In the previous installments of this series on backup, I looked at issues surrounding backup as well as at backup hardware and software that you might want to use. We're nearing the end of this topic, but a few important points remain to be made. Also, be sure to read this issue's review of BackJack, the first Macintosh Internet backup service.
Backup Shareware -- You may have noticed that last week I discussed only commercial software. I'm normally a huge supporter of freeware and shareware software, but in this case, I have to come down on the side of sticking with commercial software. Here's why.
First, if you go to the effort of backing up your data, you should be assured that you'll be able to access your data in case of problems with the backup, the software, or even your backup device. You need someone to call in case technical support is the key to recovering files essential to your project. Although many shareware authors offer great support via email, it's unusual for them to provide telephone support, which could prove necessary.
Second, the entire point of backups is that they be accessible at some random point in the future. That means you need to know that your backup program will be updated to work under future versions of the Mac OS. Even if the backup program stores files in normal Finder-readable format (so recovery shouldn't be a problem), being forced to switch backup programs just as you're upgrading to a new version of the operating system can be nerve-wracking - that's one of the times you're most likely to need good backups.
Third and finally, all the freeware and shareware programs I've seen fall into either the file copying or file synchronization categories outlined in the second part of this article, with all the related advantages and disadvantages mentioned there.
That said, if you wish to rely on a freeware or shareware solution, I recommend sticking with a program that's updated frequently and that stores files in normal Finder-readable format. Also, think carefully about your backup strategy so you have multiple backup sets and some level of historical backup. Here are the main programs I've seen that claim to back up files, listed alphabetically with version number, download size, price, and a URL to additional information and download links.
Drag 'N Back 2.7 (242K, $50)
MacUpdate 4.0b7 (625K, $20)
NetBackup 1.0 (273K, $20)
Onyx 1.0b2 (63K, $10)
SimpleBackup 1.6 (24K, free)
SmartSaver 3.2 (149K, $25)
SwitchBack 2.6 (272K, $30)
Synk 2.4.2 (621K, $10)
Off-site Storage Companies -- If you're concerned about your off-site backup strategy, you might look into a service that stores physical backups off-site. These companies often handle pickup and delivery, providing schedules and materials to simplify an off-site backup strategy. They're undoubtedly not cheap, but in business situations where data is all-important, they may be worth the cost. You can find several of them in Yahoo's Disaster Recovery category.
Catastrophic Data Loss -- If you find yourself in a catastrophic data loss situation, consider checking out the data recovery services offered by DriveSavers, a company that has developed proprietary software and techniques to recover data even from truly mangled disks that have been in fires, under tires, or at the bottom of the Amazon river. DriveSavers recently noted that they're now confident of being able to recover Macintosh Extended Format (MEF, or HFS Plus) disks. There are other recovery companies - I recommend making sure they're experts with Macintosh drive formats before working with them.
Whatever You Do -- I realize I've come down hard on the side of spending a decent amount of money to put together a coherent backup strategy based on a dedicated backup device, multiple tapes or cartridges, and commercial backup software. That's because I consider the work I do on my Macs to be important, and I feel that spending money up front is more efficient than wasting time and money when the inevitable data loss happens. I like the peace of mind that comes from knowing I've put together a solid backup system.
If you feel that your files aren't particularly important or that you can afford to spend a few days restoring your Mac to working order, feel free to go with a less expensive and comprehensive backup strategy. Just keep in mind the advice in this series, and whatever you do, remember this: No one ever regrets backing up, only not backing up.