Hardware remains as mortal as we are — often much more so. Computer makers often try to pretend this reality is an illusion, even...

Share story

Hardware remains as mortal as we are — often much more so. Computer makers often try to pretend this reality is an illusion, even though they depend in part on a combination of hardware death and obsolescence to make their living.

Even Apple Computer fails to provide an option for making regular, straightforward duplicates of our hard drives. Its Backup application, which requires a $99 a year subscription to .Mac to obtain and use, backs up only particular files and isn’t very good at most elements of making archives of files. Backup can’t duplicate an entire hard drive for restoration after a failure.

What Apple should provide and set leadership on in so doing is the full Monty: a bootable CD-ROM or burned-in system component that allows a perfect duplicate to be made on demand of the internal hard drive.

The program Carbon Copy Cloner, known to its fans as CCC, provides this functionality at no cost (www.bombich.com/software/ccc.html, donations requested). If one small developer can provide this functionality, it’s absurd that a multibillion-dollar company cannot.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

I’m irate about this particular problem because of a recent spate of hard-drive and computer failures among friends and colleagues who are longtime Mac owners. Some had partial or complete backups. Friends in Singapore lost an in-progress novel and family photos during a two-machine blowout.

You can blame the victim or agitate for change by the folks selling us devices guaranteed to fail over time — that time might be 10 years or even 20 — without providing us a way out.

I recommend two courses of action. First, tell Apple that the boring subject of backups needs to be moved up the priority ladder. Every Mac should ship with software and an explanation of how to make a regular, bootable, identical backup. I suggest the bootable CD-ROM, because it makes it into a discrete task you perform with your computer.

Software choices

Drive cloning and file backups

Retrospect Desktop, www.dantz.com/en/products/mac_business/compare.dtml, $129

ProSoft Data Backup, www.prosofteng.net/products/data_backup.php, $59

LaCie Silverkeeper, www.silverkeeper.com, free

Tri-Backup, www.tri-edre.com/english/products/productsbackup.html, $49

Ascendant Softworks MimMac, www.ascendantsoft.com, $10

Drive cloning only

Carbon Copy Cleaner, www.bombich.com/software/ccc.html, free (donations requested)

File backups only

Apple Backup, www.mac.com, included in $99/year .Mac membership

BRU LE, www.tolisgroup.com/BRU_LE-main.html, $129

dobrySoft Backuper, dobrysoft.com/products/backuper/, $29.95

Babel Company Impression, http://babelcompany.com/impression/index.html, $49

Second, take matters into your own hands, and start backing up now. There have never been so many software packages that ensure your digital files have a lifetime beyond a single hard drive’s brief candle snuffing out(see accompanying software choices).

You should make three choices about preserving your data: all or some; archive or backup; and removable media or hard drive.

All or some: Determine whether specific files are important to you or whether you’d like to have an exact copy of your entire hard drive or set of drives. If you care about particular files, such as the entire contents of your user directory in the Home folder, you have more options for creating archives than if you wish to keep a duplicate of your drive on hand. Some programs specialize in one or the other task; others handle both.

Archive or backup: Archiving files means keeping multiple copies of files that change over time with the ability to choose among several copies. Most companies archive data to make sure that when a file is deleted or modified they can retrieve an original or previous version. Typically, a straight backup is a snapshot of a current state of a set of files or a disk.

Removable media or hard drive: The media question is usually decided on a matter of cost and time. Tape drives are typically far too expensive and complicated for home backups, but they have the advantage of being inexpensive per removable tape, so you can store a vast history of archived files.

Newer DVDs can store up to 9 gigabytes on a dual-layer disc. A dual-layer DVD burner costs less than $200; discs are a few dollars each depending on quantities. Some DVDs can be re-used, reducing media costs.

I prefer hard drives, because they’ve become cheap and fast. For less than $300, you can purchase a multihundred GB drive, useful for ongoing archives of 40 GB to 80 GB drives often over several months.

With cheap drives in hand, an option formerly reserved for large companies may come into play: RAID (redundant array of independent disks). A computer or special disk controller writes data to multiple disks that make up a set.

The most useful flavor for backups is RAID 1, in which two drives mirror each other. All data written to one drive is written identically to a second. Should the first drive fail, the second should work fine. Sparing events that destroy a computer or electrical flaws in a power supply, it’s almost unlikely two drives would fail at once.

RAID 1 isn’t complicated. If you add a second internal drive to a Power Mac of the same size as an existing one, Apple’s Disk Utility can set up a RAID 1 array. If you want to use a combination of drives, including external drives, turn to SoftRAID ($129, www.softraid.com).

If no one else will come to our aid, it’s time to take our digital preservation into our own hands, or face a loss of memory from a hard drive failure that’s no less catastrophic for many people these days than losing their scrapbooks, photo albums and financial records in a fire.

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to gfleishman@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists