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The Great Time Machine Conspiracy

Apple has always had a love and hate relationship with its customers. In the old days, when you called support, you sometimes got a downright hostile attitude, and getting a solution to your problem wasn’t very easy, and sometimes doomed to failure.

In those days, I avoided calling Apple at all custs.

At the time, Apple also offered a pathetic 90-day warranty. Today, products are all guaranteed for a year, except for 90 days of free phone support. AppleCare extends that to three years for Macs, two years for iPods and iPhones.

This isn’t to say that Apple’s tech support is perfect. Although they get high marks in Consumer Reports — no friend to Macs by the way — and elsewhere, nothing is perfect. I’ve occasionally run into delays and difficulties getting a problem resolved, but I usually succeed in the end without having to drop my name into the appropriate departments at One Infinite Loop.

Indeed, it does seem to me that Apple wants to take care of its customers, simply because it’s good business and they’re here to make a profit. But that raises the eternal question of Time Machine and why you can’t backup via a wireless connection. This was a feature promised for Leopard, but dropped from the feature-set before 10.5 came out.

Why did this happen? Well, it may just be that Apple simply couldn’t get he feature to work reliability. After all, you don’t want a backup with corrupted data. That may be worse than having no backup at all, especially if you try to restore your files in part or an entire drive.

So that died down, until Steve Jobs introduced Time Capsule last month. On the surface, Time Capsule is simply an AirPort Extreme married to a backup drive. Jobs said the drive was a “server level” mechanism, and I won’t dispute the contention. When it’s out, you’ll read performance results to see how it fares, but the key with a backup is longevity. Will you be able to get years of reliable performance before the mechanism gives up the ghost?

The real furor arose over the fact that Time Capsule can backup wirelessly, so just what is going on here? Did Apple plan all along to keep this feature from us unless we bought another product from them? What about existing AirPort Extremes and the USB drives we can connect to them? Is there ever going to be a fix?

Came the 10.5.2 update, and nothing was mentioned about offering the ability of Time Machine to function on wireless connections. A few people tested backups, just to see if this was perhaps an unannounced “feature,” and it still doesn’t work.

Time Capsule is still on the agenda for a February delivery. If you go to The Apple Store to place your order, that’s all the illumination you get, as we conclude the first half of the month.

So what about existing hardware? Is it all about Time Capsule and the plot to get you to pay more money? I don’t think so, and we shouldn’t go overboard because 10.5.2 didn’t contain the fix. Maybe it requires a firmware change in AirPort Extreme, and that will arrive when Time Capsule leaves the shipping plant.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s something in the AirPort Extreme’s design that prevents wireless backups via Time Machine from working reliably. Perhaps Time Capsule includes a redesigned Wi-Fi router that does support the feature, and there’s no way to retrofit that capability into legacy products.

Or maybe not.

It may very well be that the reason Time Capsule isn’t shipping yet is because that feature still won’t function, and Apple has every intention of offering it as an update so all of you can benefit too. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know, but I do believe that, in the end, Apple usually tries to do the right thing, and if it can’t happen, they’ll have a good explanation.

So before you sign those petitions and/or call your lawyers about class-action suits, please be patient. Remember that Apple did fix most of the problems with Leopard’s translucent menus, the menu bar and Stacks in 10.5.2. You complained, and they listened.

Let’s cut them a little slack, at least for now. If Time Capsule ships and nothing is done to add wireless Time Machine backups to other models in the AirPort Extreme line, then it will make sense to complain with appropriate fervor.