Posted by: bgtwindad | July 26, 2011

I Love Time Machine!

OK, this post could be considered off-topic, but not really, because the main reason this was a “problem” is the thousands of photos I have very quickly amassed, only some of which are archived online.

There was a day when I didn’t really worry about backups.  I would keep an extra copy of my Quicken data files squirreled a way just in case, but everything else on my computer was more-or-less disposable, and I relished a good computer crash as an opportunity for a clean slate restart.

Then I had kids.  And I bought a digital camera.  And I decided to mothball my CD collection.

Now I’ve got several thousand photographs stored on my computer, chronicling the first decade of my twins’ lives, not to mention my model railroading adventures.  Not to mention it took a LONG TIME to copy my big stack of CDs into iTunes.

So somewhere about the time I bought my current Mac Mini, I also picked up a 1-Terabyte USB hard disk, and I signed up for Carbonite.com’s online backup service.  And I turned on Time Machine.

(Mind you, setting up Time Machine is as simple as choosing a destination disk and flipping a switch from “off” to “on”… really!)

That was a couple years ago, and I almost forgot about Time Machine until last week, when my Mini booted up to a grey screen with a folder marked with a blinking question mark in the middle of it.  Hard disk crash.  Yes, Macs may “never fail”, but they are subject to the same hardware failures as any other electronic gadget.

I probably could have recovered by re-formatting the drive, but I elected to crack the case (my warranty is expired anyway!) and install a new 500GB internal hard disk.  That was a bit of a challenge, as the Mac Mini really wasn’t designed to be opened up and modified.

Here’s the nice part.  What to do about restoring the system???  In the old days, I would have done a fresh install of Windows, then a fresh re-install of my mission critical applications, followed by reloading my Quicken data.  Once all that was complete, I’d slowly reconstruct my environment the way I wanted it, adding back in apps as I needed them.  This process worked, but was tedious, and there was always something I simply lost, some device driver I had to hunt down and custom reinstall, or something that never quite worked right again.

This time, it was much simpler.  Once I had the new disk installed, I plugged the Mini in and booted from the OS X (Snow Leopard) install CD.  I then clicked “Options->Restore from Backup”, and it asked me which Time Machine backup I wanted to restore from.  I could have chosen pretty much any point hour-by-hour for recorded history, but obviously I chose the most recent one.

That was all.  About 3 hours later, my system was back up, looking and functioning EXACTLY like it had been (including my wife’s and children’s accounts) less than an hour before it crashed.  Drivers, applications, data, EVERYTHING.  Less than half a dozen clicks, and we’re back up like nothing ever happened.

Big sigh of relief.

Now, I’m glad I also have the Carbonite online backup going, just in case one of the kids drop-kicks my USB drive, but the simplicity of this system restore astounded me.  It turns out that Time Machine not only keeps incremental backups of your user data and such as it changes, but it keeps an exact copy of the entire disk image around for just this purpose.

Did I mention the simplicity of it all?  Sure there are more feature-rich backup systems out there, but all I needed was something that would make me whole, put me back where I was before the crash.  Time Machine did exactly that, no more, no less, and with almost no fuss.

I often tell folks that I switched from Windows to Mac when I got tired of (and no longer had time for) fiddling around with my computer and just wanted it to work, to enable me to do what I wanted and otherwise stay the heck out of my way.  Time Machine is an excellent example of this mindset.  An extremely simple setup, and then I literally forgot about it, while it quietly did its job in the background, until I needed it, and then it was there, ready to save my … photo collection.

Time Machine – an OS X feature that I had almost completely forgotten about – is now my favorite thing about my Mac.

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