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Time Machine. Leopard's new backup system, Time Machine, is an odd piece of work. Designed for the Average Joe, Time Machine - when in its default setup - backs up your entire Mac to one folder on one external drive.
Using it couldn't be easier. When you plug in an external drive for the first time, Time Machine ask you if you want to use it for backup, and if you say yes, it starts backing up everything on your Mac.
Time Machine then takes hourly snapshots of your Mac, and backs up any changes; it then wraps those hourly changes into a daily backup until it has a month's worth, at which point it wraps the most recent week's backups into a weekly backup, and so on until you run out of hard-drive space. Then it asks you whether you want to delete the older backups or start afresh with a new external hard drive.
One man's fine design is another man's pure, unmitigated cheesiness. Mmmmm, gouda...
You access your timed and dated backups through a full-screen interface in which you click on arrow-shaped buttons to move back and forward in "time." (Why you can't use your mouse's scroll button puzzles me - seems like an ideal use for it.) The "Lost in Space" design of this interface is ... well ... let's say one can love it or think it's hopelessly cheesy, and put me down as a member of the latter category.
Restoring a file is a simple matter of highlighting it and clicking the (cheesy) Restore button and returning back to your Mac by clicking the (cheesy) Cancel button. In my tests, everything worked like a charm.
In System Preferences > Time Machine, you can, if you'd like, tell Time Machine not to back something up, be it a volume, folder, or even a file. To me, this works a bit in the reverse of how I usually think of backups - it'd feel more comfortable telling a utility what to back up, and not what not to back up.
This exclusion methodology also unfortunately suffers from the same buggy forgetfulness as does Spotlight's Privacy exclusion system (System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy) - meaning that it sometimes forgets that you told it to exclude something, and backs it up anyway.
The more-major quibble with Time Machine is that your backups must all reside in one folder on either one external drive or on an extra internal drive in a tower Mac; since Time Machine just needs access to that folder, the same drive can have other stuff on it, as well. If you have a setup like mine with around a terabyte stashed into five separate primary volumes, Time Machine will force you to use an external drive of around a terabyte to perform even your first backup.
That may not seem too onerous of a burden, since you can find terabyte drives for under five hundred bucks these days - but remember that Time Machine takes snapshots of changes on the hour. If, for example, you have a 20GB password-protected DMG in which you keep, say, your business records, and you frequently modify files in it, you're going to be adding 20GB to your total backup every hour, on the hour. That'll eat up any drive quicker than you can say "Where's my MasterCard?"
And then there are Macs with multiple users (a user doesn't need to be logged on to have his or her account backed up, by the way). If a user has his or her user area protected by File Vault, that entire user area - and not just the files changed within it - is backed up each time that user logs out, since a File Vault user area is essentially the same as the password-protected DMG file I mentioned previously.
Your Time Machine backup drive gets a nifty new icon.
So how big should a Time Machine backup drive be? The answer is, sadly, "It depends." If all you use your Mac for is email, small text and spreadsheet documents, and the like, you're going to be fine with a Time Machine drive not that much larger than your main drive. If you do a lot of image editing, however, those large image files are going to add up quickly, and if you do video editing, the accumulation of backup snapshots will accelerate even faster. As with almost anything on your Mac, you can't go wrong with getting the biggest Time Machine drive you feel comfortable paying for.
More Time Machine details:
• No, a Time Machine backup isn't bootable. If your main drive crashes, you'll need to boot using your Leopard Install DVD. Choose Utilities > Restore System From Backup, and proceed as directed.
• Despite rumors you may have read on the Web, Apple claims that the appearance of the Time Machine interface can't be altered. Did I just hear a gauntlet being thrown?
• Yes, multiple users on multiple Macs can back up to either a server or a network attached storage device (NAS).
• No, you can't back up to a USB-attached AirPort drive. Although this sounds like a terrible limitation - who needs backup more than mobile laptop users? - the Apple rep with whom I spoke didn't have a reason for not including this feature other than "We didn't include this feature."
• Your external Time Machine backup drive can be connected to your Mac over FireWire, USB, eSATA, or Fiber Channel — and, as I mentioned above, over Ethernet to a NAS or server.
• Time Machine can be directly addressed through the Finder, Address Book, Mail, and iPhoto, but not iMovie, iDVD, GarageBand, iWeb, or other Apple apps.
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6. Time Machine