Apple Backup Returns with an Update

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Apple quietly introduced a much needed update this week: Backup 3.2. I’m a big fan of Apple’s easy-to-use, yet often quirky backup solution. However, back in November I noticed that the program was quite long in the tooth after its second birthday still stuck at version 3.1.2. Did Apple follow my suggestions on what to change? Barely.

First on my list was the obvious change of reference from .Mac to MobileMe. Also on my list were modifications to the backup Quickpicks. Apple removed the out-of-date reference to Internet Explorer, but still fails to include backup of non-Apple products such as Quickbooks or Firefox. The Internet Explorer reference was the only noticeable change to the Quickpicks.

Missing from the update were my feature requests for encrypted backup and backup of iPhone data. Maybe that will be in 3.5. This was, after all, only a minor point release.

Still, some new features were added and the update isn’t merely a modernization of antiquated references to outdated products. Part of this modernization is a requirement for Leopard or higher to run.

Backup’s file structure for iDisk has changed and your first new backup will be a “Full backup,” which means it can take some time. You’ll still be able to restore from old backups, but you won’t be able to append to them. Fortunately, Backup duplicates your old backup scripts. Be prepared for the additional time of a full backup. Backups to hard disks or DVDs appear to remain unchanged.

Another feature of iDisk backups is automatic recycling of old backups. Previously with Backup, if you set a scheduled backup to the iDisk, you’d eventually fill it up and have to delete your oldest backups and sometimes completely start from scratch. Backup 3.2 now will automatically delete your oldest backup. For daily backups, that’s after 30 days and for weekly that’s 12 weeks. This schedule is not changeable. The only way to prevent recycled backups to an iDisk is to set it up for a manual schedule. For many people that’s just fine and is consistent with other online services such as Carbonite and Mozy.

Backing up to local media or a network share remains mostly unchanged. The language of the backup schedule slightly changed and Backup no longer allows a backup schedule of every six months. The most you can schedule on an interval is a quarter (in 3.1.2 referred to as 3 months). Recycled backups to non-iDisk destinations allows recycling to be optional.

In quick testing I noticed an obvious change in speed of both the backups and the restores. My first full backup via 3.2 took less time than my incremental backups in 3.1.2! Similarly, old restores are typically a pain and take an inordinate amount of time for even small files. I used my address book files as a test file. In total, that folder is about 16MB. Restoring from the iDisk took about 10 minutes with 3.1.2. After doing my full backup with 3.2, restore took less than a minute. Awesome! My network backups also completed restores in record time. Clearly the file structure is improved.

If it’s been a while since you used Backup, now might be the time to give it another try. Apple states it has improved the “overall reliability” and from what I’ve seen so far it’s true. If you’ve got that extra space on iDisk, might as well use it as another backup destination. Realize the backup is not encrypted, though. Hopefully that’s in the 3.5 or 4.0 version.

For those interested in cloud computing or data centers, check out our Structure conference in June.

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