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Data Backup What A Concept!

Reviewing: Apple Os X 10.5  |  Rating:
Tomas Texino By Tomas Texino on
Badge: Author | Level: 2 | Computers & Laptops Expertise:

Hi, it is Texino. I fix computers as a part time job. and I have a certain "Look" that I give my clients when they suffer a system failure and admit they have not backed up their data. The look conveys a bit of sadness, a touch of pity and just a tad of "How could anyone be so foolish." The truth is, however, I only back up certain important files on a hit and miss basis my self. Why? Well it is a pain unless you have an expensive tape drive system to do it for you every night. Also, if you do it my way, you will inevitably find yourself needing the one type of file that you did not backup because it was taking too long. Now I am a Mac person and I know that Windows has a restore option built in. That is fine so long as your HD is intact, but a real backup entails recording your whole system some place other than your computer and doing it in such a way that it can be replaced easily. That means getting an external drive and some backup software, because if your hard drive breaks all the restore files will break right with it.

Now external drives are getting very reasonable. So reasonable in fact, that a formerly dull text about how to get the best performance from your 1989 computer by adding a 40 MB HD for $800 or laying out a few hundred bucks for 8 meg of RAM has become humor fit for bathroom reading. Point here is I just bought a 250 GB firewire and USB external for $100 at Staples. (in case you are interested in extrapolating stuff, 250 GB at those 1989 prices works out to slightly more than 5 million dollars- ) Still, backup software can be wonky and even though these drives will work cross platform, any bundled software tends toward Windows and is often a trial or "lite" version.

The new Macintosh OS X 10.5 (Leopard) aims to change this by adding an application called "Time Machine" Yeah, it's a Steve Jobs thing, but what you going to do with the boy? Now it is back up software to be sure, and I think Apple could be more up front in saying you need another drive for it to work. Instead they focus on what they feel is the cool feature; being able to go back in time and view your computer just as it was at 10:15 AM 12/27/07 or whenever. I suppose that could be handy, but what it is really telling you is when you have the "Time Machine" engaged, it is making a running backup of the system and will keep doing it like the Sorcerers Apprentice until it uses up all the space on the external drive at which time it will delete the oldest files and keep going. Fortunately you can turn the damn thing on and off. Like my laptop for instance. I really don't want to go around with a box attached to it, so I plug it in at night every other day or so, or will have it going when I'm writing. OK? Fine.

Well, as it turns out, very fine and here's why. Last night I was fooling around with a device which lets you attach IDE hard drives to your USB bus and use them like external drives. Thing is, I have never been able to make it work as advertised except when using a 2.5 inch drive like a laptop HD that draws its power from the USB plug. I was pretty fed up with it because I had a 2.5 drive that had been working with the set up but it had stopped. I was sitting in my studio where all my music recording stuff lives and I thought oh what the heck, I'll plug it in this box and see if it flies. Well the drive wouldn't fire off. I noticed I'd missed the last two pins, so I re-plugged. This time the drive fired but wouldn't show up on the screen, so I went to launch my utilities to see if the disk utility could see the unmounted drive. Funny thing! The utility file was empty. Then the screen would not react. Oh well a restart will fix that. Well not exactly. In stead of starting, the computer gives me the old Hard Drive? We see no Hard Drive here flashing ?.

While this is not a good sign, it can be rectified with skill and secret software. Starting the machine with Disk Warrior showed the Hard Drive sitting on the machine as "Unknown Disk" but it did recognize its format, verified that it worked, but could not read any files. It offered to rebuild the "Volume" but I could tell by the speed it would either take hours or more likely fail. Taking a different tack, I started from the OS 10.5 upgrade disk which politely informed me that it would upgrade nothing because there was no system installed at present. Hmmm, says I. Well I went to the disk repair program and it said "no dice Texino, this volume is all fouled up. I went into the unix shell but could not access the disk from there. There was an option to restore from a disk image but I did not have one. I backed out to the main menu of the install disk and there where it never was before (in previous systems I mean) was the Time Machine Icon asking do you want to restore from back up? Well, yes I did. Thing is, Unknown Disk was not an option. A quick trip to disk utility to erase the messed up volume and rename it put things right and I was offered a menu of installs from earlier in the day all the way back to December some time. To be safe, I chose the previous day because I could pick a time when I was certain the machine had been working right. With a time selected, I pushed the button and went off to read a book. This morning I went to the studio and the machine woke up and told me it was done doing what it did and would I please restart. I did and the computer popped right up with no problem at all.

OK, now that is an involved explanation of trouble shooting a computer that won't start do to a damaged Hard Drive. Now the reason for me 5-ing this software feature to death. Without the exact backup provided here. I would either had to completely erase and reformat the drive or replace it with a new one. Then install OS X 10.4 and upgrade it to 10.5 after which I would need to reinstall all my software and would have lost email and my browser bookmarks and all my pictures and songs and documents and whatever else I hadn't thought to back up. Now in my experience, a client who is not a business person, doesn't back up, period. So if this had happened to a person like that, regardless of the fact I am very reasonable and adjust my fees against what folks can afford, it would have been a big hit financially. Plus, you might think about this. How much software do you have that someone "gave you" and you cant replace without spending a lot of money.

So yes, I will continue to hi-five what is otherwise a ho-hum software update that mostly addresses issues like core graphics and other boring background tech, because if you have a Mac that is running Leopard or one capable of upgrading to it you really need to take advantage of this feature even if you do have to buy an external drive. Dead simple to set up. Simply plug in your external drive and the machine will ask you if you want to use it for the Time Machine feature. Backup does not get any simpler than this, and it is never a question of it you will need it either. Just when.