Sunday, March 31, is World Backup Day! Fortunately, that doesn't mean it's a day when some higher power tries to back up the entire planet, because even at Thunderbolt speeds, that would take a seriously long time. Rather, World Backup Day is--like Mother's Day, Earth Day, and Groundhog Day--a somewhat arbitrary, made-up date to help people become more aware of something important. Instead of calling attention to Mom, the environment, or prognosticating rodents, World Backup Day stands as an annual reminder of a simple fact: If you don't have good backups, you will inevitably lose data.
Christopher Breen went into great detail about determining what you need to back up in his 2011 piece "How to make a solid Mac backup plan." It's just as relevant today as it was two years ago.
You can get away without backing up a surprising number of files--namely, apps from the Mac App Store, apps that you can easily redownload from elsewhere on the Web, and iOS apps. You can also skip backing up your email, so long as you use an IMAP email account (or a Web service such as Gmail) where your messages remain stored on a remote server. Ditto for your music, if you use iTunes Match or a similar service.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to back up such files--and doing so certainly makes restoring your data faster in the event of catastrophic failure--but if you're looking to save time or hard-drive space, you can reasonably avoid them. So what's left? Your irreplaceable documents (Word, Pages, and text docs and the like), photographs, and home movies are musts. Life gets much easier after a restore if you back up key settings and preferences, too.
If you're looking for a quick-and-easy solution, so at least you know you're doing something to back up your files with the smallest time investment possible, read about Joe Kissell's quick, something-is-better-than-nothing backup system. And make sure to take the time to configure Time Machine on your Mac.
When you're ready to take the next step, check out Kissell's advice on creating bulletproof backups--for when you absolutely can't afford to lose a lick of data. And when you're trying to pick out good hard drives, don't miss our new guide to the best Mac backup drives around.
Macworld has repeatedly looked at the increasingly crowded cloud-based backup market, and time and again we've found that CrashPlan makes an excellent option. You install an app on your Mac, and then it takes care of backing your data up over the Internet. If your entire Mac gets hosed--and your home, with your locally stored backups, suffers a disaster along with it--CrashPlan still has you covered.
Finally, on this World Backup Day, remember that you never want to rely solely on emergency backups that you didn't know you had. 'Tis far better to have created a backup and never need it than to need one and have no backup at all.