Leopard Time Machine: Don't trust it yet

Leopard Time Machine: Don't trust it yet

Summary: User complaints over failed backups and restores are now flooding Mac OS X Leopard discussion groups and vendor support lines. Time appears to have yet to come for Time Machine.


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With more than 100 posts, the Time Machine Errors thread on Apple Discussions keeps growing. The complaints fall into three categories: Time Machine won't complete its initial backup; it won't complete a subsequent backup; and worst of all, it won't complete a restoration of a file or drive.

Here's the post from Macuser_Matt:

First time backup of 70GB disk sometimes completes without an error message (although I only get 47 GB on the backup volume ) and the second time it runs I get the same error “Time Machine Error. Unable to complete backup. An error occurred while copying files to the backup volume.”

Tried everything - repartitioning the drive, renaming partitions, deleting the TM prefs file from the library, erasing the partition, changing the settings to prevent sleep mode/screensaver/putting the hard disk to sleep. Nothing. Disk just keeps spinning indefinitely.

There are all kinds of suggestions and possibilities mentioned in the tread. And the community is pointing their fingers at various drive makers, mechanisms or enclosures. I asked around for some advice.

A former Apple QA engineer, who declined attribution, said that he doubted that the issue has anything to do with the hard drive itself or the enclosure. He suggested that formatting or partitioning on the drives, and Leopard compatibility with storage utilities could be the sources.

"Then again, it could be a Unix character problem," he said. "It's like what Dr. House says: 'Everybody lies, not that they are not telling the truth about their problem, but that there's more to the story that they are willing to tell."

Some of the posts mentioned La Cie drives — no surprise since the company is one of the most popular storage vendors in the channel. I pinged Mike Mihalik, an engineer with the company, who had a few suggestions about this Time Machine issue.

Partitioning. He said that some users may not have partitioned and formatted their drives correctly; the drive should be partitioned using Apple Partition Scheme or GUID Partition Scheme (for Intel Macs only), but not Master Boot Record.

"These are all partitioning options within Apple Disk Utility, the version that is part of both Leopard as well as Tiger. Earlier versions of Apple Disk Utility didn't support all these partitioning options. And users should use the current version of the Apple Disk Utility to partition their drive. After partitioning, then make sure the disk is formatted as Mac Os Extended. This is the best format to use for all Mac related functionality, especially backups.

Volume/Folder names. Users should avoid special characters in volume and folder names when setting up their backup drive, and should limit names to A-Za-z0-9 characters, he said.

"The use of other characters as well as spaces could result in problems. I expect that Apple may come up with a technote to clarify things," Mihalik said.

Network shares. According to Mihalik, at the last minute, Apple removed the ability to backup to a network share in Leopard. This limitation did not exist in the developer versions released before October 29.

"There are reports that Apple removed this capability since there were stability issues. Backing up to network shares is highly desired, but should be bullet-proof before relying on this method of backing up. Trying to use our NAS drives will be fruitless until Apple re-enables the capability to backup to network shares," he concluded.

Here's the bottom line: Don't rely on Time Machine for your critical workflow and data. I don't know why anyone would. It has yet to earn our trust.

Continue to clone your working system to an external drive with SuperDuper! or other cloning software. And if you have incremental backup software, I would continue that process until the issues with Time Machine are shaken out.

Of course, the path of least resistance is to stay in Tiger and test Leopard for a while. Apple isn't forcing anyone to use Leopard as Microsoft has done with Vista (until recently).

Topics: Data Management, Apple, Storage

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  • Sounds familiar

    Is Apple the new Microsoft? Sure sounds like they have borrowed a QA department from Redmond.
    • Except that "Restore previous version" just works

      Time Machine only just came out and already the number and severity of the problems associated with it [b]totally[/b] dwarf the problems that have [b]ever[/b] been associated with Vista's "Restore previous version".

      snicker, smirk :)
      • Vista 'System Restore' / VSS/ Works

        I was under the misimpression that 'Time Machine' actually works, now this is a real bummer. Definitely don't get Leopard, as there's not much else new to recommend it compared to Tiger.

        But yes, Vista's 'System Restore' Backup function is based on WindowsServer's 'Volume Shadow Copy', and it works quite nicely. And you can now run Vista (or Linux for that matter) on your Mac; so if you really need 'snapshot' functionality, it might be advisable to get Vista instead of Leopard. And if you use it at home, get the 'Home Premimum' version and you'll have MediaCenter as an added bonus. MediaCenter really is nice for the home as it has DVR (TiVo-like) functionality, along with nice video, photo and home movie, music, etc central interface and database that can be networked. The Vista OEM version, which I think you can install on Macs is a little less than Leopard, full version is about $200 or so (I think). Just a friendly tip.
        Sonny Maou
        • Works great for me

          ...Leopard, that is. And that includes Time Machine. Am not sure what the problem
  • Even if Leopard Time Machine has issue's...

    Thats no reason to go back/stay with Tiger, it is an application issue not an OS issue. That said I still have not decided to upgrade my system yet, and this would not be a reason not to
    upgrade for me.
    • re: Even if Leopard Time Machine has issue's...

      "Thats no reason to go back/stay with Tiger, it is an application issue not an OS issue."

      Excuse me? Is this a double standard? Any time that [b]anything at all[/b] goes wrong with Vista, it's an "OS issue".

      Why isn't it an "OS issue" with Leopard?

      Just asking...
      M.R. Kennedy
      • It is an issue with an application that comes with

        Leopard, Time Machine is not required to run Leopard, unlike issues
        with the Kernel or the core animation subsystem.

        • You're correct

          but the the other poster was correct, that whenever a problem like this occurs in windows (which version is irrelevant), both Mac users and Linux users say it's a problem with (insert name of particular version that's affected).
          • ignore...

            ignore the idiots.

            why always bring up this kind of junk.

            Its a small minority of any of the users on any side that claim stupid things like this... yet some of you loves to claim that its everyone...

            trolling gets old.
  • Re: Partition

    [b]After partitioning, then make sure the disk is formatted as Mac Os Extended.[/b]

    Exactly what I did before I installed Leopard this weekend. One of my biggest reasons to upgrade to Leopard was Time Machine. I bought a 500gb LaCie external HDD and it was formatted with Fat32. So far no problems I've experienced testing it out. Maybe in another month or two of backups I might find something but for now it works great. :-)
    Arm A. Geddon
    • Fat32 is an issue

      I believe you will successfully *back up* to a Fat32 drive, but will have a heck of a hard time restoring anything. Have you actually tried restoring anything?

      Ultimately you need to repartition the drive/volume and use the formatting options mentioned earlier.
  • Let's see

    Two million copies sold. 100 posts by maybe 15 different
    people, and you conclude Time Machine is unreliable.

    Remind me to never hire you for any serious research.
    • Only 2 million copies sold?

      Awww, how cute!!!

      snicker, smirk :)
      • wow

        just happened to see this blog entry here,

        looking at the comments to date, >20% (8 out of 38 posts) are by our snickering,
        smirking, desperately trolling friend.

        sad, what passes for entertainment in your life. get out much?
      • That's 8% of Mac users on Leopard in 2 days

        I know the figures aren't the most accurate in the world, but according to
        NetApplications Windows has a 90% market share, and Vista has an 8% market share
        which makes Vista 9% of Windows users. There are around 25 million OS X users of
        which 2 million upgraded in the the first 2 and a bit days. That's 8% of Mac users. Yes
        the total number of Mac users is far less than the total number of Windows users but
        it's taken MS since 10 months to get 9% of their users to upgrade to the latest release
        but it's taken Apple 2 and a bit days to get nearly the same.
        Martin Pilkington
      • In 12 days!

        If Vista, (or Linux) was selling/downloaded every 12 days, then the totals for those
        OS's would equal Bill Gates bank account in dollars. :-)
    • Not a lot of relevance.

      On a mac which most people buy for a computer that 'Just Works' I doubt there has been extensive testing on that 2 million copies of the Time Machine feature.

      The ammount of general users who have a backup on the much more virus,error,crash prone windows is tiny so I am thinking on the OS where errors,virus's etc are seen as to not be a problem that it will be a fraction of that again.
      • What?

        You lost us there.
    • Do you think all 2 million people

      used Time Machine? Do you think [i]all[/i] 2 million people care to blog about all the problems they are expeirencing with the new OS?

      By your post I would assume that you feel only a total of 15 people out of 2 million are having issues.

      Remind me to never hire you for any serious research ;)
  • RE: Leopard Time Machine: Don't trust it yet

    I haven't had any issues with it yet, I have been testing it as much as possible. Hopefully I continue with my good luck :)