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ATPM 13.04
April 2007





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Book Review

by Ed Eubanks, Jr.

Take Control of Mac OS X Backups 2.0


Author: Joe Kissell

Publisher: Take Control Books

Price: $10 (eBook); $23 (printed book)

Requirements: Any PDF reader (eBook)

Trial: 33-page sample

Ever since my days using Windows 95 and 98, when I learned that I should expect to re-format my hard drive and re-install Windows (and everything else) once or twice a year, I have understood the value of backing up crucial documents. Yet, as Steve Jobs reminded the world when he introduced Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard’s” Time Machine backup application, very few people regularly back up their data (4% was the figure Jobs quoted).

A book like Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Mac OS X Backups is therefore a much-needed guide. Kissell capitalizes on Jobs’s statistic and the need for great improvement in backup plans everywhere to produce a helpful and comprehensive manual that offers help and insight for beginners and experts alike.

Kissell walks the reader through all they need to know about backing up: choosing a backup strategy, considering the particular needs of each system, selecting hardware and software, and setting everything up. You will find detailed guides to software and hardware, evaluated from every perspective: features, costs, ease of use, reputation, and reliability—and good recommendations about each part of a complete backup system.

He also includes some helpful appendices, including a quick and simple guide to setting up a backup system on “your uncle’s Mac”—a great idea, as most experienced users end up offering some technical advice and support to a family member here and there. I was impressed that, throughout the book, questions of security and encryption were discussed thoroughly yet concisely, as were questions about specialized backup circumstances, such as photos and video. There are even coupons in the back of the book/eBook representing $60 of savings (if you buy all three products offered).


There is a lot to commend this book/eBook. Some of the more significant credits include:

  • The book is incredibly thorough—I don’t think there is any scenario or circumstance, short of large corporate or industrial networks, that isn’t covered in the book. Everyone should be able to find their setup and help for how to back it up.
  • The information provided regarding available options is helpful and comprehensive. All options for both hardware and software are examined, with the pros and cons of each explained and specific recommendations made for different circumstances. There is no “one size fits all” setup, and Kissell has done a great job of providing a lot of options based on cost, need, and preference.
  • It is also surprisingly up-to-date; one of the advantages of the eBook format is that updates and new information can be included easily, and the version 2.0 deliniation obviously indicates that this advantage has been pressed into use. The latest options across the board, including Leopard’s Time Machine, the new AirPort Extreme Base Station, and Amazon’s recent S3 offering are all discussed intelligently.
  • Finally, both theory and practice are discussed. Kissell rightly acknowledges that many people are not only failing to back up but actually know little or nothing about how to do it. He accommodates this well, giving clear and straightforward explanations about different philosophies and approaches to backing up. He also gives specific instructions for setting up different sorts of backup systems, thereby moving beyond mere theory and philosophy.

(Sort of) Cons

These critiques are not really “cons” but simply aspects that, while perhaps unavoidable, kept me from giving the book an “Excellent” rating:

  • The book is very technical. Even though Kissell is clearly aiming for a broad and inclusive audience, there are many parts that were tediously detailed and probably more information than most will ever need. For those who want or need this, it is very helpful—for the rest, it could go.
  • The very current and comprehensive quality of the content may work against it. Because Kissell mentions so many products by name and version, it will surely go out of date very soon. Fortunately, Take Control Books offers updates to their eBooks, so this solves the problem somewhat—but how often updates will be available is an important question.
  • Kissell clearly favors Retrospect Desktop as his preferred backup software solution, and this is evident throughout the book. While this is understandable—Retrospect Desktop is a fine product—it is so dominant as to make me feel as though any other choice is insufficient.

All minor complaints and critique aside, I recommend Take Control of Mac OS X Backups 2.0 to anyone who has questions about how to safely, securely, and fully set up a backup system for their computer and/or network.

Reader Comments (6)

Marc Gray · April 1, 2007 - 22:46 EST #1
Anyone who knows anything about Macs knows full well that Retrospect, in all of its incarnations, is unweildly, to understate the case. If you are an I.T. pro or a technician or an uber Unix Geek, then Retrospect is fine; but the best way to go, if you want complete User friendliness (and reliability), is to try SuperDuper, which in spite of the silly name, is a pleasure and a bargain as well.

I have actually had consulting gigs that were resolved by jettisoning Retrospect and demonstrating just how stress free SuperDuper really is.
Bob Yanal · April 2, 2007 - 15:21 EST #2
I don't know anything about Retrospect, but I'd like to second Marc's comments on SuperDuper: it really is easy to use and inexpensive to buy.
Adam C. Engst · April 4, 2007 - 09:35 EST #3
SuperDuper is a great program indeed, but if you read the book, you'll see why it can't be the sole recommendation. It only creates duplicates, and not additive incremental updates. In other words, if you're backing up with SuperDuper every day, and corruption creeps into your database on Tuesday, that corruption is then backed up Tuesday night, such that when you discover the problem on Wednesday, your backup contains only corrupt data. With Retrospect, you simply restore the database as it existed on Tuesday before that night's backup.

That said, Joe has an appendix entitled "Set Up a Backup System on Your Uncle's Mac in Seven Simple Steps" that provides seven easy steps for creating a decent, though not perfect, backup system using SuperDuper.

Let me also address the cons mentioned:

* There are certainly parts of the book that are technical, because to over-simplify is to do the reader a severe disservice. This is data integrity we're talking about, and in today's world, losing data could cause significant damage to your personal or professional life. Anyone who is buying a book because they want to learn more about backup so as to do it right needs to know the whole story.

* The fact that the ebook is comprehensive and up-to-date doesn't strike me as a negative in any way. :-) Yes, we have free updates, and yes, you can click Check for Updates on the cover at any point to see if there are changes that don't warrant even a free update. For instance, click it now and you'll see a link to some recent coverage in TidBITS that Joe wrote up while waiting for changes to be significant enough to warrant an ebook update.

* Retrospect Desktop is still the pre-eminent backup program on the Mac. It's the only one that offers both duplication and archiving features, backup over a network with client software, support for backing up to all types of media, and more. Yes, it's long in the tooth, and yes, EMC has been wishy-washy about its future, but at the moment, it is still the most powerful and complete backup program around. We certainly wish there was more and better competition for it, but that's a problem in the market, not a problem in the book.

cheers... -Adam C. Engst, Take Control Publisher
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · April 4, 2007 - 10:04 EST #4
ATPM's review of SuperDuper has some more information about that product. I agree with Adam that using a single SuperDuper clone is not a sufficient backup plan. I recommend rotating through several SuperDuper backups, so that you're sure to have a recent one that you can boot from at a moment's notice, as well as having a separate archival plan so that you can retrieve older versions of select files, if necessary.
Ed Eubanks Jr. (ATPM Staff) · April 5, 2007 - 14:07 EST #5
Adam, thanks for your comments and response. My concerns with the technicality, comprehensive coverage, and favoring of Retrospect are minor, and your counterpoints are correct, of course.

My only "wish" for the book in a big-picture sense (that I was trying to convey in a granular list of "cons") is that those who need to understand parts of the backup process, but not everything, could find it a bit more accessible. How about your uncle's Mac once a backup strategy is in place? He needs to understand how to maintain and use it, but Take Control... doesn't really offer it-- at least, not at the level where he is (and likely will remain for a while).
Adam C. Engst · April 6, 2007 - 11:32 EST #6
What you've hit on, Ed, is that as a book grows to become ever-more-comprehensive, which of course is in response to readers asking for additional information on various topics, it's difficult or even impossible to keep it as easily broken apart as it might have been initially.

Also, we tend to err on the side of process with Take Control - that is, instead of presenting the reader with a lot of unrelated chunks of information and letting her put it together, we try to present a coherent path that anyone can follow to complete the task at hand. That's really useful, but does force people who want to cherrypick to do a little more work. That's where we hope the many internal links help; you can jump right to sections without having to flip through the entire book.

cheers... -Adam

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