Time Machine Actually Works

    As I mentioned in my inaugural post, I’m an IT guy. And as an IT guy, if someone has broken a piece of tech in the weirdest way imaginable, I’ve seen it. Suffice to say, nothing prepared me for the near mutant-style destruction that my wife caused her old iBook G4. Sadly, my wife has a reputation, and it started with a Dell laptop (this happened in our pre-Mac days) that she destroyed within a matter of 18 months. She swears that our boxer pulled the laptop off of the table as he barreled through our dining room, taking with him the power adapter – obviously not a MagSafe! – which sent the laptop careening to the floor. It didn’t explain why the battery never again charged correctly, even after the laptop went back to Dell for repairs. [Insert snarky Dell support comments here.] Ultimately I chalked this all up to crap design and support from Dell, and went and bought an iBook G4 for her. She was in love.

    She’s a pretty tough user on tech (which has ALWAYS made me a little hesitant to hand over my MacBook Pro to her). About six months ago, her iBook started indiscriminately shutting down on its own, or rebooting without warning. Kinda frustrating if you’re in the middle of writing a document that you haven’t saved (or in her case, in the middle of a game that didn’t have a save point). The problem got bad enough – and she started swearing loud enough for someone to hear a couple counties over from us – that I had to address it. I tore apart her OS, tore apart her machine, reinstalled the OS, cleared out the PRAM and NVRAM, and much more. It seemed to resurrect her poor little iBook. Still, she had this lusty look in her eyes every time she saw my MacBook.

    Then one day, about three weeks ago, the poo really hit the fan. Not only would her iBook shut down for no apparent reason, but it wouldn’t power up either. So again, I cracked the casing open, and found that her PMU (the Power Management Unit) wasn’t shielded at all, and everytime it touched the metallic chasis of her laptop, it would short out. I covered that thing with a crap-ton of electrical tape, and got her laptop to boot, and stay on! And then my wife’s mutant powers took over.

    I must have had the old iBook on for over 20 hours as I worked away at it, and during that span there was nary a problem. It just behaved. I handed it back to my wife, with a smug look of satisfaction – I felt damn near heroic. Within 4 hours of her having the laptop back in her possession, the crashes returned. And not a single entry in any log file to point me in a direction. In my final round of “support” I somehow came to the conclusion that I might’ve been dealing with a corrupt installation of the OS. In the meantime, I handed over my MacBook Pro, and within 5 hours of her using that, she grey-screened it! I freaked! Thankfully, it was a simple repair of disk permissions, and I was back in business. Whew!

    The iBook had been running Leopard for about 6 months at this point. I knew that I had to back up my wife’s data, and wasn’t relishing using some third party tool to accomplish this. I decided to do something completely out of character: trust Time Machine. I *know* that there are FANTASTIC backup solutions for OS X out there, but I wanted to go completely native and put Time Machine to the test. Seven hours (and 50 GB’s) later, the backup process was complete. Onto the reinstall of the operating system.

    Unfortunately, the optical drive on her iBook was DOA, so I threw my MacBook into target disk mode, inserted the installation CD’s, and started the process to resurrect her laptop one more time. Rather than going with the Leopard installation (which always ran slow on her machine) , I opted to reinstall Tiger, and manually moved elements from her Time Machine backup through my MacBook back onto her iBook. What a nightmare. 18 hours later, and she had her laptop back. And I had to admit – the third time definitely seemed like the charm. It WAS running better.

    The next morning, I gave the laptop back to my mutant of a wife, wincing as I did. I had high hopes that this was it. Boy, was I WRONG. She called me at work later that morning to let me know that her iBook was up to its old tricks. I was furious. I had clocked over 35 hours (over the course of several months) fixing this damn thing, and every time I thought that I had it, it blew up again. Well, suffice to say, drastic times call for drastic measures.

    We found someone locally selling a Gen1 Intel iMac that had fantastic specs. I talked the guy selling it down a hundred bucks, paid him cash, and came home with a “new” computer for my wife. The guy selling it had said that he erased the drive, but being the IT guy that I am, I felt the need to format the drive and start from scratch. This machine is so fast (and I know what to exclude from the OS X installation) that it only took 15 minutes to reinstall the OS. And then I remembered that I had to restore all of my wife’s data. I thought that I had HOURS of work ahead of me. Thankfully, I was wrong.

    It came to me that I still had that Time Machine backup on an external hard drive. After installing the OS, Apple has a nice movie that plays (warming you up for that wonderful OS X experience), and then you’re presented with the initial setup steps that you have to complete before entering the GUI. One of the options is to transfer your data from an existing Mac, or to restore it from an existing Time Machine backup. I attached the FireWire drive containing my wife’s backup, lit it up, and watched as OS X recognized her backup. It seemed to locate the data effortlessly, and after verifying that the data was in good shape, the restore process began. And just a short 45 minutes later, my wife’s iMac had ALL of her personal settings, documents, applications, mail data – literally everything – right back where it should be. From start to finish, it was only an hour before her new machine was ready to deploy. And that’s a beautiful thing.

    Apple has been taking some serious heat lately over various dropped balls (the MobileMe launch, iPhone 3G issues that still plague a lot of users, and App Store weirdness), one thing remains unchanged: OS X is still a dependable, professional, superior operating system that outclasses its competitors on many of those things that users depend on daily. Apple is still a company that has cornered the market on making applications and hardware that just work.