While browsing the TechRepublic software vaults, I decided it was about time I found an automated backup solution for my iMac, which I use to store all of my master RAW photos, music, documents etc. I had been waiting for the release of Leopard (OS X 10.5) that has a built-in backup system called Time Machine, but with its release delayed yet again it’s time to find an interim solution. Now, of course I know that as Mac OS X is BSD under the skin, I should have no trouble creating a simple rsync script running as a Cron job. If I wanted to be even more adventurous, I could have the scripts automatically kick off when an external backup disk is connected via the hot-plug daemon.

Call me lazy (or whatever you like), but that’s just too time consuming for my home system — scripting is all well and good, but I make a conscious effort to keep my computer use to ‘user level’ while at home. This means I simply want to be a ‘user’: switch on, point, click, and switch off. This was one of the major reasons for switching to Mac — less time fixing things and more time being productive. Life’s too short!

There were a few applications that fitted my requirements. I found quite a few applications in the TechRepublic vaults, but not wanting to spend out, I decided to filter only free software. Two results came up: iSauvegardes and SilverKeeper. Seeing as it was the newer of the two, and also produced by a commercial outfit (LaCie), I decided to give SilverKeeper a try.Before installing SilverKeeper, it’s recommended to verify and repair disk permissions on all volumes. This is a precautionary measure (you don’t want to start your backups with a corrupt filesystem!) and should be carried out regularly anyway (much like a scandisk or defrag on a Windows machine). To verify the volume and file system’s integrity, run the Disk Utility found in Applications | Utilities.

Installation is simple and uses an installer which seems to be unusual for Mac OS X applications, which are usually installed by simply dropping the .app into the Applications folder. I actually quite like it when programs use an installer, since they tend to have an uninstall option too — this gives me some peace of mind as I hate removing a program without knowing if it’s left a trail of useless files buried somewhere on my disk.

Once installed, the SilverKeeper interface couldn’t be simpler. Preferences are as simple as defining what actions should be taken if a destination file is newer than the source or a different file size. To create a new backup set, I select the source and destination folders; these can be any mounted filesystem that includes removable storage or network shares. Once that’s done, I can flick through the various program tags and view the Status, Schedule, Options, and Exclusions.

In this test, I decided to back up some of my archived blog posts to a directory on my external hard drive. The status tab quickly informed me that I have 107 items waiting to be backed up, which total 7.2 MB.

The scheduling options are a little limited as the job can be set to run daily, or on specified days of the week; however, the option for Monthly backups has not been included. One nice feature is the option to wake the computer from sleep to run a backup job — quite handy as I very rarely actually shut down my machine, but rather send it to sleep. There is the option to back up on startup, but this is of little use to me for the aforementioned reason.

Job options are again very simple — edit the backup set name and enter source / destination passwords if required. There is also the option to set how many individual copies of the backup set will be kept and whether or not files deleted from the source should be deleted from the backup set. Finally, exclusions can be set with the option to specify individual files that should be ignored, as well as filters to exclude items by name.

Once configured, I kicked off the backup set manually, and within a few minutes I had an exact mirror of my folders sitting on the external disk. While that’s nothing groundbreaking, I’m planning to set up some scheduled jobs with multiple copies to give a snapshot reference; I’ll post an update on how I find it after some more use.

In conclusion, based on my experiences so far, I would definitely recommend trying SilverKeeper if you want to schedule backups on your Mac. It’s very simple to configure, pretty flexible, and also free! If anyone else can recommend a free program for running automated backups I’d be interested to hear about it.