This week with the Mac Mini: Anthony’s Mac backup strategy

Hard driveThis week, I’ve been planning a revamp of my online backup strategy from what it’d been for the past few years: merely copying files to my 1TB external hard drive (using the excellent Linux backup program Back In Time) and putting some photos on Flickr. Between the move to OS X, my external hard drive nearly full/not big enough to also accommodate my video collection, and worrying that my strategy isn’t thorough enough, I’ve set about on a revised backup strategy, which I’ll outline below.

Step 1: Time Machine

After buying a new Toshiba 2TB external hard drive, I set it up as my new Time Machine backup drive. Time Machine, of course, is the excellent and easy-to-use OS X backup program. Setting it to use the new hard drive as a backup was easy enough, as was excluding several folders I didn’t wish to be backed up (for various reasons).

This of course achieves the minimum backup job of backing up everything on my Mini. The old external hard drive is now being used for storing most of my video collection. The video files are entered into iTunes without copying them onto the Mini’s drive by selecting/dragging the files into iTunes’ window while holding down the “Option” key. This way, I can play the videos in iTunes while keeping them on the old external drive. As for backing up the videos from the old external drive, I merely copied them manually to the new external drive, though Time Machine can be set up to do this automatically if one wishes.

Step 2: Photographs to Flickr

The next step is making sure my entire digital photo collection is stored online. While they’re also backed up to my new external drive via Time Machine, having a copy of my photos stored outside of my home computer provides an extra measure of security, on the off chance something happens to my computer and external hard drive (theft, for instance). Would hate to permanently lose my photos of my niece’s fifth birthday party, or a few family Christmas festivities.

Since I pay for Flickr Pro (which allows for unlimited storage space for $25/year), it was an easy decision to upload the remainder of my photos to there. Of course, I already have a good chunk of my photos on Flickr already, but I hadn’t placed more valued personal photos there—namely, photos of family and friends I definitely would want to keep indefinitely. Fortunately, iPhoto (OS X’s photo management program) offers the ability to upload directly to Flickr, as well as set the viewing permissions. Being personal photos, I set the permissions to “only you” (only visible to myself), and gave the uploaded sets of photos names (“Christmas 2009,” for instance). iPhoto worked well, though it seems to have one minor bug (a few photos’ links from within iPhoto to their Flickr versions don’t work).

With that done, onto the final step…

Step 3: Storing personal documents on Dropbox

The last step is storing a few of my more important personal documents online, for similar reasons as the photos above. This was the most time-consuming step, as there’s various online services that offer “cloud” (online) backup functions, with different features (and costs). In the end, I decided to stick with Dropbox, which offers 2GB gigabytes of free online storage to start. Extra storage space can be obtained by two ways: by purchasing extra space, or through various offers (such as recommendations) for free up to 16GB of space. Referring friends to sign up for Dropbox earns both people 500MB of free space. (Obligatory plug: my referral link, if anyone’s interested: http://db.tt/6eYSb1rq ). Dropbox is cross-platform across all the major smartphone platforms, as well as offering OS X, Windows, and Linux support. After the initial setup, a special Dropbox folder on your computer is monitored for any new files added; said files are then automatically uploaded to Dropbox, where they’ll be available on any device with Dropbox access. Dropbox’s files are stored online securely (or as secure as the “cloud” gets, anyway).

The one downside of Dropbox is that it only works with the special Dropbox folder, and doesn’t monitor other folders. If that’s desired, Dropbox rival SugarSync offers such a service. While most of what I wanted to store are files that rarely change (which I merely archived as a zip file, by right-clicking on the file and selecting “Compress filename“), I also wanted to secure a few files on my own as an extra precaution. While OS X doesn’t (via the GUI) offer password protected zip files, it does offer creating an encrypted disk image from a directory of files, which besides being encrypted, also requires a password to open. MacWorld has instructions on how to do this here. After this, I uploaded the zip files and encrypted directory files to a directory on my Dropbox account.

The downside of this step, of course, is that it’s not an automated solution; I’ll have to remember to back up any updated versions to Dropbox every so often. However, I feel this method should work in the long run, since as I noted before, only a few of the files I uploaded will have regular changes.

Conclusion

That should cover it. I’m now prepared for any disasters that should befall my computer, have several backup copies (online and offline) of my most important files available, and as a bonus, have via my old external hard drive extra storage space. If any of this requires any tweaking/changes in the future, I’ll post an update.

One more note: most of the above tips should work for Windows/Linux users as well. For Linux, substitute Back In Time for Time Machine, and photo management software Shotwell for iPhoto; for the third step, Linux distros usually support creating password-protected zip files from within the GUI.

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