Thursday 8th December, 2005
My last few months haven’t been entirely problem free; ergo backup software is my newest hobby. My weapon of choice in the battle with errant hard drives is the clone, an alternative to the traditional ‘save and restore’ backup method. It’s a belt and braces approach, effectively photocopying your internal startup drive to another FireWire disk. Given the plummeting price of external FireWire drives, drive cloning offers a number of benefits.
Firstly it’s simple. You clone the entire drive, so if you don’t want to bother with file selection, you don’t have to. Secondly, and this is the killer feature, any restore is immediate. ‘Oh dear, my internal drive has failed.’ Plug in the cloned disk, restart the Mac with the alt key down, select the external cloned drive as your startup drive, and hello to Uncle Robert. There are of course a few of downsides: the user interface to cloning software can be intimidating; the cloning procedure itself can take a while; restarting from a clone inevitably means losing the work you did since you last cloned the (now defunct) original drive. SuperDuper! is a cloning tool that gets around these deficiencies.
The first big win for SuperDuper! (the exclamation mark is - a la Vicor Borge - part of the name) is in terms of the user interface. The first time you fire it up, you’re presented with three pop-up menus; one for selecting the source drive you want to clone, one for the destination for the clone, and one for the type of backup you want. Having made your choices, a plain English explanation of what will happen if you proceed appears below. If you just want a straight clone, then the default option is for you.
If however, you already have a clone of the source disk, you can click the ‘Options’ button and choose to do a smart update -the clone is synchronised with the source drive by copying only those files that aren’t already on the clone, and deleting files on the clone that are no longer on the source. Provided you do it regularly, this process is extremely fast, and thanks to version 2’s new scheduling feature, you can arrange for this to happen automatically at convenient intervals.
SuperDuper! offers a clear explanation of what will happen when you click the copy now button.
If this were all there was to SuperDuper! (SD), then it would still have the edge over it’s main, albeit free, rival: Carbon Copy Cloner. CCC is a great piece of software, but it lags behind in terms of system compatibility updates, and although it can synchronise clones, it does so using the command line tool psync, which in turn requires some tinkering with Apple’s developers tools in order to get it to work. The publisher, Shirt Pocket, makes the choice easier by providing excellent documentation, (and if newsgroups are to be believed) superb support direct from the developer, and a free demo version of SD will let you create standard clones for as long as you want. You only get access to Smart Update clones, built-in scheduling, and the advanced features if you cough up. And advanced features? SD has those in spades.
As well as being able to select what happens during the copy, you can also specify actions you would like performed before a copy (repair permissions, run a shell script) or after a copy (create a disk image, install software on the clone, restart from the clone, shutdown etc.).
And although you can only restart from a FireWire device, SD also supports a number of alternative destinations. You can clone to both sparse and read-only disk images, which in turn can be situated on any network device (that supports larger than 4Gb files). When it comes time to do a restore, the images are compatible with OS X’s disk utility, so it’s just a question of restarting from the OS X Installer disk and using the Restore option - great for administrators in charge of a number of networked machines.
Admins might also be interested in SD’s scriptability. As well as supporting AppleScript, you can also create your own internal SD scripts, that appear as options in SD’s third pop-up menu. Custom scripts allow you to specify source files using standard wildcard specifiers, so you can choose to backup all your user folders except for the contents of their Movies and Pictures folders. You can even write the rubric that appears in the main window, using placeholders for source and destination, so that the plain English approach is maintained.
There are a number of before and after copy options to make life easier for admins and developers who need to automate frequent backups.
But the ace up the sleeve is the ability to create a safety clone or sandbox. It works like this. SD clones your internal drive to an external FireWire drive, but instead of copying across your home folder and optionally third party apps it creates UNIX symlinks (aliases). You then restart your Mac from the external drive, and continue working as. Along comes Apple with an OS update (let’s take a fairly recent example, oh I don’t know, say OS X 10.3.4). You run software update, and low and behold a whole bunch of apps don’t work, iSync has bitten the dust, and you can’t print anymore. Fear not. Effectively since you’ve only updated the external drive, just shut down, unplug the external drive, and restart. You’re back where you were, WITH NO LOSS OF WORK, and an intact 10.3.3 system. You can then choose to ignore Apple’s helpful update, re-clone your working drive, and wait for 10.3.5. Using a safety clone means you can always roll back your OS to a stable state.
There are just three groups of people who should be using this excellent utility. Lunatic frontiersmen with a penchant for early beta software, paranoid data hoarders who think the next crash is just a restart away, and everybody else.
|Get Further Info|
|Pros||Simple to use, Fast, Safety Clones.|
|Needs||Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later|
|Originally Published||MacWorld, 8th Dec 2005|