Backups and Time Machine

The March 3, 2010, meeting was attended by nine people.  The main topic was the importance of having backups and using Time Machine.  These are Steve Miner's slightly restructured notes from the meeting with a few extra comments.

Time Machine is software that comes with Mac OS X, beginning with Leopard (10.5).  It does automatic backups for your Mac.  Time Machine will easily let you "go back in time" to find old versions of your files or even files that you deleted or lost due to a crash.  You need to have an extra hard disk to hold your backup files. Typically, a 300 GB to 500 GB external USB hard disk would be adequate for most home users.  You can get a 1 TB disk (1000 GB) for less than $100 these days. Please see Apple's web site, for more information about Time Machine.  

You can find an external USB hard disk at any computer store or online.  I recommend as a place to look for good deals.  Apple also sells a product called Time Capsule that includes an Airport base station and a backup hard disk that will work over your wireless network.

Using Time Machine is a good first step, but you also need to consider having off-site backups.  For example, in case of fire or theft, you don't want your backup disk to be lost with your Mac.  A number of companies are offering Internet backups, including Carbonite, Mozy and Sugar Sync.  Most offer a free trial or a free limited account.  Definitely worth looking into.

On a related note, I highly recommend DropBox.  Although not specifically a backup service, they do a great job of synchronizing files among multiple computers (both Windows and Mac) and their web site.  They also let you easily restore those files to a new computer.  You get 2 GB of space for free.  The first two people to sign up with the following link will get an extra 250 MB for free.  (Same for me. Thanks!)

Some people raised concerns about putting confidential information such as financial data on the online backup services. That is an important consideration. You should be careful and check out their security policies. I recommend that you use Disk Utility to create an encrypted disk image (or "virtual disk") that can be a safely backed up while maintaining security. The Mac will ask for a password before opening the disk image. You can use the image as if it were a disk, but the whole thing (containing many files) is stored as one file on your hard disk.

I forgot to mention during the meeting that you should protect your computer with an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). This device is basically a big battery with a surge protector. If the power fails, it will give you a few minutes to safely shut down your Mac and save your files. APC is one company that manufactures UPS units.

The first Wednesday of April is during Masters Week so we will not be meeting again until May. In the meantime, please use the email list to keep in touch about Mac-related topics.