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The Leopard Report: The Greatest Feature of All!

I can hear the complaints. Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, so far at least, offers nothing really new, just warmer and fuzzier versions of products long available from third parties, Windows or on Linux. So what’s so innovative about that and why all this nonsense about withholding other features so Microsoft won’t copy them too?

But there is one big thing that some of the commentators and bloggers are forgetting, which is that a product doesn’t have to be original to be innovative. Take the iPod. There were plenty of music players around before it came to be, but Apple succeeded by finding a way to deliver a better product, and integrate it almost seamlessly with an online music store that catered to both Mac and PC users.

So, of all the features Apple has demonstrated so far in Leopard, what’s the real scene stealer? Well, it may not seem a terribly sexy subject, but it’s Time Machine, Leopard’s backup application.

You see, Apple’s executives have delivered some extremely frightening statistics about backups. Only 26% of Mac users perform backups, and only 4% use dedicated software to perform the task. Can you believe it?

At its core, backing up your data is a very simple task. Just copy your stuff to a CD, DVD or another hard drive, and that’s it, at least for the basics. This is nothing new, as there have been backup techniques on the Mac almost from the very beginning, so why are most people avoiding it as if it were some sort of contagious disease?

Now this may be getting boring for some of you, but I’ve been preaching the backup religion for years. What’s more, just consider the consequences if you fail to back up a document and lose it. If that document contains your Quicken financial records, your tax return, or that novel you worked on for the past five years, what would happen if you lost it — forever?

You may argue that Apple is just spinning its wheels with Time Machine. There are already programs that’ll help you undelete lost files, and there are certainly plenty of backup options. So what’s the point?

Again, it’s the fact that 74% of you never back up at all. Not once! Not ever!

Even worse, consider that you are depending on a single device, a hard drive that contains complicated mechanical bits and pieces, to store your stuff. Drives fail all too frequently, and fail hard! Yes, there may be a warranty, but that warranty will only replace a defective drive. It won’t bring your files back, and the recovery services that are capable of performing such deeds charge an arm and a leg with no guarantee they’ll be even partly successful.

Of course, I can’t say that Time Machine is the best solution. I’ve been using dedicated backup programs for years. When Leopard comes out, I’ll probably be one of the early adopters, because I have to write about such things. I’ll even put Time Machine through its paces on one of my three backup drives, but I won’t switch completely until I’m assured it’s as reliable and trouble-free as it seemed to be at the recent WWDC demonstration.

On the other hand, if even 10% of the people who find excuses not to back up change their tune after Leopard arrives, that’ll be a huge success for Apple. You can then forget the excuses the naysayers deliver.

In the meantime, please don’t sit back and wait for the spring of 2007, assuming Leopard arrives on schedule. I cannot overemphasize the importance of having a backup routine now! If your needs are a little more sophisticated than just copying an occasional file or two every few days to an external drive, I’d like to recommend a e-book that’ll help get you towards the best backup strategy. It’s Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups” and it’s just $10. Even better, you get free updates as Joe finds better software and techniques.

Yes, Time Machine, if it succeeds, will earn Apple a golden statue in my book. It’s a terrific idea.

Also, I’d love to have your comments, especially from the folks who never seem to find the time to perform a backup.