Backing up your Mac with Time Machine and SuperDuper!

Backups are like insurance: you make them in the hope of never needing them. And they’re equally boring. You never see anyone get all excited about his backup strategy (except total geeks) and nobody’s really all that interested in insurance (except insurance salespeople). Usually, backups and insurance are things we want to get out of the way as fast as possible and then never be bothered by again.

Fortunately, Mac OS goes a pretty long way in achieving exactly that. With the introduction of Time Machine even home users with zero technical expertise can now finally backup their data without setting any reminders, fiddling with arcane software or going insane while trying to restore data. And that’s actually quite an achievement, considering the fact that backups, apart from the occasional month-old backup on a rewriteable CD, have in the past been virtually non-existent in most home computing environments.

In this article we’ll take a look at how to set up Time Machine, some tools to make using it a bit more comfortable and efficient (if you are so inclined) and some additional ways to satisfy our inner geeks (which Time Machine isn’t really any good at, since it’s so easy to use). We’ll also look at a backup tool called SuperDuper!, which works nicely alongside Time Machine as an additional safety net.

Setting up and using Time Machine

Using Time Machine is so easy, you don’t even need a manual. Which is good, because there is none. To start making backups with Time Machine, all you need to do is tell it which disk to use for backups and switch it on:

  1. Open System Preferences and select Time Machine.
  2. On the right, click on Choose Backup Disk.
  3. In the list that pops up, select the disk you would like to backup to and click Use for Backup. This cannot be the boot volume, so choose either a secondary internal disk (if you have a Mac Pro) or an external Firewire or USB disk. If you have a Time Capsule, you can use that for backups by clicking on Set Up Time Capsule.
  4. Finally, after selecting your backup disk, move the slider on the left side of Time Machine preferences from OFF to ON.

That’s all there is to it. Time Machine will now regularly backup your data to the disk you specified and you don’t have to bother with backups again.

Tweaking Time Machine to fit your needs

Some people, me included, loathe using a system the way it’s intended to be used. We like to tweak things, adjust switches, edit settings and generally fiddle with every available option to the point where the system stops working and we need to restore a previously created backup. Good thing we have Time Machine, eh?

Usually, Time Machine backs up every hour. If this is too often for you, you can use TimeMachineEditor (TME) to change this setting. This isn’t officially supported, so TME may stop working after an update to Time Machine. For now, though, it works like a charm.

With TME you can tell Time Machine to do its backups whenever you like. For example, I have mine set to backup once at around 2pm and once in the late evening, at around 10pm. I don’t need all those hourly backups, so I’m saving myself some disk space by limiting the number of daily backups to two.

Extra security and options with SuperDuper!

Don’t get me wrong, Time Machine will satisfy most needs. It’s quite reliable, low-maintenance and secure, so what else could we wish for? Well, bootable backups for one, and maybe separate backup schedules for different types of data.

SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket gives you these options. It lets you make scheduled backups of your entire system – much like Time Machine does – but it makes them bootable. So, if you ever experience a disk crash, all you need to do is boot from your SuperDuper! backup disk, and you’re back in business. With Time Machine you would need to boot from either another hard disk or your OS X install DVD, from where you could then restore your data from the Time Machine backup.

Another thing SuperDuper! lets you do is create separate backups from different types of data. For example, I make an additional backup of my most important data (documents, email, photos, databases, etc) and store it off-site. Call me paranoid, but what good is a backup at home if your home burns down? See.

But since I only want to backup my most important data to that disk, and not my iTunes library or any applications, I need to exclude these files from my backup. You can exclude files and folders from Time Machine backups, but only globally, so the exclusion will always be active. With SuperDuper!, on the other hand, you can simply create a separate backup set for your most important data and schedule SuperDuper! to back that up in addition to the regular backup.


With Time Machine you have no more excuses for not backing up your data. It’s as simple as flicking a switch. Not too much effort for being able to sleep at night, knowing your data is protected. And if you want to go a step further, SuperDuper! is a great choice for creating custom bootable backups. So put the rest of your empty CD-Rs up on ebay, buy a cheap external 500GB hard drive, and you’ll never have to worry about losing your data again.