Hack to the future

Ian Yates
17 March, 2008
View more articles fromthe author

One of the attractions of using a Macintosh instead of that other operating system is not having to futz around with command lines and arcane code you barely understand but have been assured by some guru or other will be “alright as long as you type exactly this string of gibberish”. Imagine my surprise when Apple’s Time Machine code turned up on my desktop and refused to do a backup to anything except an attached drive. At first glance I thought I’d stepped into a real time machine and been transported back to the days when Apple did networks its own way.

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s making your Macs play nice on the network required major sophistry. Apple got over it and made Macs behave properly and play nice with everything else on the network and we just forgot what a pain they used to be when — heaven forbid — you put them on a real-world network along with (shudder) Windows PCs and (gasp) Unix file servers. But it seems the dudes who wrote that original non-standard-doing-my-own-thing-everyone-else-is-wrong networking code didn’t get transformed and didn’t see the light.

No, they’ve been locked in a dark room somewhere in Cupertino writing the code for Time Machine. They haven’t noticed all the network attached storage devices which Mac owners have been buying in swarms to store their ever-expanding collections of photos, music and video, gathered using Apple’s nice iLife software. These clowns didn’t notice that most Mac-owners have more than one machine, and that most now have a home network. Somebody at Apple noticed — because they’ve been selling AirPort base stations like mad — but nobody told these back-room Time Machine boffins.

So they release Time Machine with 10.5.0 aka Leopard and wait for the applause. Instead they get moans because the thing won’t do a backup to the network devices we’re all using. Then someone remembers that the beta version of Leopard did allow Time Machine to access the network. Along comes hack number one and some arcane command copied and pasted in a Terminal session. Fingers and toes crossed, it seems to be working. Time Machine is running and not crashing. We wonder if we’ll ever be able to retrieve anything, but still it saves us going out and buying a stand-alone hard drive for every Mac in the office and house.

All is not fine on the Macintosh network when 10.5.2 is sent down the wires, and breaks Time Machine on networks again. But wait, what ingrates are we? Apple has released its own NAS box and we should just chuck our existing rubbish in the trash and rush to the store! Have these guys been living in a cave or what? Once again we start to Google for whichever clever dude out there who actually understands the problem. Here it is. All you need to do is create a sparse bundle. Say frikkin’ what? If I wanted to do this stuff I’d use a Windows PC!

The upside is that Time Machine is once again "working" until the next update to Leopard comes along. Or maybe, just maybe, that’s when they’ll fix the thing and make it work with the standard gear we already own. (And just quietly, we really hope there’s a third-party developer out there beavering away building a much better Time Machine. Like the one made by Storage Craft for the Windows platform.)

Storage Craft’s Shadow Protect code works by taking differential snapshots of the disk tracks, caring not a jot for what’s in the files, so it doesn’t backup entire Aperture databases when you change one image, and it can backup a 120GB hard drive in 30 minutes to your nearest NAS. That’s for the full backup. Incrementals, which can happen as often as every 15 minutes without requiring you to hack away at hidden preference files to change the frequency, take around five minutes. Yeah, OK, it’s not free — it costs $77. If Storage Craft can make it work on my Macintosh, my cheque’s already in the mail.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us