Mac OS X’s Backup application: It can’t be trusted

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
January 1st, 2004 • 1:54 am

It’s not like I’m being hard on Apple. I keep trying to rationalize my purchase of a $100 .Mac subscription. I try to use the iDisk space for storage purposes — but it’s not exactly easy with a modem connection and iDisk’s ultra-sluggish, Finder-impairing behaviour. It really is much easier to transfer things to a remote location using a dedicated application such as an FTP client. I’m afraid this Finder integration crap just doesn’t cut it. Give us a dedicated application for iDisk transfers, Apple, please!

Then I tried to use the Backup application to schedule daily backups to an external FireWire drive, instead of having to do them manually.

I was willing to live with the limitations of Backup. You can only define one backup to an external hard drive at a time. You cannot have, say, one daily backup of the most important stuff, and one weekly backup of less important stuff. In Backup, it’s one backup per type of drive, and that’s it.

So I defined a daily backup, and scheduled it to take place every day at 11:15 am, when my machine is always up and running.

The first time, it didn’t work, because I had left the Backup application open. I got an error message, saying that Backup needs to be closed at the time the backup is scheduled. Makes sense, uh?

Then the next day I was careful to leave Backup closed. Nothing happened. The next day again, nothing. After a few days, I relaunched Backup, redefined the time and date, and restarted my machine (!). Finally it started working. For a few days.

After a few days, I noticed that the backups were no longer happening again. (The Backup application has a log file, which the document encourages you to check on a regular basis to make sure your backups have taken place and have been successful.) There was nothing in my log for the past couple of days.

This morning, I made sure that I was in front of my computer at 11:15 am, to see what would happen exactly (if anything). And sure enough, something did happen: at 11:15 am, Mac OS X launched the Backup application automatically. At least it attempted to launch it. But the application would quit immediately. I had this weird Dance of the Backup Icon thing happening in the Dock. The Dock would make room for the Backup icon, which would bounce twice, and then the icon would disappear immediately and the Dock would close the space again. And then it would start all over again. This would last about half a dozen times, and then nothing. No backup, of course. I went back to the Backup application manually, and rescheduled for 11:30 am instead of 11:15 am.

At 11:30 am, same silly dance. No backup. Tried again at 11:45 am. Same thing. I finally got tired and trashed the file in my Preferences folder and restarted the application. It had forgotten my schedule, but not the definition of the backup event itself (i.e. the list of folders scheduled to be backed up to the external drive). Phew! I rescheduled the backup, and waited.

This time it worked fine. But for how long? How long before the Dance of the Backup Icon thing starts happening again?

Correct me if I am wrong, but the very purpose of a backup application is that you do not have to remember to do a daily backup. It does it for you. Reliably. You can trust it.

I am afraid that, at this point, it’s impossible to trust the Backup application. I don’t care what caused the problem in the first place. Plist file corruption? Give me a break. How many more years of plist file corruption are we going to have to endure before Apple realizes that the end user shouldn’t have to deal with such corruption in the first place?

The exact same thing happened with iCal in the beginning. I remember quite clearly missing a couple of doctor’s appointments because iCal had somehow “forgotten” to notify me of the events. Now that we are at iCal 1.5.1, things are finally working more or less OK. I can trust iCal to remind me of my appointments.

But Backup? No way. It’s going to take more than a few revisions of the software to restore the trust.

And the problem is that I actually paid for this.


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