Why I love Apple's Time Machine

Water and computers do not mix.

Although I know this of my own accord, and my mom knows it theoretically, that wasn't enough to stop her from accidentally spraying her 17-in. MacBook Pro with a little water the other night. It was just enough to get on the keyboard and around the trackpad and it prompted mom to do what any laptop owner would do: scream, turn the computer off and turn it upside down so the water would run out.

Then she sat it down and waited for it to dry. And waited. And waited. After firing it up the next morning -- the Mac Book Pro started up as always -- she discovered that keyboards don't really like getting wet; when she tried to type out an e-mail, she got something along the lines of:

kjh  l lll   zzzzzzzl,l l;pom,

Fortunately, mom had just done a Time Machine backup, something I've been reminding her to do ever since I installed Leopard on her laptop last Christmas. Want to see someone back up data real quick? Tell a Clay Aiken fan that without that backup she might lose all her pictures and songs someday.

Now, mom lives hundreds of miles away, making a repair call pretty much impossible on short notice. That distance is also why, nine years ago, I bought her a Mac. I knew, as most sons and daughters with tech experience know, that someday the folks will be calling with problems. And I'd rather deal with the relative simplicity of Mac OS X than configuring .ini files or dealing with the Windows registry.

Over the years, I've helped mom troubleshoot misplaced files, printers that didn't seem to work right, wireless connections that got flakey -- in other words, the usual retinue of problems that can generally be fixed with a quick phone call. Not so the Mac keyboard water torture. My advice: Take it to the nearest Apple Store, which she did.

The verdict was straightforward. She needed a new keyboard, it wouldn't be in stock for three or four days and mom was effectively offline. Mom doesn't like being offline. I got another phone call.

"I don't want to be without my Internet for three days," she told me. Using my soothing voice, I urged her to go ahead and get a new Mac Book Pro and told her I'd have her back up and surfing that same night since she had just done a Time Machine backup. Later on, she could send me her laptop (now almost two years old) and after I made sure it was working right I'd sell it and send her the money.

So off she went to the Apple store, calling just once during the buying process to ask whether she wanted a glossy or matte screen. (Glossy.) A half hour later she called again. 

"I've got it out of the box, what do I do now?" she asked. I told her to plug in the laptop, hit the power button and go through the setup screens. Most importantly, I told her she'd have the option of migrating her files from a Time Machine backup. All she had to do was select that option, plug in the external USB hard drive her backups are stored on and leave the computer alone for an hour or two. (I haven't hooked her up with a Time Capsule yet, but given the convenience of wireless backups, that's a sure bet down the road.)

Mom's good at following directions, especially when her digital life is at stake. I waited for the promised follow-up phone call letting me know all was well. It never came.

What did arrive a little while later that evening was an e-mail with the subject line: "I'm up and running, yeeeaaahhh!"

And so she was.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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