Regardless of the operating system, backing-up the critical data on a computer is something everyone should do. Unfortunately, few do. That's because performing regular backups is a major hassle that's been likened to doing taxes or changing the oil. It's easy to put them off, even though the consequences of not doing them can be catastrophic. Now, Apple has come up with a hardware and software combination that makes backing-up data almost effortless. And, before you Windows users turn away in disgust, get this: You can benefit from the hardware angle, too.
I'm talking about Time Capsule, a new device that combines a high-speed wireless router with either a 500 gigabyte (GB) or 1 terabyte hard drive. It's primarily designed to work with Time Machine, the backup application that comes with Leopard, the latest version of Mac OS X. But, you can also use it with many Windows backup programs, or use it simply to store files you want to share, on a home network or over the Internet. The model with the smaller drive (if you can call 500 GB “small”) is also very good value at $299. Apple’s $179 AirPort Extreme lets you connect an external drive to create what's basically the same thing, and Time Capsule, in some instances, costs less than adding a 500 GB drive to the router. You can buy a USB 2.0-based 500 GB drive for between $100 and $150. The latest model on which Time Capsule is based now has Gigabit Ethernet hard-wired connections. It also has the USB 2.0 connection for an external drive or a printer. If you plug in the former, it can be used to provide even more space for backups, or for storing shared files. But, Time Capsule's router still has the flaws of AirPort Extreme, including only three Ethernet ports and no built-in Web-based configuration software. Instead, you must install some software on your Macintosh or Windows PC in order to set up and manage Time Capsule. It works best with the Mac OS’ Time Machine, which lets you arrange for backups with just a few clicks. It is the simplest backup solution available.
To test Time Capsule's integration with Time Machine, I used a MacBook Pro review unit. Time Machine makes a complete backup of a computer's hard drive when it's initially set up, then backs up any changed files every hour. These are consolidated on a daily basis. That first backup can take a while. It took about three hours to backup the 16 GB on the notebook, and that included an interruption when I decided to change settings on the router and it restarted, aborting the backup process. It took Time Machine quite a while to figure out where to resume the back up, and its progress bar became confused, showing the amount of data transferred in kilobytes rather than megabytes. I was worried then that it was going to take days.
However, once the process was complete, the backup was fine, and Time Machine continued to back up to Time Capsule on the hour. To restore, you can go back to any point in time and recover files that were on your computer at that point. You can also do a full system restore from any point in time.
The Time Capsule/Time Machine combination is best experienced with a notebook computer. I was able to sit in my living room and surf the Web while watching ‘Lost’, as my MacBook was backed up to the Time Capsule drive in my home office via Wi-Fi. I soaked up the mysteries of the island without worrying about the mysteries of backing up my data. Windows users can install the software that comes with Time Capsule to make it easier to work with the internal disk. Apple includes a Windows version of Bonjour, a network protocol, so connecting to Time Capsule is simple. You can map it as a network drive in Windows, and many third-party backup programs will work with it. In fact, the built-in backup program in Windows XP will use it. However, a security feature in Windows Vista prevents that operating system's built-in backup from working with Time Capsule.
Finally, you can make Time Capsule accessible via Internet. You'll need to know its numeric Internet Protocol address, and you'll want to protect it with a strong password. But, this can be handy if you want to access your network files while you're away from home.
©2008/The New York Times