This week I upgraded my MacBook to Apple's newest operating system, called Leopard. It was a typical Apple experience: it just worked. Everything proceeded as expected. I'll upgrade my desktop Mac when I return home in another week and a half.
Much has been written on various web sites about the new improvements in Leopard, so I won't repeat them all here. If you are interested in the new features, look at http://www.apple.com.
There is one new feature, however, that all genealogists should notice. It is the automatic backup software, called the Time Machine.
Many people need automated backup software, but no one needs it more than genealogists. All computer systems will fail someday, even Macs. Having current backups becomes very important when your computer melts down. Did you spend hundreds of hours entering all your data, family stories, research notes, and more? Are you prepared for a loss of your computer's hard drive? All your hours of labor could disappear in a second or two.
Of course, the most common computer failure is human error. How many times have you accidentally deleted a file, only to need it again later? With Apple's Time Machine, you can travel back in time and retrieve the file. You can even select which version you want. For instance, if you update a file every day by adding new data and deleting some old data, you can later travel back and retrieve the file as it existed yesterday, three days ago, two weeks ago, or two months ago. Assuming that Time Machine was installed and operating at the time of deletion, with Leopard you can retrieve data that you deleted a long time ago.
After upgrading to Leopard, you first connect a USB or Firewire external disk to your computer and then click on "Use as Backup Disk" in the pop-up screen that soon appears. That's all you need to do; the Time Machine will start backing up your files. To be sure, there are a number of preferences you can change, should you wish to do so. You can specify which files or folders you don't want to back up. However, the standard defaults will work for most people. All backups are made automatically, once every hour, as long as the computer is turned on. All backup data is stored on the external hard drive.
If you later lose a file or an entire hard drive, you can use Time Machine to recover everything back to a previous point in time.
Time Machine is a great backup solution, although not perfect. No single backup solution solves all problems. For instance, with Apple's Time Machine, the backups are kept in an external hard drive that is physically close to the computer. The backups produced by Time Machine will be useless if a major disaster strikes and destroys the building and all the contents in the building. Such disasters would include fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and more. As always, you need at least two sets of backups with one set stored off-site some distance away.
Actually, for any computer system, I generally recommend no less than THREE sets of backups. Apple's Time Machine is an excellent first choice, with backup data stored near the computer for convenience. For a second set of backups, I would select Mozy or any other automated backup system that sends the backup data across the Internet and stores it in some distant server. That solves the problems of local disasters.
My third set of backups are smaller; I only copy critical word processing and other files to a CD or DVD disk about once a month and then take them to the office, storing them in a desk drawer.
Time Machine is great, and I suggest that all Mac users start using it. However, keep in mind that it is a partial solution, not all-encompassing.
It's ten o'clock; do you know where your data is?