need to back up and how often, you're ready to make decisions about what hardware you will need (see Chapter 10). If you decided earlier that you have special backup needs, though, continue on to read Photo Backup Strategy, next, or Video and Audio Backup Strategy, immediately thereafter.
Photo Backup Strategy
If you determined that your digital photos require special backup attention, consider these options in addition to (or, if you prefer, instead of) duplicates and archives.
I have nothing at all against iPhotoin fact, I quite like it. It even has the built-in capability of backing up your photos to optical discs (although it's a manual process). But iPhoto is a consumer-level application that wasn't designed for the needs of professionalsor amateurs who have tons of photos and take their images seriously. When your photo management needs outgrow iPhoto, you can move up to serious image-cataloging software.
For Mac OS X, you have two main choices: iView MediaPro (www.iviewmultimedia.com; $160) and Extensis Portfolio (www.extensis.com; $200). Both have similar feature sets, including flexible searching, contact sheet creation, and much more. Crucially for our purposes, they maintain thumbnail catalogs of all your images even if you move the original files to another volume (and even if that volume happens to be sitting at the bottom of a pile of junk in your closet).
Apple's Aperture application (www.apple.com/aperture/; $300) also contains cataloging and archiving tools for digital photos, though those are a small part of Aperture's capabilities, and it's overkill if you need just those features.
By using one of these applications to back up your photos (whether or not you delete the originals), you gain the ability to search a visual index for your images. When you find the one you want, the software will tell you which DVD, CD, or hard drive it's stored on.
On the downside, these third-party tools are more expensive than iPhoto, and not quite as easy to use; they also lack iPhoto's integration with applications such as Mail and iDVD. But these are minor complaints. For heavy-duty photo backups and cataloging, iView MediaPro and Extensis Portfolio can't be beat. (And if I had to choose between the two, I'd go with MediaPro: I prefer its interface and feature setplus it's a bit less expensive.)
If you choose one of these tools, I suggest excluding photos from your regular archives and using the cataloging software's built-in backup tools for your photos instead. It'll be slightly more effort, but you'll dramatically increase the ease with which you can find and restore your photos. You can also, optionally, delete older photos from your hard disk after you've backed them upyou'll save room on your startup volume while still maintaining a handy catalog of thumbnails.
If you're a .Mac member, you probably know that you can create Web pages to share your photos online. Of course, you pay for that privilege, and even with 1 GB of storage space, you may not have room for all your photos on your iDisk. Internet backup services (see Internet Backup Services, page 134) will gladly sell you more space on a server, but it doesn't come cheapand such services won't enable you to share your photos on the Web.
For more detailed information about sharing your photos on the Web using iWeb, iPhoto, and .Mac HomePage, see my ebook Take Control of .Mac (www.takecontrolbooks.com/dot-mac.html)
Never fear, though: several companies provide unlimited storage for your digital photos, along with complete control over which ones are shared and with whom, for as little as zero dollars! (Yes, there's a catch, but it's surprisingly minor.)
Photo-sharing sites spring up all the time. Here are some of the more popular ones I knew of at the time I wrote this:
Except for Fotki, all these services offer Mac-compatible photo upload software; Fotki Premium members can upload photos via FTP.
Beyond the basics of photo storage and sharing, these sites differ in the range of features they offer. Most offer prints of your digital photos for a fee; some will send you CDs or DVDs with backups of your photos, too. And the range of additional services is varied and extensive; visit the sites and try their free trial memberships to get a feel for what they can do. (My favorite is SmugMug. The service is reasonably priced for unlimited storage, has the features I need, and offers upload software that integrates easily with iPhoto.)
Considering that you can back up all your photos for as little as a few dollars per year using one of these services, it's almost a no-brainer. In fact, even if you ignore all the other advice in this book, please take the easy step of backing up your photos with one of these services. And even if you already include your photos in your duplicates and archives, another off-site backup never hurtsand you'll get easy photo sharing as a bonus. The only people who might want to be circumspect about these services are those without broadband Internet connections: uploading photos over a slow connection can take a long, long time.
For more info on backing up your digital photos, see my article "Make your images last" in the August, 2005 issue of Macworld: www.macworld.com/2005/07/features/photosmanage/.
Video and Audio Backup Strategy
If you regularly edit video on your computer, you may need to adjust your backup strategy to account for the special requirements of these jumbo-sized files. (Although I speak of "video" throughout this section, keep in mind that essentially the same issues and strategies apply to pro audio files and other extra-large documents.)
Video data types
Think about the different forms video data may take:
Which of these items should you include in your backup planand how?
Let's begin with the tapes from your camcorder. The work you put into editing video clips into a finished product is valuable, but in most cases, the original footage is irreplaceable. However time-consuming or painful it may be, you could recreate a project from scratch, as long as you had a copy of the source material. So, when thinking about video backups, give special weight to that original footage.
Raw files on your hard disk
If you've copied the data from your camcorder to your computer, you now have two copies. But not all your raw footage will end up as part of a movie; if you're like most people, you probably shoot a lot of extra material you'll never want to look at again. Those raw filesbefore they become part of an actual movie projectare generally the least important to back up (assuming, naturally, that you still have the originals).
The project files are perhaps the most challenging component, because you may modify them many different times. If you include these files as part of a standard additive incremental archive, you may find (depending on which video editing and backup software you use, and several other variables) that even a tiny change to a 20 GB video project results in the entire 20 GB file being added to each day's archive. If you happen to have a few terabyte or larger drives sitting around, that's not much of a problem, but such drives are still on the expensive side for most of us.
Archives of your project files can be worthwhile, but such archives generally benefit work in progress more than older material. In other words, once you've completed this year's holiday DVD and sent it off to your family, you're unlikely to need all the intermediate versions of the project files againthough you may want the final project files later on.
Final, rendered movies
As for the final product, it goes without saying that it's important, but as long as you still have the project files, you can recreate it if necessary. So it's a bit less crucial to back up than your project files.
Although I can't offer a one-size-fits all approach to video backups, I would like to make some recommendations that you can tailor to your specific situation. All these suggestions presume that you're already making duplicates and archives of your non-video data:
Don't be tempted to think that your final DVD project is also a backup. DVD video is compressed with MPEG-2 encoding, which means the DVD you watch on television contains video at a lower quality than what you edited. If you need to go back and re-edit it, the results won't be as good as if you used the original source material from the camcorder or hard disk. Plus, you can't easily pull video from a DVD disc; you need special conversion software.
In other words, treat your video data with the same care you give all your other files, but don't get hung up on long-term storage of every single edit you make. The most important things to back up are your original footage, archives of work currently in progress, and your final project files.
Windows Files Backup Strategy
Now that Apple offers Boot Camp software for Intel Macs, more and more people are installing Windows XP in its own partition. Meanwhile, virtualization software (such as Parallels Desktop and Q) is also catching on, as it enables users to run Windows at nearly full speed alongside Mac OS X without rebooting.
Needless to say, if you're running Windows on your Mac, you should back up your Windows files too. When you do, keep the following tips in mind: