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Tip #7: Get Some Backup Software (and Use It)

Making backup files can be as easy or as simple as you want. There are a whole variety of options available, from simple utilities like Apple's own Backup program to more heavyweight options like Retrospect, but all have one thing in common: they're only as good as your last backup. If you backup once a week, then potentially you stand to lose a week's worth of work. So choose backup intervals that make sense.

What's often overlooked is that you need to backup the files somewhere secure. Zip disks and other cheap mass storage devices are so unreliable that using them as a backup would be a big risk. CDs and DVDs are better, but they are easily scratched or warped, so they need to be kept somewhere safe. Backing up to another hard drive is wonderfully fast and reasonably secure, but hard drives do fail from time to time. Worse still, if your backups are in the office, then fire, flood, or theft that puts your computer as risk will likely put some or all of your backups at risk as well. Storing files away from your office at an online service (such as Apple's iDisk) is much more secure in this regard, but the downside is that online file storage is relatively expensive per gigabyte and access speeds tend to be fairly poor. Ultimately choosing between backing-up to tape, disk, or an online storage device comes down to a personal decision between balancing cost, convenience, and security.

Once you've decided how and when to do your backups and where to store them, choosing what to back up is the other important consideration. Many backup applications will have a variety of presets making this step a bit simpler. The most bullet-proof option is to simply back up your entire Home folder or even the entire hard drive if you have the space. But being more selective will speed up the process and reduce the amount of space needed per backup. There are some traps to look out for though. While your Documents folder likely holds most of your important projects and files, other things will be located elsewhere. Your e-mail lives in the Mail folder in your Home folder's Library folder. Similarly, your Safari bookmarks are in the Safari folder in the Library folder. Be sure and hunt around in other places that files might be found, such as the Public folder if you work with shared resources.

Figure 7

Figure 7 If your files are backed up, maintaining and repairing your Mac becomes much easier.

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