Leopard Time Machine: Don't trust it yet

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.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

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).

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