Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/19/no_windows_time_machine/

Where has all the bad storage gone?

It's all too darn good these days

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 19th January 2009 13:30 GMT

Comment Spare a thought for the humble storage columnist looking for targets to skewer. It's a tricky job if you want to sound off - everything is just so basically good these days, and with no stand-out dismal products, what is there to knock?

It was different a few years ago. Ever tried backing up your PC to Travan tape? I made that mistake and it was a great introduction to the concept of geological time; the bloody thing stopped and started like a kangaroo tied to the spot with a bungee cord. It took so long to back up files that I went bald waiting.

The backup software was a dog and perfectly matched the awful Travan hardware. I tried restoring a file because I thought it a good idea to practise, but it would have been less painful burning my ear with a blowtorch. Finding the file in the backup software's catalogue, mounting the tape and then paring down my nails, my fingers, my thumbs, my hands and most of my arms while the backup software found the file on the tape and then restored it was an exercise in self-inflicted torture.

Just when you thought the glacial backup flow had completed, the software would proudly announce a verification run to make sure that the data really was backed up, and the Friday evening dinner date had better be put back another two hours while it laboriously and tediously examined every dratted bit of data on the tape that went through the drive as fast as a nervous nanny driving a Nissan Micra with newborn puppies on the front seat.

But the alternatives were no better. There was some crappy software that backed up files onto little 3-inch floppy disks in plastic cases and I had one of those plastic containers with dividers that stored 30 floppies, plus labels that I laboriously dated and marked '15 of 30'. You can imagine what happened - floppies got put back in the wrong place. I was sticking floppies in and out of the drive like a slot machine junky and spending so much time doing this that it was farcical. Then, of course, I dropped the container and 30 floppies with peeling, semi-legible labels went all over the floor and behind the PC into cable clutter land.

Burning files to CD was my next attempt at personal data protection. The burning SW was sort of OK at first, once you realised Windows could only burn a CD and not do anything else at all because the CD burning session would fail. But it soon became temperamental saying there was no CD in the drive when there was, and then saying it wasn't the right sort of CD. I never found simple-to-use backup software that could burn files to a CD.

Then fairly near-heaven arrived - the external drive. Oh joy, no need for backup software, that invention of the devil, as you just dragged and dropped files. The backup software producers persisted for what seemed like ages writing quasi tape files to the external disk. A failure of imagination doesn't seem the right term to use to describe such a complete lack of vision. I didn't want tape files on disk; I wanted disk files on disk. What's hard about that?

So, of course I just dragged and dropped files, as you do, and forgot that certain files had been changed or were new and didn't back them up - and then the system hard drive, that offspring of a motherless dog, crashed and the files were gone.

Apples Time Machine screen shot

Apple's Time Machine interface.

Last year real backup heaven arrived for me when I replaced a dire Tosh Windows notebook with a MacBook. It came with Apple's Time Machine. My MacBook with its Tiger O/S had a usable, near continuous (hourly), and automated backup facility. Oh frabjous day. Not only that but it had the world's sexiest backup software interface bar none.

It got better. You can have a wireless link to an external disk, and restoring files was not only easy but enjoyable, an excuse to go time travelling. I took to deleting files just so that I could restore them and enter that great screen doorway into the past.

Now Redmond, dratted Balmerdom, has gone and crafted Vista, and among all its other dreadful aspects is the lack of a Time Machine-like backup facility. There's ShadowCopy, but the interface isn't as sexy as Time Machine's. It's dependent on restore points and data is saved, I understand, on the system drive. Er, so what happens if it breaks?

It doesn't look as if a Time Machine clone is in Windows 7 either. Can't someone, anyone, craft some software that reverse engineers or clone Time Machine for Windows? Otherwise I 'll just have to buy a Drobo.

Maybe the Ballmer drones are thinking that cloud backup will sort it all out. Like I want to pay yet another PC tax. It's my data and I want it in one of my places so I can get it back in a flash, just like that, not so that I have to log on to the cloud, verify my ID and then wait while four gigs of data comes from Belgrade or Tunisia or wherever the data centre vault is, using an internet link suffering from contention with other users downloading Mamma Mia. I want my data back instantly, Time Machine style.

How about Time Machine and a Drobo with Windows support in Time Machine? That would float a whole flotilla of my boats, and stop this personal data storage protection whinger right in his tracks. Anyone got any better ideas? ®