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Backing up is like flossing (Vol #18)

Inside: Time Machine, backups

I have an appointment at my local Apple Store’s Genius Bar in just over an hour and they’ll almost certainly keep my computer to replace my dying DVD drive. So this week’s newsletter will be brief, but, for some of you, it will be the most important one I’ve ever written.

Backing up is like flossing? Yep.

When I was a kid I read on a dentist’s wall a cutesy sign that I’ve remembered ever since:

“You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!”

If I’m successful, after reading this article and watching the video in it, you’ll be thinking:

“I don’t have to back up all my files, just the ones I want to keep!”

How to set up Time Machine backups to an external USB drive

Please, please, please, if you do not already back up your Mac, click on that link and learn just how easy it is.

Word of the Week

The word is “backup”.

Like last week’s word, “zip”, “backup” is both a noun and a verb. To “back up” your computer files means to make another copy of them. That copy is called a “backup”. But not just any copy. The copy has to be somewhere else!

Your backup can be on a different hard drive, on a different media (like a DVD), or in a different location. Ideally it’s a combination of these. One good backup strategy is called “The 3-2-1 Rule”. It suggests this easy to remember strategy:

  • 3 copies of any important file (one primary and two backups)
  • 2 different types of media (for example, hard drive and CD or DVD)
  • 1 copy stored at another location

As I showed in How to set up Time Machine backups to an external USB drive, it’s easy to have one backup on an external USB drive. Similar drives can often use your Mac’s Firewire port if you prefer that.

If you have a network router and can spend a bit more, you can get an external drive that attaches to your router. This has two big advantages: (1) You don’t have to worry about plugging and unplugging your external drive directly to your Mac, and (2) you can usually have more than one computer backing up to the same drive! In a few weeks I’ll be showing how to set up a network backup drive.

Although you likely can’t fit all the files on your Mac onto one DVD or even a short stack of them, DVDs are very handy for an extra backup of photos, music, videos, and other important files, especially if you envision wanting to easily share them with others. If you kept these at another location than your computer (a family member’s house, safe deposit box), then you’d be fulfilling the “1” part of the 3-2-1 Rule.

Another way to store a backup at another location is to use an online backup service, sometimes referred to these days as “in the cloud”. This will likely be the topic of another future Mac Help For Mom article. Please reply to this email and tell me if there’s a service you’ve already used (and if you liked it or hated it) or if there’s a particular one you’d like me to review.

However you choose to back up your computer files, do something. If you need inspiration, close your eyes and imagine everything being wiped off your computer. Surely you must have some important documents, family photos, grandkid videos, a music collection, or something else you’d hate to lose. If you don’t back them up, it’s not a question of “if” you’ll lose them someday, it’s just a question of “when”.

Did I scare you? Good. My job is done.

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