Use Apple’s Backup without MobileMe

Yesterday I wrote about using Apple’s Backup software for scheduling local and off-site backups. It’s a super tool that’s available to MobileMe customers. I neglected to point out that those without a MobileMe subscription can use Backup to copy up to 100 MB of data. Useless, you say? Come with me, Doubting Thomas, and I show you how to get the most out of those 100 MB.

First, let’s grab some important files to get an idea of how much data we’re talking about.

Address Book

For most of us, a full export of our Address Book data is well under 100 MB (I produced a 3.3 MB file across 418 contacts). Export your Address Book data by selecting File > Export > Address Book Archive to get a look.

3.3 MB gone, 96.7 MB to go.

iCal

Producing a proper iCal backup depends on how you’re using it. Those with the current MobileMe Calendar should launch iCal, select the calendar you’d like backed up and then select File > Export > Export.

It’s a bit tricker to get a backup from me.com, but it can be done. First, publicly share the calendar you’d like to back up (don’t worry, this is temporary). Paste the URL of the shared calendar into a browser.

DO NOT HIT RETURN.

That last step is important. Instead, change the “webcal” to “http”. For example, “webcal://www.me.com/ca/sharesubscribe/blahblah…” becomes “http://www.me.com/ca/sharesubscribe/blahblah…”

Now you may hit Return.

Your browser will download an .ICS file. Finally, turn off sharing for that calendar. My iCal file was 66 KB. 96 MB to go.

Mail

The simplest solution is to drag messages out of Mail and onto your Desktop/backup destination. Another option is to create an offline mailbox on your Mac. Here’s how.

First, launch Mail and select Mailbox > New Mailbox. A sheet appears. Choose On My Mac from the Location drop-down and give it a name (like “Local”). Then click OK.

To populate that new mailbox, open Mail, highlight the messages you’d like backed up and then select Message > Copy To and then your local mailbox (“Local” in our case). Make sure you copy these messages. Don’t move them. Now those messages will be available offline.

Finally, you’ll find the messages themselves by opening the Mail folder in your home directory’s Library folder and then navigating to Mailboxes > NameOfYourLocalMailbox. I grabbed 2 MB worth of messages to backup. 94 MB to go.

Safari Bookmarks

Here’s an easy one. With Safari running, select File > Export Bookmarks. I got a file 291 KB in size using this method.

As you can see, we’ve grabbed a lot of important information — contacts, calendar, critical email messages and Safari bookmarks — in well under the allotted 100 MB. Now let’s back it up.

Put it together with Backup

Launch Backup and create a custom Backup Plan by selecting Plan > New Plan. A new sheet appears. Click Custom. Next, click the “+” under Backup Items and then click the QuickPicks tab. Then select Address Book, iCal and Safari Settings. [1. For the record, this setup cost me only 29.9 MB. Yours may be different, but I bet it’s still under 100 MB.] Finally, identify a destination and schedule.

You’ll notice that Mail is missing from the above plan. That’s because the Mail QuickPick that ships with Backup will grab all of your messages, including sent, trashed, read and unread across all accounts. That would put most people over the 100 MB limit. Fortunately, we created that local mailbox. Here’s what to do with it.

Create another custom Backup Plan. This time, instead of selecting a QuickPick, click the Files & Folders tab, and navigate to the local mailbox we created in your home folder > Library > Mail > Mailboxes > NameOfYourLocalMailbox. From there, choose a destination [2. Use Dropbox to store your new backup off-site!] and schedule as described above. That way, you’ll only backup the messages you deliberately dragged into that mailbox.

Cool, no? Now you see how to get the most out of Backup even if you’re not a MobileMe customer. Is this the most comprehensive backup plan ever? Heck, no. Photos and music are excluded for starters. But that’s not the point. I wanted to illustrate that 100 MB will let you save some pretty important stuff. The fact that you get to do it with a nice piece of software from Apple makes it even better. Have fun.