August 7, 2006 4:21 PM PDT

New Apple feature sends users back in time

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Much like Michael J. Fox's Delorean in "Back to the Future," the next version of Apple Computer's Mac OS X operating system will come with a feature that lets users travel back in time.

This time, however, the goal is to prevent the universe from collapsing because the file with the big sales presentation has disappeared, or the picture of the family reunion was lost to a faulty hard drive.

No plutonium is necessary to use Apple's Time Machine software, but an extra hard drive is required.

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Video: Leopard's Time Machine
Scott Forstall, Apple's vice president of platform experience, demonstrates the new application at the WWDC in San Francisco.

Time Machine will let Apple users running Leopard search for the last time they saved a document, picture or any other file on their Mac, said Apple's Scott Forstall, vice president of platform experience, as he introduced the backup feature at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.

Only around a quarter of all Mac users back up their files, and just 4 percent do so automatically, Forstall said. Time Machine will make it easy for Mac users to set up automatic backups and restore the file they desperately need, he said.

Judging by the audience response, Apple developers at the WWDC were thrilled by the user interface of the Time Machine feature. If users can't find a file in Apple's Finder application, they can click on a Time Machine button to bring up a series of windows stretching over the horizon, with a picture of a black hole off in the distance. Each window represents a day or another fixed period of time, and in order to find the desired file, the user "flies" back in time toward the black hole, with a time line on the right side of the screen marking progress as the days sweep underneath.

Related stories
Full WWDC coverage
Apple meets the developers
at San Francisco confab.

The software saves the "deltas," or the changes from one version of the file to a newer version, Brian Croll, director of Mac OS X development, explained in an interview after the keynote presentation. Once the last saved version of the file is located, it can be restored to the main Finder window with a click of the mouse.

"Consumers want it to be automatic and just work," Croll said. The company gathered feedback from consumers about the Backup feature in Mac OS X and came up with Time Machine, he said.

To make Time Machine work, Mac users will need to use a separate HFS+ compatible non-bootable hard drive, Croll said. This can be an external drive for notebook or iMac users, or one of the four hard drives that can fit into Apple's new Mac Pro desktop.

Time Machine is probably the biggest end-user feature Apple showed during its preview of Leopard on Monday, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. Jupiter's findings also showed that as more and more content is stored on the Internet, computer users aren't backing up their files, even those that are not duplicated on a server. "It's setting a stage for disaster," he said.

Gartenberg pointed out that automated backup software is offered by Microsoft and others, but that Apple managed to make such traditionally mundane tasks more interesting. "People don't smile and laugh when they see (Windows') System Restore," he said.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Time Machine, WWDC, Apple Computer, backup software, Apple Macintosh

64 comments

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Incredible interface
I don't know why I'm amazed by this (it IS Apple, after all) but the metaphor of the interface is brilliant. My only concern is how fast it eats up HD space (is it saving recursively, so that I'll have, for example, each daily version of a file that is often modified? I would love that, but I can also see it requiring a ton of HD).

I admit to not backing up as often or as thoroughly as I should. This will solve that problem.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I had this in 1998.
Not for my entire hard drive, mind you, but I had (and still own,
although I believe its Mac OS 8/9only) a little utility called
Aladdin Flashback. It did exactly what Time Machine does, only
without the awesome interface and seamless integration into the
OS. Still, when I used it, it worked beautifully and used a
remarkably small amount of hard drive space.

Of course, when I get Leopard, Ill probably also pick up a 500GB
hard drive to back up my 320GB RAID, instead of the 320GB
drive I use now. Wish Id known that a few days ago, before I
bought the 320&.

Ah, technology.
Posted by the Otter (247 comments )
Link Flag
Dot Mac
The answer is no. Apple only saves that which has changed, the
difference data. So you don't get five million copies of what you
had on your hard drive yesterday, the day before and the day
before that, ad infinitum.

While you can use your hard drive, the smart thing is to use an
external drive. But I believe Apple will announce support
for .Mac and let you back up to .Mac.

In fact, Jobs did not talk about .Mac at all. You can bet there will
be major .Mac news when this puppy ships.
Posted by Anthony Frausto-Robledo (41 comments )
Link Flag
Awesome
Backing up and restoring has always sucked both on Windows and on Mac. Even in corporate environments it's a crap shoot half the time. If this works as advertised, it's going to be awesome, and with the super low prices of hard drives these days, why not have a dedicated drive for backup?
Posted by ss_Whiplash (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VSS
So far no Mac fanboy has said...gee microsoft is going to copy Apple on this feature too. When in fact if anyone is doing the copying the Apple camp should look into Volume Shadow Copy or VSS on Windows 2003 Server. Same exact thing but developed a long time ago. Vista will have this feature on the client side.
I'm not a player in the Apple vs. Microsoft or Mac vs. WIndows I like them both. Apple is a wonderful solution for Home Consumers where Microsoft lives in the Corporate world. I thought for a quick minute that Microsoft was going to branch off and develop for the Home Consumer with XP Home but once i realized it was just a chopped XP Pro it was clear that Microsoft still didn't want to compete directly with Apple (not that they had to back then). MS should ditch ballmer and all the old farts and really start thinking fresh. Maybe they should fire Billy and Balmer like Apple did with Jobs...let them sweat a while and then bring them back and see if they can reignite a spark in a once productive organization.
On the Mac side...Jobs is starting to get complacent again...where's all our exciting news every couple months like last year. Jobs set the bar so high now I (we) are getting bored again with Apple. Especially since the anouncement of Leopard for Spring '07...however mark my words, they're release it sooner than that. Where's our WiFi synchable iPOD!? I don't want to buy music at starbucks on my iPOD...i want to leave the iPOD in my BMW's glove box and have it synch with my library of music from my house.
Sorry for the rant...let me know what you think
Posted by cyboreric (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Be cool, man
Yeah oh Jobs is looking a bit complacent but in some respects he has the right to be. Just wait for a new iPod, I've a Nano right now and I'm holding out to replace it with the rumoured virtual clickwheel and when it arrives it WILL be awesome!

Just a quick question, if your iPod is with you how could you have changed your library and added something you want, when you're not there.
Posted by grandmasterdibbler (78 comments )
Link Flag
4 dummies
Perfect. For all of us who have always maintained that Mac is for those who know nothing about computers, the perfect app. Yes, you deleted it, you idiot, yes you can't remember what it was called or where you put it, Mac will find it.
The wonderful Mac world for complete dummies. Sorry, but that's the way it is. Why on earth would I need something to find a file I'd sensibly stored on the backup drive? Derr - I lose stuff - I lose my job. Welcome to the wonderful world of born-again Maccolytles.
Posted by Jerry Dawson (125 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thank you, Mr. Yesterday
Simplifying file backup and location are bad things? This guy
must also loathe power windows, refrigerators with ice
dispensers, self-propelled lawn mowers, and garage door
openers. Imagine his irritation at cars that can be started from
the inside, cooking without wood, and air conditioning. His
argument isn't against stupidity, it's against modernity. He's
fighting a rear-guard action against ease of use. He's the sort of
person (if not the actual one) who railed against graphical
interfaces; a command line guy from the womb. Oh, the joy he
must get from seeing Wordstar crackle to life on his CPM
machine with a huge 25 MB hard drive. A computerized neo-
luddite.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Link Flag
Only 4% of users - ALL users - maintain backups.
"What could be simpler?" "4 dummies!"

Pull your head out and realize that the vast majority of people don't - and won't - maintain backups, unless it's made even "simpler."

"Derr," indeed.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Link Flag
WIndows users never lose files?
Yeah right.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Link Flag
So....
Apple just shouldn't bother next time just because you and the 'enlightened' don't need it. If you don't like it go back to your happy little world of manual backups and keep looking down on us insignificant Mac users as if we know nothing.
Sure you're dilligent enough to do a backup every five minutes but most of us find it boring and tiresome, this will be great for those of us who would rather make stuff instead of protecting what we already have.
Posted by grandmasterdibbler (78 comments )
Link Flag
So....
Apple just shouldn't bother next time just because you and the 'enlightened' don't need it. If you don't like it go back to your happy little world of manual backups and keep looking down on us insignificant Mac users as if we know nothing.
Sure you're dilligent enough to do a backup every five minutes but most of us find it boring and tiresome, this will be great for those of us who would rather make stuff instead of protecting what we already have.
Posted by grandmasterdibbler (78 comments )
Link Flag
Condescending schmuck
On average, Mac users are no smarter or stupider than Windows
users. It is just you that is the idiot.

Most people do not back up adequately. If you have seen the
demo, you would realize just how intuitive this app will be for
average users. Anything that makes it easy for people to backup
their data is a welcome contribution.

Of course, there are other backup utilities, most of do scheduled
backups. The nice thing about Time Machine is that it is backup
on the fly. Scheduled backup hasn't run yet? No problem. Need
something that was deleted a year ago (and thus is gone from
any recent backups) no problem.
Posted by Thrudheim (306 comments )
Link Flag
Soon to be common to all desktop OS's
This feature will be part of Vista, and you can do it with linux too.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
Agreed
This functionality has been around forever. It didn't make me sit up and say "golly - thats darn-tooting clever!" like a lot of mac expos have in the past. This was a bit of a let down. Its jolly pretty though. After all, selling points number 1 & 2 on the mac: Its pretty. Its not beige.
Posted by djcaseley (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Developers Conference - Hello?
It was not an Expo ... WWDC ... key words being Developers and
Conference. They need to the tools, and they need to know
what it all implies.

As far as "Time Machine" is concerned, any of you who continue
to state this was no big deal, could not be further from sanity.
Its doesn't matter that it is using an archive function. Its about
its engineering from the OS, to the UI and back. If our
development structure was made of minds like yours, we'd
probably still be using an abacus.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
What about "forward" in time?
I'd like to have the system finish my projects for me. Is there anythnig in the works that will analyze my previous work (doing some hefty A.I.) and complete my inbox while I work on my tan? Now that would be the.......

(gone, waiting for the system to finish this post)
Posted by corridor5 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Q: How is this thread like an episode of South Park?
A: "Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!"

We KNOW backup software exists, and has existed for years. We KNOW that you can copy a file do a different disk and - presto - backed up!

That's so far from the point, it's like the anti-point.

The point is getting regular people - 96% of us, if surveys are accurate - to maintain backups. That's what this will do.

It's nothing short of a boon for the computer-using public, because Apple (again) took something that (yes) already exists and made it highly available and intuitive for the average non-computer-industry-employee human being.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And it's much more FUN than "Restore"
They took a mundane (and to average users, arcane) but critical
task and made it incredibly easy, all data encompassing and...FUN
TOO!

Go Apple!
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not new
Adobe had a product called goBack which did exactly what this does, you pick a date in the past and it restores the files or system to an earlier date. So, while the idea is hardly new this might be the latest implementation of it.

Personally I use batch files, scheduler, and a redundant drive for backups that works fine. It only runs and uses resources when I want it to, stores the files in the exact same format they were written in, and doesn't impact system performace. While it doesn't handle versioning my computing habits solved that years ago.
Posted by Stormspace (1028 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hello?!
It was not an Expo ... WWDC ... key words being Developers and
Conference. They need to the tools, and they need to know
what it all implies.

As far as "Time Machine" is concerned, any of you who continue
to state this was no big deal, could not be further from sanity.
Its doesn't matter that it is using an archive function. Its about
its engineering from the OS, to the UI and back. If our
development structure was made of minds like yours, we'd
probably still be using an abacus.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Education
Today has been an education. I have been accused of owning a Hummer, of not having an ice-maker in my fridge door, of using a 20 mb HD PS2, of being a luddite... all because I suggested that software cannot substitute best practices.

To some of us, Mac is not a 'way of life' or a 'fashion statement', it's a brand. It has its advantages and its defects, like any other IT product. In the real world and as an IT manager, costs have to be weighed against benefits, and sorry folks, but Mac loses every time. It's just not worth the hassle. The choices are far too limited.

Saint Lord Sir William Gates Esquire has jumped ship... I wonder why. Writing on the wall? But we won't be buying an Atari or an Apple - that would make no sense whatsoever. We will be putting together the best components and looking for the best OS that doesn't tie us down. Stripped illegal Win XP looks good. Basic functions without the crap. Linux is probably the future.

You should imagine people with no patience whatsoever who have the means and knowledge to control their computers. 200 different desktops (see OS X lemming)? Are you insane? Just hand over the controls.
Posted by Jerry Dawson (125 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please Just stop already
Look Jerry, you are starting to seem a little crazy. My suggestion
to you would be, in the words of Will Rogers, that if you find
yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Most people are not as sophisticated and worldly as you
obviously believe you are. For God's sake, just let them back up
their stuff automatically instead of trying to convince everyone
that your way is better.

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Typical Apple
Take a simple concept that has been around for 20 years and make it into a big deal. I use a BAT file to do my backups. It is simple, transparent and it works. If I make a change that I regret, I have multiple copies from up to two days ago. Beyond that I do monthly DVD backups. No need for a second dedicated hard drive either.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Typical In A Good Way
Andrew,

I often do not agree with your points, but I generally respect
what you add to the CNET postings. It is good to share
viewpoints.

Only 4% or so of people back up their stuff at all. You do, and
you do it in a way that works for you. But for Mac users, how
much simpler than automatic can you possibly get? And on the
issue of having an external hard drive, they are so cheap
everyone I know of uses them. Please don't get me started on
DVD media backups. Even if you store them in perfect
conditions, they can and will fail. The concept of backups may
have been around forever, but the simplicity of Apple's Time
Machine has not.

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Your user files must be as small. . .
as your mind. Most people have too much data for backups to
digital media to be effective.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
FUNNY THING...
..is that in my experience Time Machine is only to protect the user
from his own mistakes.

...as a long time Windows user, this product would have been great
to protect me from MS mistakes.

Apple would make a fortune if they ported it to Windows!
Posted by Jonthin (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
will be in vista
this has been scheduled to be a feature of Vista for a long time.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
System Restore?
So it's about time? (pun).

Does the user get to select a storage device quota alert? What kinda of processing overhead are we talking? Why can't I just have a shadow/image of the drive, in the background, without a performance hit? (That is a trick question)

Why not have an integrated UPS in the powersupply while you are at the acknowledgement that Apple indeed has not provided a system-based backup for the user since???

Desktop computing is over 10 years old and we still don't have a self-healing/self-repairing system.

Users don't want to be bothered with the details; they just want it to work and do better and everytime.

Hey Apple! When are you going to start Function over Form? Instead of vice-versa.

(Please, Mr Dawson, if your comments are to criticize the user, they are unwelcome. But you do make a point!)
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Form strongly influences function.
You can have software that functions well enough to get the job
done, as with System Restore, but that isn't nearly good enough.
If it were, much more than 4% of users would back up their
systems.

Time Machine may do the same things (it actually does more) as
System Restore, but people will actually use it, and that is the
most important feature any software can have.

Remember that by a wide margin, the slowest, most error prone
part of any computer system (even Windows) is the person at the
keyboard. Form is more important than function because proper
form makes that person less error prone and more efficient.
Instead of blaming the user for not using (96% of the time)
System Restore, it's much better to write software that they'll
actually like to use.
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
That is a really nice feature to be able to go back in time to recover any missing files or configurations.
We often remember the state of our computer rather than the location of a file.
I was wondering how would the interface of the time machine from back to the future would look like today...
http://www.gilka.co.uk/2009/07/05/back-to-the-future-2009/
Posted by gilka2009 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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