Not Impressed with Apple’s Time Machine “Feature”


apple imac time machineNot to harp on Michael Gartenberg again, since he’s already saying that Leopard’s Time Machine is a “revolutionary” feature as opposed to “evolutionary” one like Mossberg who sites third-party apps have been able do this on Mac and Windows for sometime (and Linux, too), but at least Engadget has the guts to call a spade a spade on this one. So what has Engadget found?

  • Apple confirmed it: no backing up with Time Machine over the drives you have connected via USB to your Airport Extreme. Also, no Time Machine backups to SMB shares — AFP network shares only. Again, yes, Time Machine can back up over the network, but ONLY to AFP shares, ok?
  • When plugging in a disk Time Machine does its song and dance, but what we wanted to know is whether it requires you dedicate that disk for backup use exclusively. The answer: it doesn’t, you can go on using your external drive’s free space as you please, but Time Machine will also take advantage of selected disks for backup. And no, if it’s an HFS-formatted disk you’re plugging in, it won’t ask you to format it.

Walt Mossberg states:

  • While Time Machine can perform backups over a network, the backup destination can only be a hard disk connected to a Mac running Leopard.

So the notion that Apple just makes everything work and is intuitive to the user without having any advanced computer knowledge or tweaking is bogus, especially in this case. The truth is users have limited backup functionality with Time Machine and will be frustrated when it doesn’t backup their external drives, non-AFP formated shares, or files from networked pre-Leopard OS X machines as some might expect it will.

With all that being said, Time Machine, in my opinion, is still pretty cool and very innovative in terms of its user interface. So, if your more concerned about backing up your local machine than files on a mixed PC or OS X environment, then you’ll be more than pleased with this new addition.

Aside: That gets me thinking…. [RANT] It smells of a forced upgrade path to use *new* features. It’s not that Apple couldn’t support older versions of OS X since it already supports AFP, they chose not to do it that way so you would upgrade your machine to their latest $129 OS. And if you couldn’t upgrade your OS, due to (in their eyes) sub-par system hardware, you would have to go buy a new machine. Ah, isn’t life grand (at least for Apple’s bottom line)?

UPDATE: I updated the “rant” with a link to show that AFP has been supported on OS X for a while. If Time Machine makes use of a point upgrade of the current AFP protocol, why not roll out the upgrade to pre-Leopard releases so a newer Mac loaded with Time Machine can scan and backup those?





Filed in: Software


  • KiltBear

    Alexander Grundner said: It smells of a forced upgrade path to use *new* features.

    You’re kidding about the rant, right? How else do you get the new features?

    Guessing off the top of my head, you might need Leopard at both ends because viewing the history of the files might need the capability to do a search on a remote desktop, and that capability is in Leopard’s Spotlight, not Tiger’s.

    Oh, there is only one kind of Leopard OS to buy, not 6. There is no software keys on it either (unless Leopard has that as a big change, and I have heard nothing about that.)

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    I see what you’re saying, but my point is that users should only have to upgrade one of their Macs to Leopard if they choose and be able to backup other networked OS X PCs which are already readable.

  • ns01

    From what I understand of “Time Machine” it’s block level and captures changed blocks, just having network file share access doesn’t help.

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    ns01 said: From what I understand of “Time Machine” it’s block level and captures changed blocks, just having network file share access doesn’t help.

    Isn’t Rsync with SAMBA capable of doing this?

  • KiltBear

    Alexander Grundner said: I see what you’re saying, but my point is that users should only have to upgrade one of their Macs to Leopard if they choose and be able to backup other networked OS X PCs which are already readable.

    You’re assuming that all the work can be done client side. As an example, having the client scan the remote volume for the presence of a file would be miserable. You want the server to take the search params and just present the result set.

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    KiltBear said: You’re assuming that all the work can be done client side. As an example, having the client scan the remote volume for the presence of a file would be miserable. You want the server to take the search params and just present the result set.

    Not sure I follow. If I have a client that can search all the network shares and make a backup for added protection, isn’t that what we want? Of course, just having the client catalog all file changes on the host PC with redundancy is more efficient, but that’s just one part.

    Maybe it’s just me. Can someone explain to me how Time Machine does this task better?

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    I updated the “rant” with a link to show that AFP has been supported on OS X for a while. If Time Machine makes use of a point upgrade of the current AFP protocol, why not roll out the upgrade to pre-Leopard releases so a newer Mac loaded with Time Machine can scan and backup tthose?

    I’d love to get some input from a developer or IT guy who works with AFP as to why this suggestion is not possible.

    @KiltBear – “Wikipedia: Mac OS X v10.4 and later eliminates support for AFP servers that rely solely on AppleTalk for communication.” So, yes, Time Machine on Leopard should theoretically be able to work with Tiger.

  • puggsly

    It’s my understanding that Time Machine (much like spotlight) is built into the file system. This is more than an hourly backup program, it monitors changes on the drive (or maybe it doesn’t). I thought this would allow for near instant backup and recovery (backing up at the first free moment). If this is the case, the OS needs to track it’s changes to pass the information along to the Time Machine process. Even if this is more of a timed/scheduled process, it is likely that it would be made more efficient if the OS tracks changes and passes them to the backup process.

    If I’m correct it is totally unreasonable to think a 10.5 system would backup a 10.4 system. It does beg the question, wouldn’t it be possible to backup a 10.5 system to a networked 10.4 AFP share? The only limitation I can see are the new cache files for things like quick look.

    The big shocker here is no support for Air Disk. Hell I thought that feature was created for Time Machine and that Apple expected to sell a boat load of the units. It also shocks me that Apple didn’t market an external hard drive as part of the 10.5 launch.

  • KiltBear

    Alexander Grundner said: Not sure I follow. If I have a client that can search all the network shares and make a backup for added protection, isn’t that what we want? Of course, just having the client catalog all file changes on the host PC with redundancy is more efficient, but that’s just one part.

    Maybe it’s just me. Can someone explain to me how Time Machine does this task better?

    Granted I am still just guessing about TimeMachine using remote Spotlight to find files, but it is a specific example of splitting functions intelligently between tasks better suited at the server and tasks better suited running on the client.

    (BTW your reference to rsync also has client and server aspects to it if you are not just using rsync to do file based syncing across mounted volumes, but between systems that don’t share mounts.)

    You don’t want the clients searching the network shares. That is network traffic intensive. (Imagine doing it over 802.11b or g!) Use the system level search/index present from the server’s OS now available remotely in Leopard. I don’t see an advantage of having two copies of the catalog of files that sit on the backup disk. I see disadvantages if somehow they get out of sync. MacOSX has that indexing built in at the OS level, no need to have the backup client do it again.

    Of course, thinking about my rsync comment above… does TimeMachine even need to actually mount the remote file system to do its backups, or is it just done over its own dedicated net connection like rsync between two servers can?

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    Let me add that it’s a shame Apple did not include Airport Extreme – Share support in Time Machine. From Apple’s product page, it looks pretty robust (though, I’ve never used it).

  • James

    It’s really nice, super easy to set up, and about as quick as you’d expect over wireless.

    I was hoping to be able to use it with Time Machine, and I’m not best pleased to find out that it won’t work. Maybe they’ll roll it out as a future update to 10.5? I can hope…

  • brotherlizardo

    Don’t worry it works. It works with Share points on 10.4 machines just fine. When you backup to a AFP share it creates a sparse diskimage with your machine name that is encrypted with a password you provide. Once created anytime you mount the AFP share it will automatically mount the disk image and begin backups. The only down side is you need to have the share point mounted. I just made a login item to mount it.

    I have been using this for over 4 months now with no problems. My Home directory is over 30GB and on a second partition from the boot disk. Backs both up fine.

  • brotherlizardo

    Several points. 10.5 machines can use time machine to back to AFP share points hosted on 10.4 machines Client and server. Time does not backup network volumes. This is because it is a file system backup. The backups to AFP shares are actually backed up to sparse disk images on the AFP volume. That way they don’t have to deal with the file system issues of the target volume. Time machine backups use FSEvents to know what to backup. It also uses newer features of HFS+ format. ie Directory hard links and extended attributes and ACLs. Fun.

  • Shaun

    brotherlizardo is spot on. Things like directory hard links weren’t available in Tiger .. or any other UNIX I’ve used. I do think it’s a pretty bad show that they didn’t role out an AEBS firmware update to match Leopard, but I’ve no doubt it’ll happen eventually.