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Articles: I Luv Disk Utility

My favorite Apple application is an often-overlooked program called 'Disk Utility.' Found in the 'Utilities' folder located inside the 'Applications' folder, it has been included in every version of Mac OS X. As OS X has advanced, so has Disk Utility; becoming much more than the hard drive formatting application it used to be. Some of you have used Disk Utility to format or repair a damaged hard drive. Perhaps you have read about 'Repairing Disk Permissions' and that's how you use Disk Utility. All of those things are great features, but with Disk Utility 10.4 there is a world of additional features far more useful than just maintaining a hard drive.

The 'Restore' tab is one of the newest additions to Disk Utility. This is a disk-imaging feature that allows you to back up, clone, or copy a disc. For several years I used a program called Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) by Bombich Software to do what 'Restore' now does. CCC is not working yet in 10.4 Tiger, and in fact that's what led me to using Disk Utility's new features. As a back up tool you can archive a .dmg copy of your hard drive in case of failure. To do this, open Disk Utility, click on the disk icon from the left hand pane. Then from the 'File' menu mouse down to 'New' and over to 'Disk Image from disk (your Disk Name here).' You will be able to choose a name and location to save it to. I would suggest a location other than the drive you are backing up. FireWire drives or network drives work best. It will default to 'Compressed' without encryption in the pull-down menus below the file navigation window. These settings will work fine for back up but you will want to change them for disc copying later on.

When it comes time to restore off your back up you will need to select the 'Restore' tab in Disk Utility. Now, I'm assuming you are not going to do this while running off the drive you are going to erase and restore. After all, you are using this to recover from some terrible system crash. Even if your system boots fine and you are just trying to take your system back to a better point in time, you will still need to be booted off another drive than the one you are going to restore. At the very least, the 10.4 install DVD has a copy of Disk Utility on it. You can boot to that by holding down the C key at startup, and then selecting Disk Utility from the 'Utilities' Menu. Now you're ready to erase everything and restore from your backed up disk image. Select your hard drive from the left hand window in Disk Utility. Click on the 'Restore' tab on top of the right hand window. Below the restore tab, two text boxes will appear. Next to the text box on top is a button labeled 'Image...' Click it and select the disk image from the drive you stored it on. This is your 'Source' and now you will need your 'Destination.' It just happens to be the text box below the source. This is an Apple product so no typing is required, just some clicks from your one-button mouse. Drag your hard drive's 'Volume' from the left window to the 'Destination' text field in the right. (Tip: a 'Volume' is what you think of as your hard drive. It will have the name of your hard drive; 'Macintosh HD' is the default name. It is represented in Disk Utility as an indented hard drive icon below an icon that will state your drives capacity.) You will see a green plus symbol next to your pointer arrow when you are dragging your 'Volume' over the right place. Check the 'Erase Destination' checkbox and click on the 'Restore' button. A progress bar will appear and let you know how many sodas you will need to get from the fridge before you can boot off your restored hard drive.

What I prefer to do is make a back up copy or 'Clone' of my hard drive instead of a disk image. This has the added benefit of being a back up and an emergency boot drive. You will need to dedicate an external drive for this. One that is at least as big as your internal drive. The process is simple and very similar to restoring off of a disk image. First open Disk Utility and click on the 'Volume' you are going to back up. This time it can be the drive you are booted up from. Click on the 'Restore' tab. Drag the 'Volume' icon from the left window over to the 'Source' text box in the right window. Then drag the external drive volume's icon over to the 'Destination' text box. Check 'Erase Destination' and click 'Restore.' When you want to restore from the back up on your external drive, boot up from the external drive by holding down the 'Option' key during boot up. Select the back up drive. When booted up, repeat the steps as before but switch the 'Volume' names in the 'Destination' and 'Source' text boxes.

Now perhaps, after reading the processes above you are thinking; 'But I just wanted to get back the deleted pictures from my son's Bar mitzvah. I don't want to go all the way back to the system I had three months ago.' If that is the case then don't worry. A disk image can be mounted by double clicking on it from the Finder. It will look just like the back up hard drive will on your Desktop. Both image and Clone can be searched for lost documents to be copied over to your main hard drive.

You are not limited to working on hard drives in Disk Utility. DVDs and CDs can be copied as well. You will want to make a disk image of them same as you did with the hard drive above. This time instead of selecting 'Compressed' you will choose 'DVD/CD Master' from the pull-down menu. Burning a disc from that disk image is different than restoring onto a hard drive. Click once on the disk image you created of the DVD/CD and go to the 'Images' menu. Select 'Burn' which will open a window asking you to insert a blank disc to burn. Click burn and in a few minutes you will have an exact copy. This is great for duplicating home movie DVDs or any situation you don't want to walk around with an original disc.

The last feature I'd like to discuss is a great tool for the paranoid and security minded alike. In the erase tab there is a new feature that lets you erase the free space on your hard drive. To some of you that may seem pointless, thinking if it's free than it has been erased already. Unfortunately that's not true. When you throw something in the trash it is not deleted. Even when you empty the trash it is still there. When a computer erases something it only marks the space ready to be written on again. The deleted item is there until something is written over top of it. What this feature does is writes zeroes over all that space so no one can go back and recover what you deleted. To do this click once on the 'Volume' you want secure in the left window of Disk Utility. Click on the 'Erase' tab above the right window. Then click the button 'Erase Free Space' which will open a window asking you how many times to write zeroes. One pass is fine most of the time. 7-Pass is what you want to do if you need assurances that your erased data will never return. 35-Pass is what you select if you have been indicted. This process takes some time and the more passes you do the longer it takes. You will also see out of space warnings. Ignore them but to keep your applications from losing data, turn off all applications except Disk Utility.

These are some of the best features of Disk Utility. There are plenty more in there; watch with every update because new features are always added. Disk Utility is only one of the jewels found in the 'Utilities' folder. Take some time and explore some of these world-class applications that may be sitting idly on your hard drive.
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