A couple of years ago I suffered a hard disk failure and I was very lucky to retrieve most of my data from other sources. That should have taught me to keep backups but I’m still not as good as I should be. My work laptop is hardly ever backed up (but most important items are also available in my e-mail) and I should really do a better job with my server at home (although most of the data is software that could be downloaded again). What really worries me is having to re-rip my iTunes library (and re-purchase tracks bought from the iTunes store) or, even worse, losing my digital photos (some of which are irreplaceable images of my family) and so I really must make backups of the data on my Mac.
One of the failings of Mac OS X is a lack of built-in backup software. Actually, that’s not true – there are standard Unix utilities such as rsync and Apple does provide advice for how to back up and restore your files but if you want to use Apple Backup, then you need a .Mac subscription (I believe that software like this should really be included with the operating system).
Thinking that there must be plenty of people who have experienced this issue previously, I went googling for free backup software for the Mac and found a list of backup programs courtesy of Pure Mac. First of all, I tried SmartBackup, which looks great, but it also costs $19.50, and whilst I’d be happy to part with cash for something if it really hits the mark, as I mentioned previously, I could script something from the command line for free. Another option was RsyncX, but this will not run on Intel Macs, so I got looking at automated backups using rsync. Although rsync is incredibly powerful , it was looking as though it would take me some time to work out exactly what I would need to back up (although Pete Freitag’s article on how to backup your Mac incrementally over ssh looked useful), until I stumbled across rsyncbackup – a set of scripts with documentation, designed to simplify setting up an rsync-based backup routine.
In the end, I settled on the easy option – using a program called iBackup, which is free for personal and non-commercial use and seems to do everything that I need it to. It’s pretty basic but all I really need is to make regular copies of my data to a second external hard disk. iBackup supports scheduled backups using multiple backup profiles and features a system of plugins to back up application settings. Above all, it’s easy to use (although it doesn’t run as a service so needs to be running for anything to happen, although it can be minimised).
Of course, I still need to back my photos up to DVD from time to time and store the media off-site (in case I have a fire or something else that wipes out the Mac and both my hard drives) but at least I now have some protection against losing those essential family photos.