How you tell you're dealing with Apple utility software

It’s simple with minimal preference settings.

It’s beautiful.

It makes a gorgeous demo for Steve Jobs during a Keynote. He only asks it to do the one thing it does well, and he uses dummy data on pristine machines to do it.

It’s buggy and brain dead until version 3 or 4.

I have a 3-way backup strategy and the only part that drives me nuts is Apple Time Machine.

From time to time, I get this:

System Preferences
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

“Unable to complete backup. An error occurred while copying files to the backup volume.” That’s so descriptive. So helpful. Not.

Sometimes it just works the next time. Sometimes it works when I run the backup manually. Sometimes it takes unplugging my external Firewire drive and a few restarts and it starts working again. Sometimes it takes reselecting the partition.

This morning, I decided to try and figure out what the problem really is. I checked in Console and found this (emphasis mine):

7/4/08 8:37:12 AM /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[6468] Error: (-43) copying /Applications/.DS_Store to /Volumes/TimeMachine Backup/Backups.backupdb/Judi Sohn’s Computer/2008-07-04-083705.inProgress/10AA8D0E-B105-43B4-AAF4-878DA5975F5B/MommyBook Pro/Applications

Error copying .DS_Store.

.DS_Store?!?! Seriously?!?!

What’s this do-or-die-bring-my-backup-to-a-screeching halt file? From wikipedia:

.DS_Store (Desktop Services Store) is a hidden file created by Apple Inc.’s Mac OS X operating system to store custom attributes of a folder such as the position of icons or the choice of a background image.

Well, gee, I don’t want that spreadsheet or important letter if I don’t know the custom attributes of the folder it’s in or what background image is on that folder in the Finder.

I’m not alone.

I started using Jungle Disk and SuperDuper to backup the same time I started using Time Machine. The number of times that Jungle Disk or SuperDuper has stopped cold because it had trouble with a single non-critical file: 0. Zero. Never.

Barring major disaster or hardware failure, backup software must work. No excuses. This is supposed to be effortless and accessible, right Apple?

Apple, instead of stopping Time Machine dead in its tracks because there’s some stupid error on a useless, hidden file how about you skip that file and back up everything else? Only stop dead on hardware errors or if critical files fail. For the rest, give me an error report at the end that tells me what didn’t work right and then let me decide later if I care.


11 responses to “How you tell you're dealing with Apple utility software”

  1. SuperDuper! is great. Time Machine is terrible. I’ve yet to even switch to Leopard because I haven’t found any compelling features. One of the was Time Machine but I’ve read so many negative things about the software it’s certainly not worth even using.

    Happy 4th!

  2. Time Machine it not aimed at you, so you should decide to not use it. Time Machine should be more clear about its target audience – anyone who has a “backup strategy” should not use Time Machine.

    I do agree that Apple should fix the bugs in Time Machine.

  3. I have been using Time Machine with Leopard since day one and TM has never “stopped cold”. I’m backing up thousands of photo images, TIFs and JPGs and never had a problem. I have used Super Duper, no complaint, and Deja Vu. IMO, Time Machine is head and shoulders above any backup software I have tried. Oh, and I don’t work for Apple. LOL

    Jeffrey: If you never used Time Machine how do you know it is terrible? Never mind, you read about it, nice test.

  4. Time Machine is a great idea, but was obviously not written by engineers with backgrounds in mission critical processes.

    (shameless plug alert!)

    Consider SoftRAID, for mirroring your data onto multiple drives in real time.

    SoftRAID supports multiple disk mirrors, so your entire backup hassle can be powering down a FireWire disk, putting it into storage, removing the previous archive, and plugging it in. This gives you real time backup and an off-site archive.

    SoftRAID also reports disk i/o errors, which can alert you to impending disk failures before a disk fails completely.

    Costs $129, which is very reasonable considering the value of your data.

  5. William, I’m happy that Time Machine has been so reliable for you. But do you feel good knowing that at any moment it can run into one bad file, a useless one at that, and stop?

    Patrick, it’s exactly because it’s so supposed to be so easy that it’s ridiculous that it can fail like this.

  6. I’ve been installing, using, and training on backup software for over 20 years. Aside from MY customers, of course, the number of people who actually backup their systems is infinitesimal. Time Machine is not intended to replace Retrospect. It’s intended to replace NOTHING. As such, it does an incredibly good job.

    Remember that it attempts to backup every (changed) file, every hour. Files that are in use, or otherwise can’t be copied, are virtually certain to be either unimportant or backed up on the next pass – usually both.

    While I’ve heard claims it happens, I’ve never actually seen Time Machine permanently stall and stop making backups. But I HAVE seen that happen with expensive, professional backup solutions like Retrospect. In this perspective, the free Apple utility is amazing.

  7. Judi said: “But do you feel good knowing that at any moment it can run into one bad file, a useless one at that, and stop?”

    Well seeing I’m not using your computer it doesn’t apply to me, so I have no feelings at all except I hope you sort out your problem.

    Have you ever thought the problem might with you and not Time Machine?

  8. Me again. Thanks for responding to my comment.

    What I want to make clear is that I think Time Machine works in the simple case, but that it wasn’t designed or tested for the non-simple case. By non-simple, I mean if other backup programs are running, or you keep plugging or unplugging your external drive, or you have multiple partitions, or you have items on your Time Machine drive other than Time Machine data.

    Sure, Time Machine should work in those cases, and if it doesn’t Apple must fix it, or let those types of people know to stop using it. But if you have a three-way backup strategy (hehe – he said three-way), then you shouldn’t use Time Machine. Apple should have told you not to use Time Machine.

  9. I have exactly the same problem. I back up daily and on a MWF basis and on a TuTh basis and on a weekly basis and offsite weekly and monthly, because the data I use is critical and irreplaceable. I would still like Time Machine to work, flawlessly and I get the same mindless error message. I click OK, and hope that the next time, TM will work, and it usually does. If it doesn’t, I erase my TM drive and do a new TM backup. Apple needs to work on this a bit, and hopefully, 10.6 will bring the fix. It’s not a PEBKAC, it’s the OS.

    Ishan Bhattacharya, MD

  10. . . . whew . . . I think I got all the back-and-forth information

    Judy, first, I wanted to say congrats and good work here. Your blog is nicely laid out, informative and well written. I actually have read several threads entirely in live time, rather than copying them to email for later consumption.

    I’m going to try your SD/TM/JD backup strategy for home business.

    I understand full well the intended purposes and market of each — light vs. heavy weight — backup app. It should be interesting to see how this pans out.

    Now, if I can just remember to come back with a progress report.

    Thanks for being the guinea pig.

    Chris Leeds, ACHDS