Backup 3: The Backup Program You Didn’t Know You Had

New subscribers to MobileMe generally know the basics: contacts, email, calendars and notes can sync across computers and devices, you get some storage, and a fancy email address to share with all of your friends. But if you’re anything like me, you opened up your iDisk for the first time, saw the Backup folder and thought, “What’s this for? There’s no way that a Time Machine backup would fit in the 20GB allotted for iDisk.”

Turns out, the Backup folder is for a program called Backup 3, which is made by Apple. What’s this for, and why would I need it if I use Time Machine?

Good question – let’s find out!

Why Backup

When Time Machine was introduced, backup freaks everywhere rejoiced. “Look, now we have an easy way to backup all of our files! Yay!” Although Time Machine is a great tool, there’s still a big issue: most Time Machine backups are kept on a USB drive stored next to the computer.

Unless you take that drive with you everywhere you go, chances are good that you’ll lose everything should tragedy strike your home or office. That would be bad.

Backup 3 is focused backup for your Mac.

Backup 3 is focused backup for your Mac.

Backup 3 doesn’t work like Time Machine. This is focused backup, aimed at backing up the important things on your Mac on a remote drive, which in this case, is iDisk. Once a day, you backup your info, and then once a week or month you back it up to CD or DVD for a hard copy. Simple, right?

What You Backup

Backup 3 focuses on the important things that you don’t want to lose. Choose between your Home Folder, personal data & settings, iLife data and your iTunes library. Pick between one of the four things — or all of them — and hit continue.

Backup 3 keeps it simple.

Backup 3 keeps it simple.

Once you’ve picked your poison, now you can get to specifics. By double clicking on the item in the list you can specify which folders and files are backed up, and where to.

By default, everything goes to your Backup folder on your iDisk, but if you’re not a MobileMe member you can choose your own location, like a Dropbox folder if you so choose.

Filter everything down from there, designating the time for the backups, how often they happen and so on. This means you could setup a backup to run every night at 3am, when it’s less likely you’ll need the processing power.

Getting Advanced

You can backup more then just the basics it turns out – you just have to dig into things a bit deeper. Backup 3 provides has a QuickPicks section that highlights all of the items you might want to backup, and even narrows it down to application type. So if you’re really paranoid about losing all of your Microsoft Excel docs, select that option to keep those spreadsheets safe.

Once you've selected your backup options, everything gets uploaded to your iDisk.

Once you've selected your backup options, everything gets uploaded to your iDisk.

If you have a specific folder you use frequently, choose that as well by delving into the Files & Folders option. Keep in mind that if you’re backing up to your iDisk that you’re limited on the amount of data you can move per month and store overall, so don’t pick a large folder unless you’ve paid to upgrade your MobileMe storage options.

So Why Use It?

That is a good question. Time Machine makes backing up stupid easy, so much so that people that never used to backup their computers are now doing it automatically. It almost seems redundant to have to backup programs running at the same time, even if they are free.

Fine tune your Backup settings.

Fine tune your Backup settings.

Turns out, there is no such thing as backing up too much. But more importantly, having an offsite location for your backups is critical. Without it, a tragedy could wipe out all of your data, and you with a heap of lost memories. Imagine losing just your iTunes library — to some, that could be devastating.

The problem is, Backup 3 isn’t super user friendly like Time Machine. The program seems geared more towards the pro user, because you have to click around a bit to figure out exactly how it works.

For example, I didn’t realize until 10 minutes into my first backup that I could select individual files or file types. If I hadn’t been hunting for it, I’m not sure I would’ve found it.


Is Backup 3 the perfect backup program for all of your needs? No. Most likely that’s Time Machine, because it’s built into the OS and it’s very easy to use.

But if you want something more specific, a program that will backup very detailed things on your hard drive and send them to your iDisk account, this is the program for you. It’s a bit of a niche app, but for some people, that’s exactly what they’re looking for.


An Apple designed backup solution, geared primarily towards creating a scheduled backup of certain apps/files to your iDisk storage.



Add Yours
  • Great post, thanks!

  • Been using this lately and it’s just OK. It doesn’t back up incrementally, so it can be insanely slow, but the option to pick specific folders is nice considering it comes free with your Mac and won’t bother you about free trials, etc.

  • Thought this was actually free. Turns out it limits to 100MB per backup on “trial mode”.

    • This is kind of a critical piece of info, should be added to the review. If you aren’t a paid mobile me user, you’ve got a 100MB limit.

      this is kills it for me. I think I’ll look at Deja Vu (, seems to do the same thing.

  • I’m confused, the title is ‘the backup program you didn’t know you had’ but I don’t think I do have it, and Ian murray says its a paid app. So is it the back program i didn’t know I didn’t have?

  • Thanks! Second.

  • Just use SuperDuper! It’s totally free and it works superbly. I still don’t trust anything but a 1-1 of my data (I very much prefer complete data integrity, not just copies). Free version of SuperDuper! does all this, more, and is *free*. You can backup to/from anywhere you have access to in /Volumes . . .

    • I use SuperDuper too. Totally agree with your statement.

    • Agreed, the free version of SuperDuper! is fantastic. Whilst Time Machine is great for a local backups, having a remote backup is equally important to mitigate the risks of loss of your Mac through failure, fire, theft, etc.

      Another layer of protection is to use an Online backup service such as CrashPlan or BackBlaze. The cost is low enough to be accessible for most users, and they also offer unlimited backups. I have over 300GB of photos, video and music in CrashPlan.

  • I used to use that for some minor backups, but it turns out to be a pain to restore when and if I need to (the app kept crashing for no reason). I always had to do it manually, and that’s not as straight forward as it appears to be… It’s a pass.

  • I really like the CrashPlan — I think it does its job transparently pretty well and also can have free remote backups on your own storage.

  • First, thanks for another great review. Ive come to rely on appstorm for info before download almost any app for the mac, you stole me away from lifehacker ;)

    Unfortunately, as with all your backup app reviews, it doesn’t cover the restoration part, and as I found with Mozy, this can easily turn a great backup app into a terrible one.
    It would great to see a *complete* head to head some time :)

  • Much more advanced than bundled ‘Time-Machine’. Great Find. Great Tool.

  • thank you for this post! It helps a lot!

  • I don’t like Time Machine as it doesn’t really offer control to pro users. I know what I want to backup, and I want a 1-to-1 mirrored copy, which is why I use ChronoSync to do this everyday internally to another drive, and once a week to an external drive. Thankfully it’s all automated. Yes ChronoSync needs a licence, but when one is talking about backing up important data, what price do you put on that?

    Restoring is simple too as it’s all 1-to-1, which makes backing up a pleasure, and something I’ve seldom had to do.

    I think Time Machine is probably good for a general audience that simply wants to backup everything.

  • Having and knowing how to properly use a backup program is vital for protecting your important files from being deleted due to an infection or from hardware malfunction. Backing up your system is important in this day and age, but soon we may not have a need for backup software thanks to cloud computing. In the near future we may not have our own local storage devices to worry about. Instead, our data may become saved on the cloud so that it is able to be retrieved from any device that has an internet connection. Cloud computing may be the future and it may just change the way we store our information.