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Book Review: "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups," "Take Control of Easy Backup in Leopard"

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 08
Column Tag: Book Review

Book Review: "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups," "Take Control of Easy Backup in Leopard"

Two backup titles in the "Take Control of" series

by Edward Marczak


The Take Control of series of electronic books has become a staple for many computer users-typically those just beginning a particular topic. Two titles from Joe Kissell, Take Control of Mac OS X Backups and Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard also fall into the beginner to mid-level category. That's not a slight at the subject matter: Joe knows his audience and leads them through the topics at hand skillfully.

Take Control of Mac OS X Backups is the heftier, deeper work, suitable for single users with a fair amount of data to back up through people running a home or small-office LAN needing to backup multiple data sources. Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard, as the title implies, is aimed more at the home user with one or two machines to independently back up and primarily focuses on deciding if Time Machine is the right tool for the job.

Both titles are released in print and as e-books, delivered as a PDF that you download. The e-books have the advantage of being Able to be updated as the author updates the material. It also makes it easy to search and carry with you.

Take Control of Mac OS X Backups

The first book in this review is the 178-page Take Control of Mac OS X Backups, version 2.1 (yes, as an e-book, it gets a version, and you're entitled to updates). It's the older and denser of the two titles, and consists of 7 core chapters with 5 appendices and a glossary. To quote the author in the early Readme chapter, "I've written this book primarily for people who need to back up either a single computer or a small network—not for system administrators who need to back up dozens or hundreds of machines." That said, the first core chapter, "Decide on a Basic Backup Strategy" gives excellent advice to anyone getting into the details of backup. This chapter immediately dispels the myth that there's any silver bullet for backup that takes planning and vigilance away from the administrator.

The first core chapter also quickly makes the reader aware of the various processes-and the differences between them-that are referred to as "back up:" duplicating, archiving and synchronizing. From there, readers are put through the paces of identifying special situations: the photographer, the video or audio artist, etc. Each has special and different backup needs compared to someone that performs research and creates documents using a Word processor. Overall, readers are asked to think about their backup scenario and understand that it is unique. This chapter also contains sections on backing up while traveling and handling Windows files and partitions (for those of you Boot Camp users).

The next chapter, "Choose Your Hardware," leads you through deciding on which medium-or mediums-you will use as your backup targets. As this version of the book was produced in mid-to-late 2007, I was surprised to see any mention of Iomega in the text at all (do our younger readers even know who Iomega is?). The remainder of the chapter is perfectly reasonable, helping users through the myriad of choices in this arena. These choices include flash drives, through hard drives up to remote storage options.

Hardware is useless without the software that will copy the data to those targets. The "Choose Your Software" chapter is another 'thinking' chapter in that it really makes you think about what's important in a backup application for your situation. There are specific programs mentioned, but the emphasis is really on features to look for in backup software. The options listed range from do-it-yourself UNIX command line options, to old-guard standards like Retrospect up to newcomers like Crashplan. Software choices are paired with specific hardware options as described.

The final chapter before the appendices helps the reader put it all together. Configuring parts of the OS, configuring the backup targets and readying the software. One point I disagree with in this chapter is the advice to avoid File Vault. I've personally been using File Vault to protect my home directory for a long time and have never had an issue. Not to say that Mr. Kissell's note that corruption can rend a File Vault archive unusable; that is true. More to the point, this is the perfect combination: when using File Vault, you need to have a backup plan! Perfect combination. Full disk encryption products hadn't been announced at all at the time of version 2.1's writing, however, there are now three products (one shipping and two on the way) that will fully encrypt a boot drive on an Intel Mac, obviating the need for File Vault altogether. This will ultimately be the best bet, but for now, File Vault is a good option, but one should absolutely have a backup plan when using it. On a high point, the chapter does talk about media management and restoring just as much as backing up in the first place.

There's even more to the book, but I'll leave that for you to find. The books is well worth the $15 purchase price, and Joe Kissell himself tells me that he's hard at work on updates that include up to date status on backing up in Leopard. Purchasing the e-book now allows you to update to new versions as they're released. Also, currently, purchasing this title also gives you Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard. Find out more at the web site for the book:

Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard

In appropriate contrast to Take Control of Mac OS X Backups, which addresses multiple machines and small network backups, Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard is as simple the title would lead you to believe. This is the book you give to a switcher or someone entirely new to computers. It's intended for a home user who deals primarily with one machine and wants or needs a backup in place quickly and easily. Its roughly 78 pages are direct and useful. This review covers version 1.0 of the e-book title and I'm told Joe is hard at work on updates to this title, which owners will be entitled to download when available.

While similar in structure to Take Control of Backups in OS X, all of the options presented are simplified. For example, the book only deals with external hard disks as targets for backups. No tape, no LAN-based backup, and so on. This is entirely appropriate, of course.

Most importantly, like the other title in this group, Take Control of Easy Backups in Leopard makes the reader think about their set up. The "easy" tag in the title is not a substitute for 'sloppy' or 'corner-cutting.' Concepts like off-site backups and the importance of rotating backup media are discussed here, too.

From this point, the reader is guided through preparation of backup targets and a backup scheme. The bulk of the book then focuses on Time Machine as a backup program. Again, this is completely appropriate given the audience the title is targeted at ("easy," remember?). Other utilities are lightly touched on, followed by a chapter on restoring your backups for "When Disaster Strikes" (the title of the chapter on restoring).

This book alone comes in at $10—just right for the audience it serves. Find out more at the page for the e-book at


Both titles are a good value: the information is always practical, and the e-books are updated as new information comes to light (read: as Apple fixes bugs and updates their software and functionality changes). After having read either of these titles, a trepidatious new user will feel more comfortable, in control and knowledgeable. Although intended for beginners in the respective 'small' categories - small business network or home user with a single computer - I've met IT staff in larger organizations that could learn a thing or two about backup from Take Control of Backups in OS X. Most importantly, these titles make you think about backup in your specific situation. The Take Control web site offers sample chapters, so, if you're still not convinced, go download a sample and check it out for yourself.

Ed Marczak is the Executive Editor for MacTech Magazine, and has been lucky enough to have ridden the computing and technology wave from early on. From teletype computing to MVS to Netware to modern OS X, his interest was piqued. He has also been fortunate enough to come into contact with some of the best minds in the business. Ed spends his non-compute time with his wife and two daughters.


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