Mac Tips: Backup (Part 1)

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As a long-time Mac geek, I'm often called upon to help friends and family with Mac issues. In this new feature, I'll post a few of the most crucial tips so our Mac-using readers can benefit. This week's tip is also applicable to the Windows platform -- but future tips may not be!

Today's topic is backup. Anyone who has experienced a hard drive crash, had a computer stolen, or lost a computer in a disaster can tell you how important it is to have a copy of your precious data. Imagine losing all your data -- all your music, work files, email, everything. It's a terrible thing to contemplate! With a backup, you can restore critical files and get back to work. I think we all know that backup is important, but avoid dealing with it because it takes time and money to set up...right? Actually, it can be easy -- and free. In this article I'll introduce Mozy, an online backup service (for Windows users too) which offers free 2 GB personal backup service, in the hopes you'll upgrade to a pay-per-use plan (with unlimited space and extra features). I have no affiliation with Mozy, aside from being a satisfied user of their MozyHome Free service.

After the jump: specifics on Mozy and a free signup link!

Mozy is a "set it and forget it" backup solution, which is the only practical way for home users to backup. Other solutions that require you to actually do something to run the backup cause users to put it off, which leads to a stale backup when something bad actually happens. To get around this, Mozy runs in the background, automatically performing backups over the internet to a secure server when it detects that you've been idle for a period of time (you can set this period, or leave it at the default). If Mozy needs your attention (for example, if it hasn't been able to reach the server to backup for more than seven days) it'll pop up a warning message. But otherwise it just quietly does its thing. (Note: you may want to increase the amount of time your computer stays awake before sleep, in order to give Mozy more time to run backups.)

If you're going to use Mozy's free service, you'll need to limit the items you backup to fit in its 2 GB space. For me, Mozy's 2 GB space allows storage of all my email, all Word/Excel/PowerPoint documents, everything I've purchased from iTunes, and a set of key document folders (all my daily work and projects) -- with space to spare. Because of the limited space, Mozy's free service is only a partial solution. Should you experience a catastrophic computer failure -- you'll be able to recover your most crucial data, but will still have to restore all sorts of other stuff (MP3s, applications, and so on) by hand. We'll talk about some complementary "full backup" solutions next week. But keep in mind a key strength of Mozy's free service is that it runs backups to an offsite server -- this allows you to retrieve your data in the event that your house burns down.

Mozy is still in Beta on the Mac platform, which means it will need occasional updates, and may need extra care and feeding at times. But in my use (and my friends' use) over the past six months, it has been very stable and reliable -- and it appears to be fast approaching a final non-Beta release. I've done some test restores to make sure my data is retrievable, and it has worked like a charm. If you need to restore a lot of data and don't want to download your restores over the internet, you can pay a nominal fee for Mozy to burn a disc and mail it to you.

If you've read this far, you're ready to start using Mozy. If you use this Mozy link I'll get a kickback of some extra free storage on my account. IMPORTANT NOTE: be sure to sign up for the free service! Click the orange "Home Users" button in the upper right, then the orange "MozyHome Free" button in the lower left. The free service doesn't require a credit card or any other commitment. (Well, aside from you trusting Mozy with your data!) If you want to sign up for their paid service, it's $4.95/month for personal use with no storage restrictions.

If you want to know more about Mozy, check out Mozy's News section, which includes positive reviews by Consumer Reports, The Wall Street Journal, and Ars Technica (among others). Stay tuned for an article next week on full-system backup that works as a complement to Mozy. Also, if you want to scare the non-backer-uppers, share your tales of data loss in the comments.

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January 17, 2008 - 4:30am
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