Saving Mail and Other Program Data

Charles Martin chasm at
Tue Apr 20 10:19:13 PDT 2004

> From: Anne Keller-Smith <earthpigz at>
> Hi Newbies -
> Thanks for having this list.
> Where are data files for OSX Mail, so I can back them up?
> Where might be the user files for my Palm data?
> Generally, where's this stuff? Bookmarks, etc.
> Many thanks in advance for any enlightenment.

<warning: rant ahead>

This question, along with the earlier one about partitioning a OS X 
hard drive to isolate the swap space, leaves me wondering: why do 
people insist on complicating the OS X experience?

Leaving aside for the moment the handful of UNIX geeks and other 
hobbyists who just LIKE to tinker, I see a repeating pattern of people 
(who, it should be noted, are posting to a "Newbies" list) determined 
to make the OS X experience far more elaborate, complicated and 
maintenance-oriented than it needs to be for 98% of users. I can only 
imagine that these are Windows folks who have converted and find 
themselves flummoxed by OS X's ease of use and figure they must be 
missing something, because their user experience just isn't painful and 
confusing enough compared to what they're used to.

This ain't rocket science, folks. There's no need to turn it INTO 
rocket science.

Here's the three-minute basics of OS X:
In OS X, the system is generally kept separate from data created by the 
user and the user's programs. Pretty much everything you would regard 
as "your data" is in your User (ie your Home) Folder. The only major 
exception to this is the applications you install, which are generally 
installed in the Applications folder. To me, this seems a lot easier: 
each user need only concern themselves with ONE folder that contains 
ALL their created data.

As far as "swap space" and "partitioning" and other complications go, I 
would say this: Apple has already thought about this, and has 
implemented what they feel is the best way for this to work. Unless you 
have a *very* specific reason for bypassing Apple's setup, stick with 
what they came up with. By default, the swap space is on the boot 
drive, and OS X and the OS 9 used for Classic reside there too. For 
almost all users, it is best to just leave it alone. If you have a 
large iPhoto library, programs exist that will allow you to manage 
those files on other drives until a future revision of iPhoto offers 
that option.

The structure of UNIX is, to be fair, more complicated than that of OS 
9, and so it's not a simple drag-and-drop operation to back up your 
stuff if you want a complete bootable "turnkey" backup. However, tools 
exist to make backups complete and easy to do, so the "complication" of 
symbiotic links and other UNIX-y stuff does not need to concern most 
users. By far, the easiest and most trouble-free way to make backups of 
your data is to use a separate (preferably external) hard drive and a 
cloning program such as Carbon Copy Cloner. Your backup is then 
complete and bootable and you can resume working almost seamlessly in 
the event of a main HD problem.

It is a further good idea to burn CDs/DVDs of your most irreplaceable 
data (digital family photos, home movies, your will etc) and keep a 
copy completely off-site from your computer to protect that data in 
case of fire or other disaster.

System maintenance is generally quite easy once you have a stable 
installation of OS X (which, again, is the norm for 99% of users). 
Periodically run a maintenance program such as OnyX (which does 
everything pretty much automatically), avoid installing beta or 
unfinished software on your main work drive (set up separate user for 
such testing), keep a spare "virgin" user account around for quick 
troubleshooting, repair permissions (using Disk Utility) after 
significant system updates, and make regular backups particularly when 
things are running smoothly, and you're likely to have very little in 
the way of problems -- and will have spent very little time 
*maintaining* your computer, which gives you more time for *enjoying* 
your computer.


Read the PDB of August 6th, 2001 for yourself:
and then tell me how the President could go on vacation for a month.

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