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Mac Backups – Simple, but not so reliable

By July 11, 2008apple

Picture_6Apple’s latest operating system includes a program called Time Machine, which is supposed to make backups simple. All you have to do is hook up an external drive and and Time Machine will start making hourly backups.  If you accidentally delete a file and empty the trash, no problem.  Just open up Time Machine and ‘go back in time’ to find the file before you destroyed it.

Time Machine is a great idea because most people find backing up too hard, and that’s why they don’t do it.  Apple makes it so easy that there really isn’t much to think about.  One thing many people did think about was whether it would really work in an extreme emergency, such has having to restore all the data on a computer hard drive.

Which brings me to main story.

As you may recall from a recent blog post, I had to send my MacBook
Air in to be fixed.  The damage was mostly cosmetic to one lid of the
laptop, caused when I dropped the backpack it was in.  The computer
worked, but I decided to bite the bullet and get it repaired.  Apple
advised me to do a backup, just in case the damage turned out to be so
bad that they’d have to replace the hard drive.

A few months ago I had purchased Apple’s ‘revolutionary backup device’ called Time Capsule,
which is basically a wireless router with a large hard drive built in.
The idea is that laptop users will not want to keep plugging their
computer up to an external drive just to do backups.  And this, of
course, is why I bought a Time Capsule
device.  So, when Apple advised me to do a backup of my laptop I didn’t
really have to do anything other than make sure that the laptop had
done a backup on the day that I packed up to send it to Apple. I was
good to go.

Or so I thought.

When I finally got the computer back from the repair center in
Houston (after DHL sent it on a weeklong rambling journey around the
country), I found a note telling me that Apple had to replace the hard
drive.  When I booted it up it asked me what language I wanted to use.
This is the first question you get when you buy a brand new computer,
so I knew that—indeed—my data was not on this computer.  But, no
worries because I had done the backup before I sent it in.

After I picked my language and answered a few preliminary questions, I pointed the computer at the Time Capsule
and said ‘yes, I would like to restore all the information from the
prior backup.’  The computer started whirring and buzzing and informed
me that it would be several hours before it accomplished its task and
so I went about my business.

When I checked back a few hours later the computer had finished, and
was now presenting the login screen.  I noticed that the icon for my
name was different than it had been when I sent it in, but that didn’t
seem like a big deal.  I logged in, looked around I saw a lot of
familiar files—but something didn’t seem right.  First, my hard drive
only had about 6 GBs of free space when I sent it in.  This hard drive
had 31 GBs free.

Not a good sign.

Apparently, the computer had restored only to a point in April of
2008 which was months behind the June date that was my last backup.
Why did this happen?  I don’t know, and neither did the Apple support
representative that I talked to on the phone.  He passed me on to a
"Time Machine Specialist" who guided me around a bit.   I discovered
that could use Time Machine
to "go back in time" and see there was, in fact, a backup on the date
that I sent the laptop in.  So we concluded that somehow the restore
didn’t work properly.  The Apple guy told me to reinstall the operating
system and see if it worked better the second time around.

It did not work any better and I wound up with the same restore
point of April 2008, which I guess proves the point that time travel is
possible but not very reliable.  I thought about calling the Apple
folks back, but I knew that they probably wouldn’t have any easy
solutions, only complicated and time consuming ones.  I decided to take
my lumps and avoid further frustration.  I reinstalled the operating
system again and just start from scratch.  Fortunately, I didn’t have
any important data on my laptop (I keep that on my desktop and back
that up to ‘the cloud‘).

After I reinstalled the operating system, all the applications I
needed (which took about a day), I let the laptop start a new wireless
backup to Time Capsule.  And guess what?  That’s not working too well now either.  I’ll probably have to reboot the Time Capsule
machine and maybe even call Apple for assistance.  But I won’t call
until next week because Apple’s kind of busy right now with the whole iPhone iPocalypse.

I bought Time Capsule
because Apple promised that it’d be easy to do wireless backups, which
it was.  But then I found out the hard way that, it wasn’t reliable.
And now it’s not even easy.

Sigh.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to join my inner circle.

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