By now you’ve heard of Mac OS X Leopard and the gaudy backup utility included therein—Time Machine.
Apple’s backup plan includes simplicity and convenience in place of, uh, well, simplicity and convenience.
Sorry, the wildfires in the San Diego area last week meant we had to evacuate the Kayhill home for a few days. Fortunately, we grabbed some valuables on the way out, including a Mac notebook and an external hard drive with all our important files.
Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to pickup Mac OS X Leopard until we were allowed to move back home (minimal damage to a fence and patio from the fires). That means I’m the last kid’s mommy on the block to dig into Leopard to see what makes it tick.
There’s a hefty list of utilitarian eye candy in Leopard, not the least of which is Time Machine, Apple’s colorful, useful, and totally confusing backup utility. Confusing? Yes. If simplicity can be confusing.
Time Machine may be the most simple to use complex utility of such public renown that Apple has ever foisted onto a Mac user. Ignoring all of their own interface guidelines, Apple created a Time Machine interface that a monkey could use. Provided the monkey knows how to purchase a second hard drive for their Mac, and they understand just how big that drive needs to be.
Therein is one of the first issues I ran into with Time Machine. But first, back to the future. The beginning.
Time Machine starts up as a System Preferences pane but doesn’t look much like other preferences. There’s the large Time Machine icon which looks more like a window on Captain Nemo’s Nautilus than, say, the Police Box used in Dr. Who. That’s a real time machine.
There’s an On and Off button of the absolute simplest variety that doesn’t match anything else I could find on Leopard. Simple is better, right? The ubiquitous Apple padlock to prevent changes to Time Machine, and a button that says Choose Backup Disk. How hard can that be?
After installing Leopard on my first home Mac and copying basic music and photos files over, my 230 gig hard drive was filled with about 100 gigs of files. That’s perfect for Time Machine, because it needs a hard drive that is at least double the size of the files on your Mac. Uh oh. See a problem looming ahead? I didn’t.
Click the Choose Backup Disk Button and you’re presented with the rest of the hard drives connected to your Mac. I chose an external Firewire drive the same size, 230 gigabytes, as my Mac’s hard drive. Click the Use for Backup button and Time Machine starts backing up your Mac’s files.
That process takes awhile. A long while. Meanwhile, Mac users all over the country reported to Apple the problems they had with both the first backup and subsequent backups. Backups took too long. Backups gave out a dozen arcane error messages. Backups quit. Or worse.
My experience was a little different, both good and bad. Time Machine took half the day to back up the files on my Mac’s hard drive. So, the external Firewire drive of 230 gigabytes now had just over 100 gigabytes of my Mac’s files on it. Just like the plan, right? Over the next few days, as I added files, deleted files, and generally went about the business of checking out Leopard, Time Machine dutifully backed up files I’d deleted or changed.
Hey, isn’t that exactly the way things are supposed to work? Exactly. I didn’t experience the problems many Mac users had with Time Machine. At first. Then I started to add more files and applications and utilities to my Leopardized Mac as I became more comfortable with all the fun goodness in Leopard.
Suddenly, well, not suddenly, but with a few days, my Mac’s 100 gigabytes of files became 120 gigabytes of files, as I added various photo projects, more applications, and some other files usually backed up on other Macs in the house. That’s when Time Machine came back to the future and told me my external Firewire hard drive was no longer big enough to use, despite the fact that it had only used about 150 gigabytes of the 230 gigabytes available.
What? Time Machine stopped doing what it was doing because it didn’t have enough hard drive space to do what it hadn’t done yet, which is use up the hard drive space it had. Gimme a break, Apple. Add my name to the chorus line of Time Machine doubters.
What’s Apple trying to do with Time Machine? Make backups easy, simple, convenient. In so doing, they created an eye candy utility that is simple and convenient to find some lost files, with the major flaws of being too simple and too convenient, and not so convenient for catastrophic recovery.
The trick to success, so it would appear, is to buy the biggest damned external Firewire or USB hard drive you can mortage your house to get. Then Time Machine works well. Except for the disaster recovery scenario, in which case recover takes longer.
To find a lost or misplaced or recently deleted file in Time Machine could not get easier. Go where you thought the file was, click Time Machine, spend a few minutes ooohing and aaahing over the interface from Star Wars circa 1978, and bingo, the file appears. See? That works. Simple. Convenient.
So what happens when your Mac’s internal hard drive dies? Time Machine to the rescue and restore, right? Wrong. Not so easy and not so fast. This is a cavalry that will ride over the hill at some point in the future, and not when you need it most, which is like, usually, uh, instantly. When my Mac’s hard drive dies, I can use my SuperDuper! clone and be up and running right away.
Not so with Time Machine. First you need to find your Leopard DVD, get another hard drive for your Mac, use Leopard to install itself onto the Mac, then figure out how to restore files from Time Machine. This is not a pretty site. The very thing you need in such a disaster is a solution that is both simple and convenient, which Time Machine is neither in the catastrophic disaster scenario.
Still, Mac360 folks are pleased that Apple has made backing up files so simple and convenient. Retrieving individual files is also simple and convenient. Restoring from a disaster to your Mac’s main hard drive is not simple and convenient. SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner is.
Caution. Make sure the hard drive that Time Machine uses is as huge as you can afford. Sell a child or a neighbor’s kid to pay for the extra drive if you have to, but make it big, because Time Machine, in it’s effort to become simple and convenient, also takes money from your pocket to pay for a larger hard disk. That’s money well spent if your Mac’s files are valuable to you.
What’s your experience with Time Machine? Like it or love it or hate it? Share your experience and Talk Back to Mac360 in the Comments section below.