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How to Set Up Backup 3 and Save Your Data

by Derrick Story

I've been fascinated with Apple's backup software since its early release. Back in 2003, I wrote an article titled "802.11, .Mac, Backup--All Coming Together" that discussed how WiFi and .Mac provided laptop users with flexible backup options. Back in those days, we only had 100 MB to work with via .Mac, so only the most basic data was eligible for this service (no iPhoto libraries, that's for sure).

Each year things have improved. We tend to see new .Mac tools and service enhancements in September. That's because many of us who upgraded from the previous incarnation of .Mac--then called iTools--did so in the fall. My account comes up for renewal on Oct 7. So do many others. This year's enticements are pretty good. I now have a full gigabyte to play with in my .Mac account, and I have a new version of Backup. Both are substantial improvements.

In this article I'm going to show you how to set up Backup 3. There's a lot more to this new version than a brighter red umbrella icon. Apple has made substantial changes to the software, and in my opinion, has created a workflow that's truly useful.

I'll resist spending too much time here waxing about the virtues of automated backup. We all know that it's essential for protecting our data. Whether you use these tools, or roll your own--such as the techniques Richard Hough outlined in his excellent article, "Automated Backups on Tiger Using rsync"--be sure to choose some method. 'Nuff said.

Get Your Account in Order

As I mentioned in my weblog entry Backup 3 QuickStart Guide, you should start by logging into your .Mac account and configuring your storage partition. I tend to give most of my MBs to iDisk, since .Mac isn't my primary email location. Your mileage may vary. This is also a good time to make sure your credit card info is up to date, so you don't have any glitches on renewal day. Before you leave the site, download Backup 3 and install it. (If you already have Backup on your hard drive, you can also use Software Update to get version 3.)

Backup 3 works for both Panther and Tiger users. I've tested the app on both platforms. Panther users need Mac OS X v10.3.9 and Tiger folks need Mac OS X v10.4.2 or later.

Choose Your Plan

At the heart of this new version of Backup is what Apple calls a "Plan." Plans are separate configurations that enable you to execute different types of backup scenarios. You can create a variety of Plans, then choose from your Backup menu which one you want to enable for any given backup.

Each configuration includes a name for the Plan, when it's scheduled to run next, the types of files included in the backup, where the files will be saved to, and when the last backup of the Plan was executed.

The Plan for Existing Backup Users

If you've been using an earlier version of Backup, I recommend that you start with the "Transfer previous Backup settings" Plan. This option takes your current settings and builds a Backup 3 Plan with them.

Migrated iDisk Plan
Existing Backup users might want to start with the "Transfer previous Backup settings" Plan

Once you choose the Transfer Plan, you're presented with a second window that lets you choose "Migrated CD, DVD Plan," or "Migrated iDisk Plan." Since I want automated network backups, I'm choosing the iDisk Plan.

Now here's an important tip. At this point, double-click on the Migrated iDisk Plan to reveal another menu that shows what is actually being backed up. When I first tried this method, I didn't do that. I then got a failure notice because somehow the Transfer Plan decided to add all the Filemaker DBs on my hard drive to the backup. (Then it spent a long time searching for all the DBs on my drive.) This pushed me over the 1GB limit on my iDisk and prompted a failure notice. Once I eliminated the Filemaker DBs from the Plan, everything went smoothly. If everything looks good to you once you review the items list, then click on the Back Up Now button to initiate the process.

One of the big advantages to choosing a simple set of files for your first backup is that it saves you time while setting up your workflow. One of Backup 3's weaknesses is how long it takes to scour your hard drive for loosely categorized file types, such as "all Microsoft Word docs." At least during the "getting your feet wet" stage, keep it simple and back up items, such as your Address Book database, that reside in one location. Later, you can add more items to your list as time permits.

I should also say that once Backup knows where everything is, it's quite speedy. My backups now take less than two minutes. It's those initial searches for files that seem to take forever.

If you do get a failure, be sure to check the log files. You can do that by clicking on the History tab in the Plan detail window. Choose the session that you want more info about, then click the View Details button. Backup will launch the Console app and display your log files.

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The Plan for New Backup Users

If you're a new user, you'll want to configure a Plan for your first backup. You can do this by going to Plan -> New Plan... at the top file menu or by clicking on the + symbol in your Backup menu of plans. You'll be presented with some basic options for creating a new plan. I recommend that you start with Personal Data & Settings. This covers the basics, such as your Address Book database and iCal calendars. You can add other files to this Plan once you're up and running. Once you pick your starting plan, and double-check that it's backing up to the location you want, click the Back Up button and the process begins.

Plan Templates
Apple provides some useful Plan templates as a good starting point for new users

Here's another tip. If you don't like the name "Migrated iDisk Plan," just click on that title and you can enter whatever name you want. If you want to remove a plan from the Backup window, just click on it once and hit the delete button.

Preserving Downloads Purchased from the iTunes Music Store

We've been able to back up to optical media for some time now, but the process never seemed as easy as it should be. That's changed in version 3. You have pre-configured options for backing up your purchased music, or even your Home folder.

I think the purchased music archive is particularly important. As you know, once you've paid for a song and downloaded it, that's the end of Apple's responsibility. If you somehow lose the music file through a hard drive crash, you'd have to buy it again. Backing up these files is essential.

Launch Backup 3 and click the + button in the lower-left corner to create a new Plan. Double-click on Purchased Music to open the detail menu that shows "iTunes purchased music" in the items list with the amount of data that needs to be backed up. In the Destination and Schedule window, you'll see "Monthly to CD or DVD at XX:XX time on the XX day of the month." If you want to change the schedule time, just double-click on the DVD icon to reveal another detail menu that gives you those options.

Once you're set, click the Back Up Now button and your Mac will begin the process by asking you to insert a blank CD or DVD (depending on how much music you have). Click the Burn button and you're on your way.

Backup 3 creates an archive file and burns it to disk. The disk title becomes "Purchased Music" with the date and time of the backup. When you open the disk, you'll see a Backup 3 archive with a similar title. The solid orange umbrella top icon indicates that you have a full backup. (If the umbrella top was segmented, that indicates a partial backup.) If you double-click on the file, it will launch Backup and take you directly to the Restore menu.

DVD Archive
Your purchased music is now stored in a Backup 3 archive that is timestamped and burned to a DVD

Backup3 suggests that you perform a purchased music backup once a month. For most folks, that should be often enough. But if you find yourself in the middle of a buying spree on the iTMS, you may want to run a backup right afterward--just to be safe.

Also note that these are single-session burns. So even though you might not use all the disk space during any given session, you can't add more music to that disk later. You'll have to start with fresh media.

Save Time (Usually) with Quick Picks

You can also build your own backup Plan by manually choosing folders and files. Apple has provided you with a simplified alternative to hunting through your hard drive for certain types of data by creating a hefty list of QuickPicks. This list gives you 22 different options to easily capture files such as "Mail messages and settings," "Microsoft Word documents," and "Pages documents"--just to name a few.

To get to the QuickPick list, choose any of the Plan Templates, such as "Custom." When you're presented with the detail pane, click on the + button below the Backup Items window. Click on the QuickPicks tab to reveal the list you have to choose from. Pick the items you want to include in your custom workflow, then click on the Done button.

To quickly build a custom backup, try selecting from the list of QuickPicks by clicking on the + button

One word of caution here. If you pick a category that has lots of files associated with it, such as "Microsoft Word documents," Backup could spend a fair amount of time scanning your hard drive before you're allowed to initiate the backup. Just something to keep in mind if you're in a hurry. Other QuickPicks, such as "Address Book," take virtually no scanning time because your Mac knows exactly where this database is.

After you've determined your list of Backup Items, then all you have to do is tell the app the Destination and Schedule (such as iDisk every day at noon) and click the Back Up Now button. You're off and running.

For Tiger Only: Use Spotlight to Find Files

If you're looking for a specific type of file to add to your backup, you can use the Spotlight tab if you're running Tiger. But be careful with this option; if your search is too broad, you could end up with tons of files to mark to add to your Plan.

Once Spotlight finds what you're looking for, it's up to you to mark them for inclusion. If you have just a handful of results, you can use Select All (Command-A), then click the "Include these items" radio button. But if you have lots and lots of results, Command-A won't work, because it only selects items visible in the window. If you have "more" results that aren't initially showing in the window, you have the reveal them before marking.

You can use the Spotlight search to find specific data to add to your backup

Click the Done button and your results are transferred to the Backup Items window with their associated file sizes, plus the total size of the backup, so you can choose the appropriate medium for saving.

I should also mention that you can locate data the old-fashioned way by clicking on the Files & Folder tab. This shows you the familiar hierarchal view of your hard drive, allowing you to hand-pick the files and folders you want to back up.

Backing Up to Your iPod

Saving to your iDisk is great when you have an internet connection. But for those times you don't, an iPod is an easy to use alternative.

Backup lets you save to any FireWire drive. But the iPod's compact size usually means that it's the FW drive you have with you regardless of location. And that's essential for effective backup and retrieval.

The flexibility of Backup 3's Plan system means you're not limited to one style of backup or another. You can save to your iDisk when a network is available and to an external drive otherwise. Nothing gets mucked up. The separate Plans keep your backups compartmented and tidy.

Apple has published a handy how-to page for backing up to your iPod.

Restore Lost Data Files

Backing up is great, but restoring lost files is what's important after a crash. Backup 3 has added flexibility to this function so you can easily target the data you need.

Start by selecting the Plan you want to access, then choose Restore from the file menu (Plan -> Restore...). You're presented with a dialog box that lists the Previous Backups in the left column. If you click on one, you get a list of the items that backup contains in the center column, with empty check boxes beside each item. If you want to drill down deeper, such as with backed-up folders, click on the folder and you'll see a list of its contents in the right column. You can either pick individual files by checking their boxes or choose them all by checking the box next to the folder.

Restoring files is also easier in Backup 3. You can choose the backup session and specific files within it.

If you want to restore the files to a different location, then check the box "Restore to an alternate location." Finally, click the Restore Selection button to initiate the process.

iPhoto and iTunes Restoration: Not as Convenient

This Restore procedure works great for typical data files, Address Book, iCal, etc., but I'm not as hot on it for entire iPhoto and iTunes libraries. Why? The basic problem is that Backup 3 restores the files to the selected location, but iPhoto, for example, doesn't automatically import them. So you must import them after they've been restored. The same goes for iTunes music.

Earlier in the article, I recommend using Backup 3 for your purchased music. Despite the clunky restoration process for these types of files, I still think it's a good idea. Because your purchased music is worth quite a bit of money, and there's no alternative if its lost other than to buy it again, I think regular, automated backups are a good idea to protect your investment.

But for your overall iTunes library, I'm more in favor of occasionally dragging the entire iTunes music folder to an external hard drive. This method's much easier to restore, because you don't have to reimport the entire collection.

For iPhoto, I suggest that you use the archiving feature built into iPhoto instead of Backup 3. The advantage is that the photo database is preserved intact, so you don't have to reimport photos. Just put the archived disk in your drive and iPhoto recognizes it.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Backup 3 is a big step forward from previous versions. In addition to the new features, it's very stable and the user interface is attractive and intuitive. Combined with the increased storage included with your .Mac membership, Backup is a great way to add automated archiving to any Mac. I especially recommend it for friends and family who often don't have any workflow in place.

You can learn more about Backup 3 by visiting the Backup support page.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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