Cloning Jaguars – Backup Programs for Mac OS X

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Date: Monday, September 23rd, 2002, 00:00
Category: Archive

Everyone has a different strategy for backups and approaches can vary significantly. The important point is to insure against loss of data and time. Under classic OS, I used to back up my system and applications to a second internal HD. This has proven more difficult under X, so I keep a pristine install of X, updated with only Apple system updates on one drive along with OS-9 to run classic applications. The other drive is my boot drive with X installed. I typically install the latest and greatest like Jaguar on this “pristine drive”, but wait a week or two before updating my daily boot drive. I may start using a program like Carbon Copy Cloner to create the occasional disk image of my active system, but I haven’t yet.

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Everyone has a different strategy for backups and approaches can vary significantly. The important point is to insure against loss of data and time. Under classic OS, I used to back up my system and applications to a second internal HD. This has proven more difficult under X, so I keep a pristine install of X, updated with only Apple system updates on one drive along with OS-9 to run classic applications. The other drive is my boot drive with X installed. I typically install the latest and greatest like Jaguar on this “pristine drive”, but wait a week or two before updating my daily boot drive. I may start using a program like Carbon Copy Cloner to create the occasional disk image of my active system, but I haven’t yet.

I stopped backing up applications some time ago. After backing up system and applications for nearly ten years and never needing them, I am willing to run the risk that I will have to reinstall my System and Applications in the event of a drive failure and then invest in recreating all my prefs and settings from scratch – at least a days work. This could be very disruptive with a deadline approaching, but I rely on the fact that if my desktop machine fails, I will just switch to my laptop which has all the same applications and the latest system.

I have simplified backups to just synchronizing all of my data between a desktop G4 and a TiBook using a portable bus-powered FireWire drive. This keeps data on both machines identical and keeps it stored in three separate drives, one always off-site. All my music and archived files are synched with the PowerBook in Target disk mode via Firewire. I have been using ChronoSync for about six months, but recently upgraded my copy of Personal Backup to the just released version for X.

ChronoSync has been extremely reliable for the six months I’ve relied on it. It creates a file for each backup script you set up. I found this clunky at first, but eventually created a well ordered set of nested folders containing aliases that I can open with one click using PiPop. You could just as easily drag this folder to the dock. Scripting was a bit confusing in earlier versions but a recent switch in terminology from “upstream & downstream” to “right & left” along with some well placed direction arrows has made things much more straightforward. My only real complaint is in the number of steps required to execute a backup. Once a file is opened, a window appears and you must click on the Synchronize icon to begin a backup or sync. When completed, a button appears that must be manually dismissed. The file must then be closed and another dialog appears asking you to save. I just want to open the file with one click, have it run, close and save automatically, so long as there are no problems during the backup that would require a dialog and some intervention on my part. This behavior should be selectable as a preference.

I used Personal Backup for about ten years until moving to OS X. I loved the classic version that allowed running a script from via the menu bar with script editing accomplished using a control panel. Backups were quick, accurate and required little intervention. Even though the original developer disappeared, the program ran flawlessly through OS 7 and 8 and only needed a bit of a tweak to run under 9. I had to abandon the software when I moved to X, but waited patiently for its update. The new version for X is completely different and on the plus side, creating scripts is very quick, straightforward and downright elegant. But, access to those scripts and the way the program actually executes backups is highly problematic.

Typically on opening, the program will display the last backup or sync that was run. In my case a test I did with two folders that no longer even exist. I only run scripts now, but that test backup always appears when I open the program, not the last script that was run. It would be nice if a preference allowed the program to open in the advanced mode or if the most recent script appeared as the default, ready to run. Backups and Synchronizations have stalled randomly and that has forced me to revert to ChronoSync for the safety and security of my data. Additionally, the behavior when first backing up creates a duplicate folder within the folder being backed up. Not a problem if the first backup is done from a folder with data to an empty folder, but this is really not feasible when synchronizing two machines with an external portable drive. This behavior cannot be overridden and effectively doubles the size of any folder during an initial backup. It also changes the date of every nested folder. I was also unable to backup or synchronize the Documents folder of my iDisk. Everything that failed with Personal Backup still works flawlessly with ChronoSynch.

If ChronoSync could eliminate all the interventions required when manually launching a backup file, I would be satisfied. Personal Backup on the other hand has a lot of promise but many serious problems to solve before the software is usable. Certainly the standard for backups on the Mac is Retrospect, but I prefer these slim programs for quick synchs at the beginning and end of each work day. If you have a favorite backup program or an unusual backup strategy, please post a reply!

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