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New year's resolution: A backup plan

Lex Friedman | Dec. 28, 2011
You've heard the advice countless times, but it is oh so easy to ignore: You simply must back up your Mac.

You've heard the advice countless times, but it is oh so easy to ignore: You simply must back up your Mac. If you don't back up your files, it's a question of when--not if!--you'll lose something important or irreplacable. Instead of making a hard-to-keep New Year's resolution like losing weight or exercising more, this year resolve to do something that only takes a smidgen of willpower to get started and then mostly takes care of itself: Make--and manage--regular backups of your computer.

This isn't new advice. Intellectually, you know should be backing up your files. It just seems like so much effort, and your hard drive seems fine anyway. So let's make getting a reasonable backup in place as painless as possible.

Think essentials

Chris Breen went into great detail about determining just what you need to back up nearly a year ago in his piece "How to make a solid Mac backup plan." You can get away without backing up a surprising number of files: apps from the Mac App Store, apps that you can easily redownload from elsewhere on the Web, and iOS apps. You can also skip backing up your email, so long as you use an IMAP email account (or a service like Gmail) where your messages remain stored on a remote server. Ditto for your music, if you use a service like iTunes Match. Of course, it doesn't hurt to back up files like these--and doing so certainly makes restoring your data faster in the event of catastrophic failure--but if you're looking to start small, you can reasonably avoid backing up such data if you're looking to save time or hard drive space.

What's left? Your irreplaceable documents (Word, Pages, and text docs and the like), photographs, and home movies are musts. Life gets much easier after a restore if you also backup key settings and preferences, too. But again, the biggest hurdle to ensuring that you finally stick with a New Year's resolution is making it easy to get started. So let's focus on keeping things simple. 

Easiest backup plan of all: Dropbox

So, once you decide what you need to back up, how should you do it? We sing the praises of this free syncing service fairly frequently here at Macworld, and with good reason: It's easy, it works, and it's ubiquitous. Still not sure what Dropbox is or how to get started? Follow these steps:

  • Go to
  • Click on the blue button to download Dropbox.
  • Install Dropbox.

That's it. Now, there's a Dropbox folder in your main user folder on your Mac. If all went well, that Dropbox folder should appear in the sidebar of your finder windows, too.


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