The Importance of Preference Files

If you work regularly with an editing program of any sort – be it Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Avid, or other advanced programs – chances are good that you understand how truly important your personal preference files are. From keyboard shortcuts to import/export presets to installed plugins, preference files can incorporate a lot in a good editing program. In fact, without the proper preference files in place, an experienced editor’s productivity can completely disappear.

This brings me to the focus of the article – why it is important to always backup your preference files. If you are a serious editor, you probably already know why you should backup the files, and you might even be doing it already. If you don’t yet understand why you should backup the files or simply want to learn an easy way to backup the files with a convenient, free program called Preference Manager, then read on after the jump.

Why You Should Backup Preference Files

Before you can understand why it is incredibly important to backup preference files, it is important to first understand exactly what is contained in the preference files. This does vary from program to program, so the general list I discuss might not be perfectly reflective of your program of choice. Essentially, however, your preference files will contain most modifications that you make to the program you are working with.

First, preference files contain the program settings and general preferences. The settings can cover any number of options within the program, so chances are good that you have at least made some light modifications. Preference files might also contain any presets you have defined. Presets might be for new files, import/export sequences and much more. Presets save a great deal of time once you set them up for the first time, so they are definitely something you want to keep around once you invest the time to set them up properly.

Preference files sometimes include effects and style settings. Whether you have added effects purchased from a third party or simply set up some style presets, these helpful files are often included by default in your preference settings. Plugins are also typically included, meaning that you can backup and save the laundry list of plugins you have likely accumulated and installed during your time as an editor. Those with good luck might also find layouts included in the preference files. This means that there is a good chance that any custom workspace, column and window layouts are backed up for you.

Lastly, we must discuss keyboard shortcuts. If you have spent any time at all in an editing program, you understand how much of a difference in speed a good set of keyboard shortcuts can make. If you have modified the included shortcuts, then chances are good that your editing skills are totally decreased when using someone else’s setup. In fact, I know editors that always have a flash drive with their keyboard preference files on it, in order to always have their shortcuts no matter where they go. This, I believe, truly reflects the importance of preference files.

My futile attempt at searching manually for my various Adobe Premiere preference files.

Now that you know everything that can be included in a preference file, chances are good that you are ready to backup your files. If you still aren’t quite there, try using your program of choice on someone else’s computer. Your productivity will decrease as you waste time rearranging the workspace, altering settings and searching through menus looking for a function mapped to a keyboard shortcut on your computer.

Imagine that after that frustrating trial, you cannot return to your setup. Perhaps a faulty hard drive or a new computer is the cause. It could also be that your preferences have simply become corrupted for some reason. Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be great to re-install the program and then plug in a drive with all of your preference files on it? Equally great is the opportunity to take your setup with you no matter what computer you are working on. These are two fantastic reasons to take the necessary few minutes and backup your preference files.

How to Backup Your Preference Files

One way to backup your preference files is, of course, to do it manually. You can always delve into the Finder, make copies of the appropriate files and stick them onto an external drive. If you don’t wish to dive into all of those files, Preference Manager is a simple (and free) way to backup preference files for many major editing systems.

Preference Manager works with a variety of different programs. Supported programs include Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, Avid Symphony, Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, and many more. In addition to traditional editing programs, other programs are included that are part of the overall production process.

The various supported programs – these are the “miscellaneous” ones typically used less frequently as a part of the overall production process.

Assuming that your program is included, you can utilize Preference Manager to do four different tasks for you. The app can trash, backup, lock and restore preference files for any supported program. This means that you can backup at any time, trash any corrupted preference files and more. It’s a full feature set for this particular purpose.

You can also make adjustments on a per-program basis regarding what is backed up and what isn’t. Within the backup and lock screens, you have the option to select which specific preference files are backed up and which are not. While some lesser known programs might have just one thing to backup, programs like Final Cut Pro offer a much larger selection of preference files. It is up to you to select which files to backup – likely, you will backup all of them but there might be a reason to stay away from a certain type of preference files.

Searching through the available files to backup.

Likely, you can stick to a manual backup of preference files using Preference Manager’s default settings. If, however, you find that Preference Manager doesn’t quite meet your needs by default, there are a few options you can change. First, you can change the default save location – this is great if you want to backup to an external drive, for example. Additionally, you can set up autosave. By default, Preference Manager does an autosave every 7 days, saving up to 10 versions of the preference files. If this is too often (or not enough), you can easily change the settings to suit your needs.

Preferences within Preference Manager – including the ability to adjust save locations and autosave frequency.

Wrapping Things Up

I hope I’ve managed to convince you, by this point, of the importance of backing up preference files. Whether your computer dies, your preference files become corrupted or you just need to work on a different computer, having a backup of these important files can be a lifesaver for your editing productivity. It’s important to find a way to backup the files that works for you, so that you can have the files on hand if you ever need them.

Preference Manager is not the most exciting program in the world. It doesn’t have the greatest design and it doesn’t do anything particularly mindblowing. That being said, it does the task at hand quite well. The app supports a number of editing programs, lets you do manual or automatic backups and allows you the ability to easily save files that you might otherwise spend a long time digging around to find and backup. It’s a great bargain (free!) and definitely worth a download if you have ever made any significant changes to your preference files.

I think that backing up preference files is incredibly important, but I want to hear your thoughts as well. Do you backup your preference files? Why or why not? What program do you use, or is it a manual backup? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Summary

Easily back up the preference files for your editing program of choice with Preference Manager, a simple and free application designed to automatically backup your files for whenever you might need them.

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  • Siavash

    Ehm, doesn’t Time Machine include preference files as well?

    • Dave

      Yes but then once again, they still have to be manually found in those backups unless you’re doing a time machine restore. I personally never do that as I like a new install to be a very clean install.

      • http://iynque.com iynque

        I haven’t done a clean install since 2005! :o

        Clean installs are for Windows users :3

        OS X continues to work even after you’ve used it.

        Then again, I’m vigilant when it comes to keeping the old gunk out of my engine.

  • B30

    It’s not that hard to figure out and find some specific pref files on your mac, I would start searching in the Preferences folder (a broad hint).

  • Willie Nillie

    If you do clone backups like with Carbon Copy Cloner or something like that, what is the advantage of this over just retrieving the prefs files from the clone? If a program like this had a reference/knowledge base that knew about where different programs kept their various preferences and presets (they’re not all in the Preferences folder) then I could see it might be useful in helping you figure out why something changed unexpectedly.

    My real point is you should be backing up EVERYTHING and to justify a separate app like this it ought to have special abilities. Does it?

    • http://www.digitalrebellion.com Digital Rebellion

      I’m the developer of this app. I don’t think the article was 100% clear in pointing out that this application is aimed at pro video applications like Final Cut Pro, Avid and Adobe Premiere.

      Our recommended workflow is trashing your preferences, going into your editing application to set them up how you’d like them, then backing them up. You then know that you have a safe set of preferences that you can restore in the event of a problem. Restoring is as easy as clicking a button and you can choose exactly which files you’d like to restore. This happens often enough that we got tired of doing it manually and created this app.

      It’s also useful if you’re a freelancer who has to use many different in-house editing systems. Preference Manager is installed in thousands of post houses and you can use it to quickly import your settings. This is important because speed is valued and many editors have their own set of keyboard shortcuts and window layouts that they’re used to.

      It doesn’t do anything that couldn’t be done manually (the same could be said of most applications) but it takes something that would take 5-10 steps manually and simplifies it to 1 or 2 steps, without costing a penny.

  • http://abstraindo.com Brunno dos Santos (@squiter)

    For some apps, I created a symlink to the preferences folder and I’m storing the data into my dropbox account.

    • http://iynque.com iynque

      Woah, that is an amazingly simple and useful tip…

      THANKS!

  • http://koinology.com Kevin Gilbert

    Don’t take this the wrong way, ’cause I consider myself to be pretty geeky, but this is not really an app for folks like Siavash, B30 and Brunno dos Santos. This is more for folks that are not quite as geeky and don’t know some of what you guys know. And for some of us geeks that might know it, but don’t want to take the time or make the effort to do what you guys are talking about.

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