Apple is often accused, especially by my hardcore linux mates, of committing the fatal sin of treating the user like an idiot, of reducing the options, or making things simpler than they should be. I’m pretty ambivalent about these claims. A simple example of this is iTunes and it’s desire to manage the on disk layout of your music. I know, some people want to do this themselves, but really, I’ve got better things to do.
I’ll be not at all surprised to hear the same sentiment levelled at Apple’s new backup solution, Time Machine. Time Machine takes a complex, boring, sometimes stressful problem and makes it completely foolproof. There is one main choice to make when setting up Time Machine. Which disk to use for backups. You can optionally exclude directories from being backed-up, and you can be warned when old backups are about to be deleted. That’s it.
I particularly like that you define what not to backup, rather than what should be backed-up. This makes the whole task so much simpler. No guessing which system files should or shouldn’t be backed-up.
If Time Machine is not configured, and you plug in an external drive, it’ll pop up a dialogue box asking you if you’d like to use this disk for backups.
To restore files, you can use the cheesy ‘fly through time’ animated system, or you can just go digging through the backups manually.
If you hard drive fails, you can boot up with the Leopard Install disk and point it at your Time Machine disk and recover your disk to the latest available backup. Brilliant!
The backups made by Time Machine are reasonably space efficient – it makes heavy use of hardlinks and is a variant of a method that I’ve always thought was very clever for it’s simplicity and effectiveness. Each backup is the size of the all the files which have been modified since last backup. Unfortunately, if you work with large files such as photoshop’s or virtual machine disk images, this means that the entire file is backed-up.
There will be nay-sayers of course. There will be those who which to control every aspect of the backup. When to run, how frequently to run. There will be complaints that remote disks should be supported.
But for me, it’s great. It’s taken a task that I have done myself with rsync and cron and made it a no-brainer. A backup solution that my Mum will be able to use. ( I’ll help you set it up mum ;-) )