How to back up your hard disk with Super Duper!

You are happily working at your computer and suddenly you hear a strange clicking noise. What can it be? As you listen closely you realize it's coming from your computer. Maybe it's the fan, you think. So you keep working but the noise continues. So you decide it's better to restart the computer, maybe the noise will go away.
But when you restart you are presented with an empty screen and a flashing question mark.
The computer can't see the hard disk anymore and refuses to start up.

Depending on how you set up your computer, this can either mean disaster or just another nuisance that will be overcome in a few minutes.

Hard disks don't last forever and can fail any moment without warning. They are built to such small tolerances and have so many moving parts that anything can go wrong. Actually, it's surprising that they last so long at all.
If you use a computer your disk will eventually fail sooner or later, no doubt about that.
So, how do you prevent losing your work and your child's photos? With a backup, of course.

People hate backups because they are so much trouble.

Most people think of a backup as saving important files to CDs or DVDs. This is better then not having a backup at all but it's a hassle. You have to set some kind of schedule to remember when the backup needs to be done. Then you have to drag files between different directories and burn the DVDs. Then you need to label the DVDs and store them. What a pain. No wonder this kind of operation is postponed as much as possible.

A better way to backup a disk is to have an external drive attached to your machine. It's easier to drag files and folders there and the copy can be done relatively quickly.

This approach is much better then burning DVDs but keep in mind one thing. If your hard drive fails your computer is unusable. So you would still need to have your computer repaired and the operating system re-installed before you can start working again.
You won't have lost your important files, because they are backed up on the external disk, but you will have lost a lot of time while your computer is being repaired unless you have a spare machine that you can use in the meantime. But there's a better solution.

So, what's a better solution?

The better way to backup is to have the computer do the operation automatically. If you go with the automatic backup you are faced with two choices: remote backup or external hard drive.

Remote backup

A remote backup is a great idea in principle. Your files are transferred to a remote machine, far away from your location, and will be available for recovery if something happens to your computer.
There are a couple of problems with this approach, though.

Modern hard drives are very large and people tend to save lots of data on them. Hundreds of gigabytes or one or two terabyte disks are common these days (one terabyte is one thousand gigabytes). Large disks have become common because people today have many digital photos and videos that take up a lot of disk space. The problem with remote backup of a large disk is that transferring such a huge amount of data on the internet takes time, often several hours. But there's another problem with remote backups.
The problem is that if your main disk goes down you won't be able to connect to the internet so you won't be able to recover your data anyway, at least from that computer.
So, it's better if you backup to an external hard drive attached to your machine.

External hard drive

This is probably the best way to perform an automatic backup. Buy an external disk that is at least the same size of your internal hard disk and connect it to the computer via the USB or Firewire port. Hard disk prices have fallen dow a lot lately. A one terabyte external drive can be bought for only around 70/80 dollars.
Once you have the drive connected you just need software that makes the operation fully automatic. But what software?
You can find good software that works well but if you are on a Macintosh, the best program is SuperDuper!

Why SuperDuper! works better

The good thing about SuperDuper! is the way it operates. Your computer keeps an internal list of files that have changed. Most backup software looks at this list to determine which files to back up. The problem with this is that many system files, that govern the operation of the computer itself, are not included in this list. So they never get backed up correctly.
SuperDuper! works differently. It looks at every single file on the hard disk and determines if it has changed or not. This operation takes time, the software is slower then other similar backup utilities, but you are guaranteed that the backup copy is exactly the same as the original.

But SuperDuper! does more. It can create an exact copy of your hard disk that includes the operating system. In case of trouble you can boot up your computer directly from the backup copy and find everything exactly the way you left it on the old disk.
The desktop will look the same and all the settings will be preserved. Even the trash folder will look the same. If your main hard disk has a problem and you have to start up from the external disk, you will be ready to pick up from where you left in a few short minutes.

In addition to these features, SuperDuper! has a bunch of settings that make backup easy and painless. You can set it to work in the background, program it to start the backup at a certain time and even shut down your computer when it's done.
But the best feature of SuperDuper! in my opinion is the interface. You are always presented with clear, simple choices, explained in plain language right in the software windows so you don't have to read the manual to be able to operate the program.

To summarize, remember to back up your computer often. Hard disks always fail sooner or later. The best way to back up is to have the computer do it automatically by copying all the changed files to an external hard drive.
If you use a Macintosh, the best backup software is SuperDuper! Not only it will make an exact copy of all your files, including the operating system, but is very simple to use and has many options that make the backup painless.

Backup every day and you won't dread that clicking noise anymore.