Yikes, Microsoft’s Time Machine clone leaves out tons of important stuff

(Updated to include a way to unhide files and add them to a “library” for backup)

Basically, this post is a warning to anyone using the new File History backup program in Windows 8. The program is severely limited because it will only back up files in a few preset locations that can’t be expanded. If you have almost any third-party program that saves its own data, File History is leaving you exposed. There is a fix, but it takes a little mucking around.

In my case, for example, I have gazillions of email messages stored by the program Postbox. The mail is kept in a huge folder in my personal Windows user folder under PostBox’s own folder in the application data area. None of the stuff that your applications have saved here is backed up by File History — none. And you can’t add it, either.

Update: As several commenters have noted, there is a way to get this data added to the backup set. In the Windows File Explorer, navigate to your personal directory and under the View section of the ribbon bar, click for a check in the box called “hidden files.” Then a folder in your directory called AppData should be exposed. Right click on the folder and choose “Include in library…” and add the folder to one of the libraries which is backed up by File History. Phew!

All that File History will save by default are “files that are in your libraries, contacts, favorites, Microsoft SkyDrive and on your desktop,” according to Microsoft. That is a huge hole, especially if you don’t rely on the My Documents, My Pictures and other “library” folders set up in Windows. Even if you do, third-party programs that store their data exactly where they are supposed to will not benefit from File History unless you use the trick above to add them.

That’s a shame because File History is supposed to be Microsoft’s version of the drop-dead easy to use Apple backup program Time Machine. Both work behind the scenes to back stuff up on an automatic schedule without the user having to remember. And both give quick access to old versions of files within the File Explorer/Finder program. But you can set Time Machine to backup anything from just a few files to your entire disk.

How to delete the horrid sparsebundle from your Time Capsule

Short version: Here’s how to actually delete a sparsebundle Time Machine backup file from a Time Capsule — use Windows.

Long version: We have an Apple Time Capsule here at home and it’s almost always been an incredibly great wifi router with built in storage. The kids, especially, benefit from having all of their laptop files auto-magically backed up via the Time Machine app without me needing to do much of anything. Sweet.

But even a big, fat Time Capsule hard drive eventually gets full. I was looking at the drive on our capsule tonight via the Apple Airport Utility. Each computer backup shows up as a single file that starts with the computer’s name, adds a bunch of junk and ends with the special file format, .sparsebundle. Under the drive tab, there’s just one option to delete and it deletes everything on the disk. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep the kids’ laptop backups, stored in the wacky sparsebundle format, but delete some extra folders and an old backup of a computer we don’t use anymore.

So I flipped over to the Finder and down in the “Shared” section I could click through to see the full contents of my Time Capsule’s hard drive. The old sparsebundle was right there so I right clicked on it and choose “delete.” Super. A dialog box asks if I want to permanently delete. I click ok. Then nothing — scrolling bar of nothing that will literally stay up for hours with nothing happening. Yuck.

I tried two solutions I found online but neither worked. One was to right-click on the sparsebundle, choose show package contents, go inside the folder called “bands” and delete bunches of the files in there. Nope — same freeze up.

Another online suggestion recommended doing the show package contents trick and then right clicking on the file called “token,” going to the “get info” screen and unchecking the “locked” check mark. But my token lock box was already unchecked. No dice.

Eventually I found the solution to deleting the unwanted sparsebundle by reading an Apple support board post. The trick is to use Windows. Or, in my case, use VMWare running Windows 8. Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to your Time capsule via the IP address — in the address bar you just type \\ and then the address which for most folks starts with 192.168 and then has two more bits, like A dialog box asks you to log in. I have a password on my Time Capsule but no log in name. I just put anything into the log in name field and typed in my password. Once I was in, all the sparsebundles were displayed and a right click and delete worked in under a minute. So awesome:

using windows to delete a sparsebundle

UPDATE: In the comments, there’s also a way to force the Finder to connect to the Time Capsule the same way Windows connects via Microsoft’s SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. No Windows required. I haven’t tried it myself, however.


Apple’s Time Capsule plays nice with Verizon’s FIOS

Apple’s new Time capsuleWow, that was easy. Sometimes Apple’s auto-magic, self-configuring stuff works just as advertised. Sometimes, it’s Apple’s penchant for knowing how to simplify the front-end to hide the wacky back-end that carries the day. In the case of the new Time Capsule wireless base station with hard drive, it’s both. Phew.

I’ve been using OS X 10.5’s Time Machine program to do constant back ups of my iMac, which is pretty easy since the 60 lb behemoth doesn’t travel much. It’s hooked into a Western Digital external hard drive via firewire and Time Machine just does its thing whenever it damn well pleases. But my Macbook Pro is constantly running all over the place so backing up to an external drive happens much less than it should. A hard drive with wireless access seemed like just the ticket. I wandered over to the Natick Mall’s cozy Apple store and picked up a Time Capsule 1 TB version.

Then it sat in the box. We have Verizon’s spiffy FIOS broadband Internet service, which requires use of a Verizon-supplied wireless router, and I was worried that svelte, suave Mister Time Capsule wouldn’t play nice with Mister Ugly Black Box Actiontec Router from Verizon. Luckily, my fears were misplaced. Apple’s new Airport setup software walked me through a variety of scenarios and within literally 5 minutes, I had connected the Time Capsule via an ethernet cord to the old router and set it up to run a parallel wifi network at 802.11n speeds. The old router is still king of Internet connections and assigning network addresses 9it’s still the DHCP server in geek speak). Nifty.

As you can see from the photos, the Time Capsule is compact and all-white with a shiny silver Apple logo on the top. It’s also whisper quiet even when the hard drive is active. I have found file transfer performance acceptable. I copied an 841 MB file (the latest patch for Civilization IV: Warlords, if you must know) from my iMac to the Capsule in under 2 minutes via ethernet and then to my nearby Macbook Pro via Wifi N in about the same time. Hopefully, they won’t come out with a greatly improved edition in six months.

Minor additional data point: I ran some file transfer tests using AJA Kona System Test. Files were written to the Capsule pretty consistently at just under 6 MB/s and read at about 8 MB/s when connected over a 5 GHz wifi “n” channel. At that writing rate, you’d be able to transfer over 21 GB an hour, according to the Forret bandwidth conversion calculator.

p.s. Check eBay if you want you want to buy my old Airport Extreme base station or an original issue iSight camera.

Time capsule in situ