I like… Time Machine

No, not that sort of time machine (though I do happen to like the TARDIS, and the DeLorean and HG Wells’ as well, but that’s another conversation).

No, I’m talking about Time Machine, the backup-made-so-simple-any-idiot-can-do-it software that comes with Mac OS X (10.5 and above). I won’t bore you with the details of what it is and how it works, you could find that out for yourself if you are so inclined. Instead, I’ll share why I like it so much and few extra comments.

I’m not any idiot (as referred to above), but I am a particular kind of idiot. I know the importance of backups (having desperately needed one on a number of occasions) and usually manage to keep up a good routine. The key word there is “usually”. A backup that doesn’t happen every time it is supposed is only fractionally better than no backup at all.

Time Machine (when your Mac is attached to its backup drive) backs up every part of your system every hour. Without fail. When you combine that with a wireless network-connected Time Capsule you are on to a sure winner.

Here’s what I do: I have the Time Capsule at the hub of my network (connected to printers etc) and two Macs elsewhere in the house. They get their files backed up automatically to the 1TB hard drive. Right now the oldest backups on the drive are about 3 or 4 months old and these gradually get deleted as newer ones take up more space.

Once a month, I bring home another external USB drive (which lives in the safe at work). I attach it to one of the Macs and change the Time Machine preferences so the backup is made to the USB drive. Of course, the incremental backup takes a bit longer (not having been done for a month) but it is still relatively fast and very, very easy. Repeat the process on the other machine, switch the prefs back so that the Capsule is used again, take the drive back to work and we are done.

So what I have is a local network drive with almost complete backups on it and a spare backup off-site with backups no more than a month old. If we have a hard drive failure or a broken computer, then we restore from the local backup and lose nothing. If we get broken into or our house burns down and lose everything, then we’ve got years’ worth of data safe off site and we lose at most one month’s worth.

Yes, I could do this better. My data could be even more secure, but I think this method is an acceptable blend of security vs effort. And apart from my once-a-month secondary backup, it is as good as automatic.

So, I’ve just got two thoughts on Time Machine to leave you with:

    1. This really is a killer app. Time Machine is a good enough reason on its own for you to get yourself a Mac. Seriously. I switched to Mac just before Leopard came out, but when I saw how Time Machine worked, I realised I would have swapped just for that. Setting up a computer for your parents or I-just-use-a-computer friends and co-workers? Get them to get a Mac and watch them never worry about backups.


  1. Why on Earth has no one done anything this good for Windows or Linux? Time Machine is over 2 years old. It doesn’t usually take this long for the me-too programs to arrive. Does Apple hold some super-sensitive patent that is preventing anyone from doing it? Inquiring minds want to know.

And that’s it. Thanks Apple. Thanks Time Machine.