Having a good backup system is crucial, regardless of what operating system you use. Windows has a lot of backup solutions, and Linux has a number of creative backup solutions, many of which work on OS X as well. But on the Mac, my favourite and most reliable backup solution is Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper.
While the name might be a little corny, the program itself is no flake. I can highly recommend SuperDuper because it works very reliably, and has proven itself to me many times. Restoration from backups has been flawless. I've used it when hard drives have failed, and I've used it when cloning one drive to another to upgrade to larger drives, or when changing hardware (i.e., upgrading a laptop or, most recently, when upgrading from an old Mac Mini to a newer one). Every time, SuperDuper gets the job done.
SuperDuper is easy to use and offers some flexible backup options. In a nutshell, what SuperDuper does is clone one drive to another, bit for bit. The cloned copy is a bootable backup, an exact replica of the source drive. What this means is that after cloning the drive, you can actually boot from the cloned drive and have it operate exactly as if you had booted from the source drive. And the destination drive doesn't have to be a physical hard drive; it can be a disk image as well.
Changing SuperDuper's options will allow you to tweak your backup needs. You can copy ACLs from the source drive, you can run a shell script before and after the copy, you can even install a specific package on the destination drive after the copy is complete. Each copy uses a specific script, and each script can be customized to include or exclude certain files and directories. This allows you to exclude certain directories from the copy, such as caches and temporary files, things you wouldn't necessarily want to copy or keep.The other really nice feature of SuperDuper is the "Smart Update" feature (Figure A). When you have a 300GB drive, with 200GB of data on it, a copy of all that data takes time. Repeating that every time you wanted to take a snapshot of your system would be unbearable -- getting all the bits there in the first place will understandably take time but when 70% of the files don't, or rarely, change, copying that data over again is a waste of time. Smart Update fixes that by telling SuperDuper to only copy files that have changed. So if you have 200GB of data and only 30GB has changed, only 30GB of data will be copied. This reduces the time needed for the backup considerably, and can often turn what could have been a two-hour backup into a matter of minutes.
Finally, what really makes SuperDuper convenient is the ability to schedule when copies are made. If you have a backup drive that is constantly connected, you can schedule backups on a daily basis, or on particular days of the week.On my Mac Pro, I have one dedicated drive that is a clone of my boot drive and it is backed up via Smart Update every morning at 2am. This commits my previous day's work to the backup drive on a daily basis. For the other drives that I copy, or when cloning the laptop drive, I have SuperDuper scheduled to start a backup when the drive to backup to is connected to the system. By clicking the "Schedule..." button on the main SuperDuper interface, you can edit scheduled copies (Figure B). These can be time-based schedules, or a "when connected" schedule.
SuperDuper is free to use for simple cloning. In order to use the scheduling and Smart Update features, you'll need to pay the registration fee, but for everything that SuperDuper does, the $27.95USD asking price is peanuts. For the piece of mind, and stellar recovery, that SuperDuper has given me over the years, it is easily worth 10x that.
Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.