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Configuring a Utility Hard Disk

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Years ago, when APS Technologies was the dominant hard drive vendor in the Macintosh world, I had a chat with Paul McGraw, one of the co-founders of the company, about why APS was starting to sell Macintosh clones. He said that since Apple was shipping such large hard drives at the time, he thought the hard drive aftermarket was going to become significantly less profitable. He was probably correct, particularly given the size of drives in today's Macs. Those of us who don't do video (which happily eats all the disk space you can throw at it) are unlikely ever to fill them.

But does that mean there's no reason for an external hard drive? Far from it. For quite some time after I bought my first Power Mac without SCSI, I lived without one. Not having a large external drive made me uncomfortable, though, and I was surprised how relieved I felt after buying one for secondary backups (primary backups at the time were going to VXA-1 tape), testing backup software, providing a boot disk for troubleshooting, and so on.

Should you rush right out and buy an external hard drive? It mostly comes down to whether or not you're the type of person who solves problems, either for yourself or for other people. Plenty of people just use their Macs, and if something goes wrong, they get help from elsewhere. Those people probably won't use an external drive sufficiently to justify the cost. But for people like me, who are always helping friends and relatives when we're not whacking our own systems into shape, an external hard drive is a necessity. Actually, that's a good question for a poll: do you currently have an external utility hard drive? Vote on our home page!


Over the last few months, I've been working with what feels like the mother of all external drives - Maxtor's 250 GB Personal Storage 5000. It isn't just a big FireWire and USB hard drive, though - it offers OneTouch Backup, which is a physical button on the front of the case that, when pushed, launches the bundled Retrospect Express and backs up your internal hard drive. I reviewed the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000 for Macworld recently; go read that review for details.

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Although I gave the drive a positive writeup in Macworld, I criticized the product for its default configuration, which actually duplicates the contents of your Mac's internal hard drive to a folder on the Maxtor drive. That prevents it from being bootable; Mac OS X's System folder and other important support folders must apparently be at the top level of the disk for it to boot. Maxtor also made a mistake in how they configured the Duplicate action in Retrospect such that files you rename, move, or delete on your internal hard drive appear multiple times in the duplicate. So, what I'd like to do here is tell you how to reconfigure the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000 to make it into the ultimate utility drive. Don't worry if you don't have one of these drives; this approach works equally as well with any large FireWire hard drive and Retrospect Express. These instructions are specific to Mac OS X, but much of the general advice remains relevant for Mac OS 9 users who don't already have a utility drive.


A Clean Start -- Unlike many external FireWire drives, the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000 does not come pre-formatted, forcing you to initialize it in Apple's Disk Utility. That's not a bad thing, though, since I've seen problems on pre-formatted FireWire drives from different manufacturers. Specifically, I could make a duplicate to the drive using Retrospect Express, but I couldn't convince that duplicate to boot into Mac OS X. Reformatting and making another duplicate eliminated the problem.

As a result, I recommend you initialize any external FireWire drive first thing, before you start using it. If you want to be really sure that the drive is clean, click the Options button in Disk Utility's Erase tab and select "Zero all data" as well.

There's one other decision you may need to make at this point. Will you ever want to open your FireWire drive, extract the drive mechanism, and install it in your Mac with its contents intact? I haven't found solid information on this topic, but some people have had trouble using a mechanism connected to the IDE/ATA bus if it was initialized in the FireWire drive enclosure. To be safe, first initialize the drive inside your Mac, and then put it back in the FireWire case; obviously, this isn't a possibility for PowerBook or iBook owners, unless you have a friend with a Power Mac that can be used to initialize the drive. I did not do this with the Personal Storage 5000, but I did make the extra effort with the bare drives I bought for use with Granite Digital's FireVue FireWire drive bay, which I'm now using for backups and which I'll write more about soon.

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Should you partition at this point? Although I used to partition religiously, I'm no longer a huge fan of them, and the system I describe below works well for backing up multiple Macs without partitioning. Unless you have a specific reason for partitioning, I wouldn't bother.

Make It Bootable, Make It Useful -- Any good utility drive must be bootable, because you may need to use it when your Mac's internal hard drive isn't able to start the Mac. Plus, if you ever want to reformat your hard disk and restore from backup, a drive that can boot the Mac simplifies the process significantly. (Otherwise you must reformat using your Mac OS installation CD-ROM, reinstall the Mac OS, and then restore over the newly installed copy of the operating system.)

There are two ways of making your FireWire utility disk bootable, and which you choose depends on the size of the disk and your situation. If you're the only person who is likely to use the disk, even if on another person's machine, the easiest way to make it bootable might be to use Retrospect Express to make a duplicate of your internal hard disk to the external disk. You wouldn't want to do that if other people might be using the external drive, or if the duplicate would take up too much of the useful space on that disk.

The other alternative is to install clean copies of Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X on the external disk. You definitely want both, since some troubleshooting tools still run only in Mac OS 9. Plus, you never know what sort of Mac you'll want to use with your utility drive, so having Mac OS 9 available for older Macs that have never seen Mac OS X is a good idea. I opted to install clean versions of both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X on the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000.

Although Apple provides some basic utilities with both versions of the Mac OS (Drive Setup and Disk First Aid in Mac OS 9, and Disk Utility in Mac OS X), you should also install any other troubleshooting utilities you may have, such as Alsoft's DiskWarrior or Symantec's Norton Utilities (the Norton SystemWorks bundle is a good way to acquire Norton Utilities and Retrospect Express all at once). Also be sure to install Retrospect Express or whatever other backup software you may use. Remember that this disk will also hold your backups, so you want to be able to boot from it, reinitialize your internal hard disk, and restore from backup with a minimum of fuss.


Default Retrospect Express Configuration -- Let's now look closely at how the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000 configures Retrospect Express by default, and how you can reconfigure it to meet your needs better.

The magic of the Personal Storage 5000's OneTouch button is that when you press the button, software that's installed on your Mac automatically launches Retrospect Express and executes a Retrospect Express script called "Maxtor OneTouch."

A bit of background: Retrospect Express scripts are nothing like AppleScript scripts - they're merely an automated way of telling Retrospect Express exactly what to back up and where to store the results. They come in three basic types: Backup scripts, Duplicate scripts, and Archive scripts. Backup scripts create backup sets, which store multiple versions of changed files and which only Retrospect Express can read. Duplicate scripts duplicate the selected files or disk to the destination as files in the Finder, but changed files are overwritten with the current version on subsequent runs. Archive scripts remove the files from your hard disk once copied elsewhere - avoid them unless you're sure of what you're doing.

The default Maxtor OneTouch script is a Duplicate script, so the "backup" you get from using it is actually a duplicate of your hard disk on the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000. That's not terrible, but with a duplicate, you lose access to previous versions of files, so if a file becomes corrupt, you could easily end up with only the corrupt version on your backup. True backups store multiple versions of changed files so you can revert to an earlier version that doesn't have the corruption.

The problems arise in the way Maxtor chose to configure the Duplicate script. First, they chose to store the duplicate in a folder at the top level of the Personal Storage 5000. That decision makes it a bit easier to back up multiple Macs to the same drive (since each would be in its own folder), but also makes it so the duplicate cannot boot a Mac in Mac OS X. Mac OS 9 isn't as picky about the location of its System Folder. Although I haven't confirmed this, I also worry about permissions confusions during restores, if you've backed up multiple Macs to standard files on the same disk. Still, this is a design decision, and it's not inherently wrong.

What is wrong is the way Maxtor sets the Replace Corresponding Files option in the Maxtor OneTouch Duplicate script. If you make a backup, and then move, rename, or delete a file from your internal hard disk, then perform another backup, you may find the results confusing. Thanks to the Replace Corresponding Files option, Retrospect Express won't see the original files on the duplicate as corresponding, so it won't replace them. In short, you will end up with the original file and another in the new location, with the new name, or in the Trash. It's a potential nightmare when the time comes to restore, since you must sort through and figure out which of the files is the correct version.

If you decide to stick with a Duplicate script, you can fix this misbehavior: Launch Retrospect Express, select the Automate tab, and click the Scripts button. Then, double-click the Maxtor OneTouch script to edit it, click the Destinations button, and choose Replace Entire Disk from the pop-up menu. Close and save and you won't have to worry about multiple versions of the same files littering your backup.

Better Retrospect Express Configuration -- However, I don't recommend you follow the above instructions, because even though a Duplicate script may seem the most obvious way to back up for a novice user, it's simply not the best way to back up, period. Good backups store multiple versions of changed files, and for good backups, you want to use a Backup script. With just a pinch of cleverness, you can still use the OneTouch button on the Personal Storage 5000 to initiate the backups.

(For those of you who are following along, but don't have a Personal Storage 5000, never fear, since you can easily initiate a backup in Retrospect Express by creating a "run document" that, when opened, does exactly the same thing as pressing the OneTouch button. Just choose the script from Retrospect Express's Run menu and save it to a file from the Manual Execution dialog.)

The trick is the name of the script. First, we rename the existing script to get it out of the way. Select the Maxtor OneTouch script in the Scripts window and from the Scripts menu, choose Rename and call it something like "old Maxtor OneTouch." Now we replace it. Click the New button in the Scripts window, and choose Backup when Retrospect Express prompts you for a type of script. Next, Retrospect Express asks you to name the script. Call it "Maxtor OneTouch" (without the quotes, of course). The name is important - if you get it wrong, the OneTouch button won't do anything. When you're done, Retrospect opens the Backup: Maxtor OneTouch window where you configure your script.

Click the Sources button, and in the Volume Selection dialog, select your internal hard disk and click OK. Assuming you only want to back up one disk (Retrospect Express would be happy to do more if you have multiple partitions), click OK to close the Maxtor OneTouch: Sources dialog and return to the Backup: Maxtor OneTouch window.

Click the Destinations button next, and in the Backup Set Selection dialog, click the New button to bring up the Backup Set Creation dialog. From the Backup set type pop-up menu, choose File, set a password if you feel it's necessary, and give your backup set a name in the Name field (I usually append "Backup" to the name of the hard disk I'm backing up). Click the New button, and in the Save dialog that appears, save the backup set on the Personal Storage 5000, perhaps at the top level or in the main user's Documents folder - it doesn't matter. Back in Backup Set Selection dialog again, select your newly created backup set, click OK, and click OK once more in the Maxtor OneTouch: Destinations window.

Back in the Backup: Maxtor OneTouch window, click the Selecting button to open the Maxtor OneTouch: Selecting dialog. Choose All Files Except Cache Files from the pop-up menu (there's no reason to back up Web browser cache files), and click OK to return to the Backup: Maxtor OneTouch window.

You could, if you wanted, fiddle with the options, but you want verification and data compression turned on, so the defaults are fine. And, particularly for folks who don't have a Personal Storage 5000, you could also set a regular schedule on which Retrospect Express would automatically back up your Mac. But if you're going to rely on the OneTouch button, there's less need to do that. Close the Backup: Maxtor OneTouch window, and when prompted, save your changes. Quit Retrospect Express

That's it, and from now on, when you press the OneTouch button, Retrospect Express launches and executes your Maxtor OneTouch script, backing up your Mac to the Personal Storage 5000. The first time will take a while, of course, but subsequent backups will be much faster, since they don't have to copy as much data.

Multiple Macs -- What if you want to use the 250 GB Personal Storage 5000 to back up multiple Macs in an office? All you must do is connect the Personal Storage 5000 to each Mac in turn, and then run through the process outlined above for creating a Maxtor OneTouch script for each machine. It's easiest to create a separate backup set for each computer, rather than directing all the backups into a single backup set. Then, all you must do to initiate a backup is to plug the drive into the Mac and into an electrical outlet, wait for it to mount on the Desktop, and then press the OneTouch button.

Still, there are two issues to consider. First, plugging and unplugging cables, both FireWire and power, can be a royal pain if you have to root around behind desks and look for unused sockets. It might be worth buying some extra FireWire cables and Maxtor power adapters so the cables are easily accessible. Second, the license for the bundled copy of Retrospect Express is technically only for a single computer, so it's up to you to decide if you're comfortable interpreting the license such that it's acceptable to use that copy of Retrospect Express with multiple Macs as long as you use it only with the Maxtor Personal Storage 5000 drive.

Recap -- Lest all this seem overwhelming, let's recap what we've done here. We reinitialized the disk, which is a good idea with any new external drive. Then we made it bootable, either by duplicating the internal hard disk to it, or by installing clean versions of both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. We also installed all troubleshooting and backup utilities so they'd be available when needed. Then we configured Retrospect Express to make good backups rather than the less-useful duplicates.

Run through these steps with your external FireWire drive, whether or not it's from Maxtor, and you'll be all set the next time trouble comes knocking on your Mac's door.

PayBITS: If Adam's advice helped you set up a utility hard disk in
anticipation of future problems, show your appreciation via PayBITS!
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