Time Machine backup on the Mac

I’ve been called on more than a few times by family and friends when their computers died. My first question is always “Do you have any backups?” although I usually know what the answer is going to be, “No”. A few years ago I would have been a little sympathetic. Backups weren’t as known, external drives weren’t as cheap and cloud storage hadn’t proliferated as they have now. So now when the answer is no I feel no sympathy at all. Unless you have a Delorean that can take you back in time. There are just too many options available for someone to have an excuse not to do it.

One thing I also keep hearing now from Mac users is “I think I have that iCloud thingy”. Although iCloud is cloud storage the size of the free account is not large enough to backup a computer. It also doesn’t work automatically on the Mac to backup every data file so that is not an excuse either. Which is why I’m going to write about setting up a basic backup stategy on a Mac. There are other third party backup solutions which have more features but at the very least having something is better than no backup at all. First, the things you will need:

  • an outlook.com/hotmail account
  • an external hard drive
  • a Mac

An outlook.com/hotmail account is free and along with it comes 15GBs of OneDrive cloud storage for free. External drives are cheap now, a user can easily get a 1Terabyte(TB) drive for around $100. Here are some links for external drives ranging from 1-2 Terabytes but keep in mind I’m in Canada. So these links are for Canadian retailers 1TB1.5TB and 2TB.

Connect the external drive to your Mac. Immediately you should be asked by OS X if the hard drive should be used for Time Machine backups. The system will then format the drive and turn on Time Machine. Time Machine will automatically backup the computer hourly. Time Machine also enables the user to not only restore the computer but also restore files that were deleted “acidentally”. Although Time Machine runs automatically the user can also initiate a backup manually. Click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and choose the Back Up Now option (2). You can also see in the drop down list when the last successful backup was completed (1), Enter Time Machine (3) to restore any file from any point in time that the machine was backed up or open the Time Machine preferences (4).

If for some reason there is no prompt when the drive is plugged in. Here are the steps to get it up and going. Open System Preferences and click Time Machine(next to Accessibility).

This opens the Time Machine preferences. At the very bottom check the option “Show Time Machine in menu bar”. The option is un-checked by default. Once checked the icon will be in the menu bar and provide the user with options. We talked about those options earlier.

Now click on “Add or Remove Backup Disk” like shown in the screenshot below. A window will open showing all the external drives found. Click on the drive to be used for Time Machine.

The drive to be used should be empty because the preparation process for Time Machine will erase any contents on the drive. The user will be prompted before the drive is prepared.


Once the drive is prepared Time Machine will be enabled and begin backing up the computer hourly.


The next step is to setup cloud storage to create an online backup of data files(documents, pictures, spreadsheets, etc). My choice is to use Microsoft’s OneDrive because it offers 15GBs of online storage for free accounts. OneDrive is provided to all users with an outlook.com or hotmail account. Once the outlook.com account has been setup download the OneDrive app. Run the app to go through the setup. After setup the user can then drag all their data into the OneDrive folder which syncs(creates copies) to their OneDrive cloud storage. This creates a third copy of the data and three ways for the user to retrieve their data. The original file, the file backed up in Time Machine and the file copied to the cloud.

Cloud Storage Extra Information

The files in the OneDrive folder are synced with the cloud copy. So deleting the file from the OneDrive folder will result in the copy also being deleted from the cloud. There are two uses for cloud storage. One is to have files available from any device that can connect to the internet and connect to the cloud storage. The other is to use cloud storage as a backup for the files.

If a user wants to backup files on OneDrive there are two ways it can be done. The user could create a folder called “Original” for example and save the original file there. Then create a second copy that is edited. So in the event that the file gets accidentally deleted the original will still exist. The drawback is that the Original will not be updated with any edits that were done. Another option is for the user to remove the sync once the files have been copied to the cloud storage. Once the sync is removed files removed from the computer will not affect files in the OneDrive cloud. The only problem with removing the sync is that new edits to the file will not be synchronized to the copy in the cloud. This is one of the reasons that a user should have more than one backup method.

Easiest Solution: Install OneDrive and put all the data files in the OneDrive folder to be syncronized to the cloud. Use normally.

Best Solution: Install OneDrive, create a folder for the original files ie. “Original”. Then create a second copy that is edited. When finished working with the file save a copy in the “Original” folder. This way the file in the Original folder will remain up to date but is not the edited copy. This solution requires more work but will have the most benefit in terms of protecting the file(s).