Mac OS X data backup FAQ
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This FAQ is divided into several sections.
It is not a question of if data will be lost, but when. User error, data corruption, hardware failure, bugs in installers all play a part in potential disasters that only a backup can recover from. While you don't have the viruses or worms on the Mac like you do in the Windows world, it should be no excuse to not backup. These incidents can happen at anytime, and frequently without any warning.
User error is the number one cause of lost data. You drag a file to the trash without meaning to, or use a keyboard shortcut used to send a file to the trash, or take a file out of its prescribed location, and the system gets broke. Before moving preinstalled folders or adding files to preinstalled folders, know what files belong where. Ask if you are unsure. And only start moving files once you know your critical files are backed up. In addition, if you lose track of files, and their location, having a backup you know where it exists will help you find those files which you lost. And then there are technicians who either tell the user, or don't tell the user, that they have to wipe the hard drive to isolate the possibility that a system issue observed can be either hardware or software. It is still user error, for not ensuring their data is backed up before the technician has seen the machine, and user error for trusting a technician will always tell them every pitfall of bringing it in to repair. Naturally a technician who doesn't state very clearly that data loss may be required, should be reprimanded for doing so, and should also learn that they should attempt data recovery before doing anything which may cause data loss. Manage your backups so that information isn't lost by accident.
There are many disk utilities which claim to help keep your hard disk in good shape, and some are better than others, but if you don't have a backup, any of them could actually be worse than the backup software to your data as a simple power failure during use of one of those utilities can make the data get lost forever. Data corruption is probably the number two cause of losing data.
Hardware failure. Eventually all hard disks, tape drives, CDs, DVDs, Zip drives, Zip disks, floppies, tapes, and even drive controllers fail. Hopefully most will not happen during the time between now and when you can afford your next computer, but it could happen. Getting an external source to backup your data to will lessen the risk of any one component making your data get lost forever. Whether it is an external hard drive, CD burner, tape drive, or a zip drive, the more backups of your data you have, the better off you'll be. Some will even say an off site backup is a good idea since a disaster could happen to your home or office that ruins the media on site.
And then there are installers which without warning will remove different versions of programs, and in a few cases have been known to remove all the data on the system by accident.
Always have at least two copies of your data at all times. As the loss of one data source due to any of the above failures means you will need the second backup to recover your data.
And one copy should also be in a remote location in case something happens to the home location whether it is theft, accidental damage, or natural disaster.
In the meantime if you aren't able to make the investment in backup software or hardware at least make yourself a hard copy of all your documents by printing them out. While not as easy to recover from as digital backups, at least you won't be trying to create the data from scratch. Though as you'll see below, some options are no more expensive than printing out your documents.
Finally, Apple now has come to terms with backing up:
http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1566 Which is the article referenced by the update both via Software Update and Apple Software Updates page for 10.5.1 it says:
"It is recommended that you backup your system prior to installing any updates."
You can't say you haven't been warned by the horse's mouth anymore.
Suggestions? Please e-mail me