January 16, 2009

Why In the World Can't I Customize Apple's Time Machine?

In March of 2007, when writing for The Apple Blog, now part of the GigaOM network, I openly speculated that Apple would debut a wireless network storage device, combining their expertise in Airport wireless devices with an external hard drive and give users a simple way to back up all their files. Sure enough, Cupertino rolled out the combination of Time Machine software and the Time Capsule backup device to do just that. And while I'm one of those Apple customers backing up my data through the air, you have to color me unimpressed with the flexibility of Time Machine - as its options are so limited, it's practically assumed I'm too stupid to make any decisions on my own. This leads to the application slowing down my computer when I don't want it to and regular bandwidth congestion for me and others sharing the network (notably, my wife).

As with many of Apple's products, Time Machine assumes it is made for consumers who benefit from a limited number of options. The product, in an attempt to backup all your data regularly, comes preset to make:
  • Hourly backups for the last 24 hours
  • Daily backups for the past month
  • Weekly backups until the backup disk is full
And... that's it.

When I am at the office, away from my Time Capsule, I'm not backing up. But when I get home, every hour, for about 10 to 15 minutes, my laptop starts to slow as Apple's Time Machine whirs into action, backing up my MacBook Pro's 200 Gigabyte hard drive to the 500 Gigabyte time capsule. While I've told Time Machine to not back up some folders, to reduce the time and storage space, I can't set up Time Machine to back up with any other granularity. I can't tell it to back up every two hours, three hours or four hours. I can't tell it to only back up after 10 p.m., or in a window from 6 p.m. to midnight, if I wanted to. I can't tell it to exclude certain types of files (like MP3 or PowerPoint, if I wanted to). It's either on, or it's off. And it's on the way that Apple set it up. Not the way I did.

So If I have my Time Machine stuck in the "On" position, I'm doomed to have my computer slow down once an hour and stuff the network full of flowing bits once an hour. I've even switched over to my neighbor's open wireless once or twice just to make sure the backup failed and I could get my bandwidth back. While we've gotten further along than my August post where I couldn't even get Time Capsule to work right, I'm still quite annoyed that Time Machine seems to be designed so simply that I simply can't be happy with it. It's time to get more options.