One of the best, and perhaps most undervalued features of Mac OS X is one that was introduced in 10.5 Leopard: Time Machine. As Macintosh users, we often forget just how good we have it when it comes to matters like this. I was recently discussing backup options with a Windows using friend of mine and none of the options we could find for him came even close to the ease of use and painlessness (not to mention the system level integration) of Time Machine.
Nevertheless, after I started using Time Machine in Leopard, I quickly found one major drawback. Every hour, regardless of what you are doing, Time Machine starts a backup. It slows the system down, if you back up to a Time Capsule as I do, it slows the network down, and it’s unnecessary. I really only want one incremental backup per day, but this isn’t possible by default. This is where TimeMachineScheduler comes into play.
Why Would You Need It?
I tend to be a bit of a power user, dragging files on and off my hard drive throughout the day, some of them rather large. Many of those files are as likely as not to be gone by the end of the day and I have no need to back them up, they would just waste valuable gigabytes on my space limited Time Capsule. And then, as a Video Editor, I do a lot of editing in Final Cut Pro. And when I first started using Time Machine, I began noticing a major performance hit in Final Cut every hour when a backup would start running. It was so annoying that I got into the habit of canceling the backup as soon as I saw jittery playback and looked up to see Time Machine running in the menu bar. But it would then take it’s sweet time “canceling” (I assume it was doing some sort of clean up on the backup drive to make sure nothing was corrupted rather than unceremoniously quitting the backup). It was driving me mad.
I wish I could tell you when I discovered TimeMachineScheduler, but I don’t even remember if I started using it with Leopard or with Snow Leopard. But I can tell you that I was ecstatic at making the discovery. I was finally able to change the backup interval and/or restrict it to a certain period of time.
Using the Scheduler
The interface is fairly straightforward:
It used to be a standalone application which you would launch from the Applications folder, but the update for Lion compatibility turned it into a Preference Pane. However, given it’s functionality I’m still calling it an app.
You can see above in the screen shot that I have set my backup to be skipped between 6:00 AM and 2:00 AM. As well I have set the interval to 12 hours. This means that Time Machine will only run once somewhere between 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM. This works very well for me. There are occasions where my laptop is asleep during that period of time, but that doesn’t happen very often. Normally I leave my laptop running on my desk when I go to bed for the purpose of backing up (additionally, OS X has maintenance scripts that only run at night on certain days so it’s beneficial anyway).
The best way to start using TimeMachineScheduler is actually to set up Time Machine first. In fact, if you haven’t set up Time Machine yet, I would say you should set it up, and then let it run it’s first backup. If you are using a Time Capsule over WiFi, I would recommend connecting via Ethernet for the first backup. The first few times I tried to set up Time Machine and do an initial backup to my Time Capsule, it would fail to complete, either due to some network error when I would get up in the morning, or it simply wasn’t finished and I had to pack up the laptop to take with me to work. Ethernet allowed my fairly large initial backup to complete before morning.
Once that is finished, you can go ahead and set up TimeMachineScheduler. It is important to note that TimeMachineScheduler will disable Time Machine. If you go to Time Machine preferences after you’re done setting up the Scheduler, you will see that Time Machine has been turned off:
Do not turn it back on, this will conflict with TimeMachineScheduler’s behavior. TimeMachine Scheduler actually turns off Time Machine so that it’s daemon (background process) is not running. It then loads it’s own daemon that starts the Time Machine backup as specified by the Scheduler’s settings.
There is one other thing that I’ve just recently discovered. And this appears to be a bug only in Lion because I did not experience it in past systems. I’ve recently been encountering a pop-up dialog every so often during the day when off of my home network telling me that the Time Capsule is unavailable, despite the fact that a backup is only supposed to run at night. Limiting TimeMachineScheduler to my home network seems to have eliminated the problem.
I love TimeMachineScheduler because it solved a very specific problem for me, and I have to imagine there are others who would like to solve this problem as well. And I give kudos to this developer for fixing something that, quite frankly, should not have been broken. Apple’s fail turns into his win.
The interface is very intuitive and straightforward. It doesn’t have hundreds of configurations options. It fits in and solves the problem nicely. My only complaint, and I’m not sure what could be done about it given the way Time Machine works, is that it’s just slightly confusing to the end user that Time Machine is disabled when looking at Time Machine System Preferences. Other than that, it is a great app!