Backup or Crackup

January 17th, 2008 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!


They say there are two kinds of computer users…. those who have lost data in a hard drive crash, and those who are going to lose data in a hard drive crash.

I learned that lesson the hard way, as most eventually do. In October of 2006 I was in the middle of two big projects when my Dell Precision Workstation suddenly flashed the Dreaded Blue Screen of Death at me. The entire story is here, but the end result was that in desperation I ran out to buy the only computer available on a local store shelf that had the graphic horsepower to allow me to finish the jobs I was working on by the deadlines… a Mac Pro from the Apple Store. Now I’m a happy Mac user. However that type of disaster happens to both Mac and Windows users in equal measure.

Fortunately I had all my art files backed up, as well as most of my other data and documents. I did this manually every so often, so I did lose some files. The worst was that I has neglected to back up two years worth of theme park sales spreadsheets, and while I had the hard copies they were created from it was a two day process reentering all that data. Ugh.

A few weeks ago there was a big uproar among users of the accounting software Quickbooks Pro for Mac. I use this software, and it is a great program. One of it’s features is that is constantly checks for updates, and then asks you to download the update when it finds one has been released. Most programs do that on the Mac. On this particular occasion the new Quickbooks Pro update had a serious glitch in it. When it tried to install there was an error message about not having enough hard drive space, and then once the install was cancelled the user found the update had somehow deleted their desktop folder. DELETED. Poof. Gone.

Both Macs and Windows computers have ‘desktops’, that main screen where you start off and launch programs, etc. You can also drag and drop, save or store files, folders and shortcuts onto your desktop. In reality anything you place on your ‘desktop’ is kept in a folder on your hard drive, just like any other folder. Many people keep stuff on their desktop they are working on or need quick access to. Having your desktop folder deleted loses all the files and things on your desktop (not the system stuff, but what you put there). Needless to say there were a lot of upset people, and who could blame them? However there were also a lot of unreasonably angry people ready to blame Quickbook’s maker Intuit for a lot more than the accidental loss of a few files.

I heard about the glitch via an excellent resource called The Unofficial Apple Weblog. The first thing I did was visit the Intuit support website and looked in on the support discussion forums. Some rational users had things in perspective, but there were a few who were screaming things like “class action lawsuit”. Many people claimed “years of data” was lost. One guy claimed his “life was ruined” because he had kept “15 years worth of business data on his desktop”… no backups. He screamed about suing Intuit for destroying his career!

Huh? Do these people realize that computers are not magical boxes from another galaxy? They are machines that WILL EVENTUALLY FAIL. Anyone who keeps years worth of work on their hard drive without bothering to back it up, let alone on their desktop, will eventually have this experience with or without the help of a software disaster.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with these folks, and I am not excusing Intuit. This was a serious disaster. They should be held accountable for their screw up AND for some pretty shoddy support on the issue in the early stages. They should not, however, be held accountable for the negligence of users who did not protect their long term data from loss. Any responsible computer user should know they need to back up their data regularly to protect themselves from mechanical failure. Who is to blame when a careless driver smashes up his car and is seriously hurt because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt? The car manufacturer?? I was thankful I found out about the issue before I started Quickbooks that night, and did not agree to the update. Still, had I done so I would have lost almost nothing as I back up regularly and I keep nothing of serious value on my desktop but use aliases there for working folders and files. Anyone who loses more than a few days of data when there is a hard rive crash or some other disaster has no one to blame but themselves. A few days is very bad, but it’s a far cry from 15 years.

If you are reading this and do not have a good, automatic backup program running right now to back up your data, do yourself a favor and tomorrow set one up. You can’t rely on doing manual backups… it just never works. It doesn’t need to be a full, bootable mirror of your entire hard drive.. just automatically back up the important files and folders onto either an external hard drive or a second, internal one. External USB and internal IDE or SATA hard drives have become very inexpensive these days. Mac users who have upgraded to Leopard have the very usable Time Machine built in, which does a fine job with external hard drive backup of files, folders and even system data. There are more comprehensive Mac backup programs out there as well. Windows also has a usable autobackup feature built in to both XP and Vista, or users can find lots of software to make auto-backups like SyncBack or any one of 200 or so programs. Online backup serives are starting to become popular as well, since even the total destruction of your entire block would not affect your backups if they were on a server in Albuquerque. Of course if your entire block was destroyed a few computer files are the least of your worries… unless you are that guy who’s mad at Intuit.

The rule to remember is: It is not a question of IF your computer’s hard drive will die… it’s a question of WHEN. The real question is how badly it will mess with your life.


  1. SteveH says:

    Great post Tom, I am slowly getting to enjoy the Mac more and as you said, even the Mac is just a computer and I have had and still do, some niggles with my brand new iMac. But one thing that Leopard brings is TimeMachine and I use it to backup the computer. It was very easy to set up, in fact it just took one or two clicks and hey presto, away it went. I did find it took a week or so for it to ‘bed in’ as I had a few issues with the sleep function and TimeMachine, but it seems to have sorted itself out. I am pleased I made the move to the Mac but was surprised that I came across such issues (see my blog!), especially when the guy’s in the Apple store kept telling me that such issues would never happen (I visited the Apple store on a number of occasions before making my purchase of the iMac), so it all led to being frustrated by what I see as poor customer service compared to what Apple tell you. I still have one or two small niggles with Leopard and I think I may have to take the iMac to the Apple Store for the ‘Genius Bar’ to have a look. But at least my data IS all backed up so I’m covered should the worst happen!

  2. jancolors says:

    Great examples and GREAT advice, Tom… backup, backup, BACKUP!

    Back when my day-job had to be IT & billing system admin at a newspaper group, before I landed the full time graphic design gig I have now, I learned the value of backups on MS, IBM AIX & Linux servers. That cured me from being lulled into that false sense of security that Mac users frequently get when they forget that their ‘mostly’ reliable Mac is still only bytes of data racing around in a much more elegant case!

    You are only ever as good as your last verified backup, folks!

    I’ve been backing my powerpc G5 at the office up with ChronoSync & a 500GB LaCie and bringing it home. The home macs are using .Mac Backup and that’s fine for now.

    I have the discs but haven’t gone to Leopard, yet. I just have to make the time for the 2 new computers I bought in October. November was spent with the joy of upgrading to Adobe CS3 from CS. Then, the holidays were here!! Also, new house and a new studio to setup!

    What joy to have so many choices of projects!! I am sure there is some pencil and paper to draw with, somewhere around here!! LOL

    Tom: I look forward to hearing your thoughts on any of the Macworld announcements that may affect your life.

    Gee, is that Sunday mail bag question?


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