Your email messages are some of the most important files on your Mac, so they belong at the top of the list in your new backup regimen. Fortunately, you don’t need extra software to export, back up, and import your mail. Everything you need to do the job is in Mail, Outlook, or Thunderbird—and this guide. Just connect an external drive to your Mac and get started.
Backups to the cloud encrypt and transmit your Mac’s data to online servers that could be anywhere in the world. These backups depend on a fast, reliable internet connection, and may lack the speed of local backups and restores, but they offer important advantages over backing up locally. For starters, most cloud backups offer some storage for free, with additional plans to choose from as your needs grow. Your files are kept far from where thieves could realistically reach them, and they’re protected (again, within reason) from disasters and random acts of clumsiness better than most external drives. We have yet to hear of a server brought down by a spilled iced latte at Starbucks.
Local backups copy files to an external drive that’s connected to your Mac, then stored in your home, office, or even hotel room. These backups have two main benefits: speedy data transfers and bang for your storage buck. Many drives 1TB and larger cost roughly $100 to $200, delivering plenty of room for multiple versions of all your documents. The tradeoff is that local backups are just as susceptible to theft, accidents, and natural disasters as your Mac (don’t tell it we said so).
Your digital photos may be the most meaningful zeroes and ones you own -- after all, you can’t get back the moments they capture. The good news is you can keep those memories safe without keeping them hidden on a hard drive. But first, make sure they’re backed up to that hard drive by including your iPhoto Library (Home > Pictures) in your backup routine. We don’t want you losing a single shot of your Chihuahua in her Halloween costume.
As important as it is to back up your data, software is only half the story when it comes to digital disasters. Hardware can go bad, or even get stolen, and there’s no way to keep a backup of a shiny new MacBook Pro. Or is there?
Thanks to iOS 5, iOS devices now have the option to back up wirelessly to iCloud once a night. That’s a great way to ensure that even casual users safeguard their data, but it’s not so convenient if you’re away from Wi-Fi when your iPad requires a full restore. For more control over when backups occur—and where they’re stored—make sure you connect your iOS device to your Mac via USB at least once a day (you can also initiate backups by Option-clicking your device in the iTunes sidebar and choosing Back Up). Either way, you’ll force iTunes to create an archive you can use to restore data and settings to your device, and even to port your backup to another Mac to restore device settings in a pinch.