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Waiting for Leopard Book IV: Backup Salvation

I feel like a broken record (you do remember records, right?) when I keep preaching the backup religion, yet when Apple said that roughly 26% of my fellow Mac users backup anything at all, I had to feel extremely disappointed.

The news that only a fraction of that number routinely used backup software was even more frustrating. Consider how many backup applications are available, ranging from Apple’s own Backup, which comes with your .Mac membership, to my favorite, SuperDuper!

Nor is it a matter of ease of use. Most of these applications have simple setup assistants or configuration panes that take the drudgery out of the process. You don’t even have to be around if you just create a scheduled backup, and make sure your Mac and your backup medium are running at the appointed time. Barring a power outage, you’re good to go.

Now one of my long-time acquaintances, a graphic artist, keeps pestering me to set up a backup solution for him. He even pays me to accomplish the task from time to time, and, when I do establish a proper backup program for him, I test it and make sure it’s functional, then deploy it on his network. Alas, a few weeks later, something is broken on his end, and he never gets around to fixing the problem or asking me for assistance.

Then there’s that client who only phones me when he’s panic-stricken about a problem with his Mac systems. Usually it’s the lost data, because he keeps ignoring my advice about backups.

To these people and millions of others, I am grateful that Apple came up with Time Machine. Mind you, I’m not going to blow any nondisclosure agreements and tell you anything but what you’ve read in Apple’s own online descriptions about Leopard’s capabilities. But I’m extremely optimistic that they have found the magic bullet to encourage all of you to perform regular backups.

Best of all, Time Machine will allow you to return to a specific state with a file, folder or even your entire drive. So if an update goes badly, or you trash a file by mistake, you can get it back, just like that!

Of course, you do need some sort of backup medium to store the backup sets created by Time Machine. It doesn’t just happen, nor will those files be stored on your startup drive or partition. Here’s where some uninformed critics are having at Apple for specifying that “Time Machine requires an additional hard drive (sold separately).”

In the narrow-minded view of some, that’s a bad thing, to have a second storage device to protect yourself against losing your data. Fortunately, I do not live in that alternate universe where the laws of common sense apparently do not apply, so I’ll just make a few points.

First of all, external drives are pretty cheap these days. You can get FireWire and USB devices (and some that include both ports) for less than $100 with sufficient storage space to accommodate the needs of millions of Mac users. Add another $100 or $200 to your budget, and you’ll match even the larger drives provided with today’s high-end Macs.

If you have a PowerMac or Mac Pro, you can even install one or more internal drives, if that’s what you prefer, and save a fair amount of money, since you don’t have to pay for the external cases and various and sundry interface components.

All right, I realize backups may be less convenient for a note-book computer, since you don’t want to have to carry around too much stuff for your various travels. In my case, I actually have a spare 120GB note-book drive in a tiny bus-powered enclosure that’s stored in my MacBook Pro’s carrying case. So, you see, I have no excuses to offer. The thing is tiny enough and light enough not to disturb my routine.

Sure, I suppose you can say that Apple is in league with those struggling hard drive companies to sell more product. Indeed, you’ll find some extra drives at Apple’s own retail shops and its online store, and you can bet they make a decent profit from every unit sold.

You might also suggest that Apple wants to put the companies who make backup software out of business. But nothing about Time Machine prevents them from building in new features that might match or eclipse what Apple can do in Leopard.

Besides, as much as I like some of those backup applications, they are, in the scheme of things, abject failures. You see, Apple wouldn’t need to create Time Machine if large numbers of Mac users were using the third-party products. But with market shares of just a few percent of the Mac user base, it wasn’t just the quest for fancy eye-candy to exploit Leopard’s Core Animation feature that brought Time Machine into being. Apple would not have brought those statistics to light if there wasn’t a serious problem that needed a convenient, nearly-seamless solution.

Now I can’t say that Time Machine is the be all and end all of backup software. But if it is as easy to use as Apple’s public demonstrations and online presentations claim, it may spark a much-needed revolution.

So tell me, dear reader, do you have a backup solution that you use regularly to protect your data? And, if not, are you going to try Time Machine — or even upgrade to Leopard? This inquiring mind wants to know.