Q: I use Apple’s Backup program to back up to an external drive. When I use their preset routines for iTunes it mentions that it will backup purchases but not iTunes Plus purchases. Am I reading that correctly? How can I add those purchases? Also, my daughter has a bunch of applications for her iPod touch. Are these included anywhere in these routines?
A: Unfortunately, this can be a bit complicated. Apple’s Backup application (the one provided to MobileMe/.Mac subscribers), is a bit limited in this regard, in that you can either only select specific files and folders to back up, or make use of Quickpicks, which operate by selecting files by type (usually the file extension).
As you have noted, the iTunes Purchases Quickpick will not back up iTunes Plus content. The reason for this is that this Quickpick works based on file types/extensions, and looks only for files with M4B (Audiobooks), M4P (protected audio files), M4R (ringtones), PDF (booklets) and XML (iTunes library) extensions. iTunes Plus tracks, since they are not DRM-protected, are given the same M4A extension as any other AAC audio file. This means that within the Mac file system they are indistinguishable from files that you have imported yourself in the AAC format.
Note that another important limitation of all of the iTunes Quickpicks are that these will not back up any files that are located outside of your iTunes Music folder in your home folder. If you have re-located your iTunes Music folder to another location, such as on an external hard drive, this content is not backed up.
If you have imported all of your own music in the MP3 format, then it may be possible to build a custom Quickpick that includes M4A files as well, on the assumption that any M4A files would have only come from the iTunes Store. Building this Quickpick is a bit outside of the scope of this article, but you can get some good information from a user-created Quickpicks FAQ at http://www.johnhugg.com/quickpicks.
Another option would be to create a Smart Playlist for your purchased items, using a condition such as “Kind contains Purchased” and manually copy the content of this playlist from iTunes directly to your backup folder, simply by selecting all items in the playlist and dragging and dropping them from the iTunes window onto a Finder window. Alternatively, you can burn a data CD or DVD or this playlist directly from iTunes itself.
As for iPod touch applications, these are not backed up by Apple’s Backup tool either, but these are generally easier to round up. All applications have a .IPA extension, but more importantly they are also all stored together in a “Mobile Applications” folder located directly under your iTunes home folder. This “Mobile Applications” folder remains with your iTunes library database in your home folder regardless of where your actual iTunes Music folder is stored. Adding this “Mobile Applications” folder to the backup list for your existing iTunes backup job will ensure that at least these particular files are backed up along with your DRM-protected iTunes Store purchases:
Note that iTunes’ own Backup to Disc feature does include all purchased content, including iTunes Plus and iPhone/iPod touch applications. Unfortunately, however, this feature can only be used to back up to removable CD or DVD media, and not to an external hard drive.