Reminder: Backup your data!

Last week something terrible happened; my computer refused to start up. Rescue disks reported that the hard drive had failed.

This can happen to any computer at any time; it is the one thing Macs are not safer from than PCs. Luckily it is also something that Mac OS X has a built-in mechanism to avoid, as long as you do a few easy steps to turn it on.

I’m talking about Time Machine, the automatic backup system that you can just set and then forget.

Of course, you have to set it up first, and this is where people make the big mistake of not bothering. They think it will never happen to them – wrong!

All it involves is buying an external hard drive (I went for the Time Capsule as it was wireless, and is also a full-featured WiFi base station), connecting it and then when the Mac asks if you want to use this as your Time Machine backup, just say yes.

So luckily for me, I had everything backed up. I also use this machine for my business, and we have extra backups for that, too (If the hard drive you are backing up to is located in the same room as your computer, then it is not a good backup in case of fire, theft etc. We use both Dropbox and iDrive at work to back up important data).

All it took for me to restore my Mac to complete working order was to get a new hard drive, then take the computer home and start it up. The Mac OS startup process said “Would you like to migrate everything from your Time Machine backups?” and I said yes. After a couple of hours (there was a lot of stuff!) the computer restarted and it was exactly as I had left it before the hard drive failed!

I was amazed at this; not only every file in its place, but all the preferences set correctly, the software was all activated and up-to-date, all my work was ready to go as I had left it.

Considering my last experience of a hard drive crash was when I was on Windows, and there was no built-in automatic backup system, and backups basically meant sitting there for hours making DVDs of my stuff, Time Machine has been an absolute marvel.

As Joel Spolsky recently said:

“The minimum bar for a reliable service is not that you have done a backup, but that you have done a restore.”

So now, having done a restore from my Time Machine backup, I can heartily recommend using it. If you do not have a backup strategy, do it now before it is too late!