TimeMachine Scheduler: Take Charge of Your Backups

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:

Time Machine Scheduler Interface

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:

Time Machine set up, but turned off

Time Machine set up, but 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.

Scheduler WiFi settings

Conclusion

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!


Summary

Allows you to set a custom backup interval and/or skip the backup between certain hours of the day.

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  • GalakFyarr

    No link to where you can get it in the article?

  • Rob schneider

    You don’t actually say (unless I’m missing) how to launch the scheduler in Lion.

    • http://www.dustyhansen.com Dusty

      He states it is a preference pane now:

      “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.”

      • http://appleuserpro.com TJ Draper

        Right, I perhaps should have covered it a little better. The download is a DMG inside which there is an installer app. It installs a preference pane which you open from OS X System Preferences.

  • Sigilist

    Some nice improvements on an app I’ve used in the past… that is, I don’t use Time Machine anymore because of its inherent problems with backup failure and an almost certain corruption of backups within 4 months across 9 machines I use at home and remote locations. Still, it might be worth facing TM’s flackiness at some time to see if further control of backup scheduling might make TM’s backups viable… at least for a little longer than 4 months.

  • http://appleuserpro.com TJ Draper

    Hi GalakFyarr,

    There’s a link in the second paragraph, and at the standard location at the very end of the post in the score area.

    Sigilist, That’s interesting, I’ve never personally had any problems with flakiness or corrupt backups… I do check my backups from time to time and have had to restore individual files here and there. I even did a full wipe and restore from TM once. I’m sure though that, like any software, it can fail to do it’s job properly. It’s a little bit scary since most of my life exists on various hard drives!

  • http://mrprkr.me/blue Alex

    I just setup an airport extreme, and hooked up a 1TB hard-drive to host all my backups. So this is awesome.

  • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

    I had used the Preference Pane a while ago, but I dropped it when I used my backup disk to image my Snow Leopard drive to upgrade to Lion. I’ve since released the drive for Time Machine backups again and was wanting something like this. I had forgotten about the utility.

    Its improved very much since I last used it and have pretty much setup my schedule the same as the author. Between 9AM and 1AM with a 6 hour frequency. I figure if it runs once in that overnight window, it’s not likely to run again since I won’t have changed any files.

    Thanks for reminding me about this great utility!

  • Stefan Klieme

    Thanks a lot for this friendly review.
    Time Machine’s automatic backup feature (aka its launchd daemon) has to be switched off, otherwise Time Machine will going on to run backups hourly.
    I thought that the note on the website and in TimeMachineScheduler while installing its own launchd daemon makes it clear.

  • Munas

    And why the terminal command is bad?
    sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.backupd-auto StartInterval -int xxxx
    Where xxxx is tm backups frequency in seconds. The default value is 3600

    • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

      Maybe because us mortals wouldn’t even know where to begin looking for that command. Not to mention how do you tell Time Machine to stop backing up at 8am and start at 1am?

    • http://appleuserpro.com TJ Draper

      Personally, my problem with this approach is two fold.

      1. As Dave M. points out, it’s not exactly user friendly. Just because you and I know how to do a thing or two in the Unix Shell (and I do) does not mean that most people can, or even would like to learn how to do so.

      2. Setting the interval does nothing for limiting the time frame of backups. Once the interval has expired, it backs up at the next opportunity. I only want backups to happen during a designated period of time — between 2 AM and 6 AM. TimeMachineScheduler accomplishes this well for me.

  • Bruno Pinho

    Great review!! searching for app like this for a long time.

  • james

    Feature of time machine scheduler:
    1.Set the interval from 1 to 12 hours.
    2.Run the backup manually or automatically also at startup, login or when the daemon has been loaded.
    3.Display the status of the daemon, of the backup volume and if the backup is currently running.
    4.Automount, an option to mount and unmount the backup volume automatically (see known problems).
    5.Option to hide the backup volume (to take effect a Finder relaunch is required).
    • Option to restrict backups to a defined network connection (WiFi/Ethernet) and over WiFi to a certain SSID.
    • Option to skip the backup within a specified time range.

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  • http://www.sibilaribeiro.com Sibila

    Thank you thank you thank you! Cannot thank you enough!

    I sit in front on my Mac all day long clicking that ‘cancel backup’ link constantly bc it slows down my system and network and consequently slows down my production flow (I too work with large Photoshop files, constantly access the net, download and upload clients’ files, sites, databases…).

    I had dropped using TM and Time Capsule bc of the reasons above, but then went back to using it when I couldn’t find a better solution to my needs (I’ve used several in the past 15 years and have several backup drives sitting on my desk now).

    This app and post SAVED me! (need to write a thank you note to the developer too) :)

    Thank you again!

  • smithfamily32

    Another way to edit these settings and change time machine from hourly backups – In Finder – navigate to the library /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ and right click on the com.apple.backupd-auto.plist file. Select PList editor from the pop up menu. open LaunchEvents, then BackupInterval, and edit the value from 3600 (1 hour) to what ever you want.

    PList editor is designed for these files and offers some protection (not much however) from fat fingering the file.

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