Let me preface this by saying that this is not intended as an OS war post. It is an automatic, frequent, OS-supported backups are the bomb post. For a long while I fought having to use Time Machine on my Mac. Not because it wasn’t awesome but because I really wanted to store the results on my home-built Linux-based NAS (which can be done, but I ran into the predicted reliability issues). So not long ago I switched to using SuperDuper and manual rsync’s when needed. SuperDuper is nice – it does similar things that Time Machine does but with greater supportability (namely I can store the results on my NAS).
Recently, though, I threw in the towel and just bought a Time Capsule (and also a backup for it in my fire-proof safe) and have been amazingly happy. There have been a few situations that would have been inconvenient without Time Capsule and Time Machine, but the true test was really yesterday. I am finally getting my laptop repaired, fixing the dents I made. It’s not cheap to fix though still less than the price of a new laptop (by far) and something I needed to do. Point is, while a direct restore of Time Machine did not work on a Mac Mini I am borrowing from work (due to hardware differences according to the Genius at the Apple Store), simply dragging over parts of my home directory did the trick. I was up and running in 30 minutes (not counting the totally optional OS reinstall I did).
I’m sold. It’s not that backing up and restoring is hard, it’s just so well integrated into OS X than I don’t often have to worry about stuff. Backups are frequent but largely unnoticeable and while I would have much preferred using my NAS to store things, Time Capsule works great and I now have a 802.11n wireless network and a router (though sadly a router that doesn’t do QoS). It’s great and hugely worth the cost.
I know I said this was not an OS war post, but I have to stick it to Windows and even Linux. Time Machine is easy, efficient, useful. Not having something like that on Windows 7 is a huge gap. Maybe you can do some of this stuff with Windows Home Server, but with Time Machine, I can use an external drive or Time Capsule – no need to manage any server, just plug stuff in and go. Windows 7 has some sort of backup solution but it is a pale comparison and that’s particularly annoying given the capabilities of NTFS to allow for some neat backups. Without a solid, easy to use interface (I know, this is Windows we’re talking about), the average person isn’t going to be doing backups. Even a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) was burned recently because he didn’t do backups, and I know he has heard me on my soapbox talking about how important they are. Even after I fix his PC, I’m betting he still won’t beyond DropBox, which is absolutely wonderful and fantastic in its own right, but isn’t well suited for hard-core, incremental backups of all things.
The technology behind Time Machine is not terribly difficult – Apple made some clever changes to the HFS file-system to allow hard-linking directories. That’s it. Apart from that, it’s really basically just an rsync type of thing. Other OSes can, and need, to implement something like this for the end user. I can do complicated backups on my own but the people I’m worried about is Mr. Nameless up above, my mom, Corey, etc. People that don’t have a job being a SysAdmin.