Time Machine: Perhaps the Worst Interface Apple Has Ever Made

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I use Time Machine to perform hourly backups of my home folder on my Mac, and I like the way it is transparent. I don’t back up the entire system, because I prefer making manual clones, which are easier to restore. I don’t often need to access my Time Machine backups, but occasionally I have to go into them to get an old copy of a file that I have deleted, or replace a corrupted file. Each time I do this I am amazed at how terrible this interface is.

First of all, there’s the stars in the background. Not only can these make me dizzy as they move slowly through space, but the CPU time used to display these animations is astounding. If I leave the Time Machine interface visible for a long time on my Mac mini, the fan goes on.

Next is the astoundingly illogical interface. Look at the screenshot below. The Cancel button is way off to the left, and the Restore button all the way over to the right. The two arrows to go forward and back “in time” are hard to make out against the background, and the right-hand column, with days and times of backups, is almost the same color as the background itself.

There is nothing even remotely Apple-like in this interface, other than the background which is similar to the default desktop background. The buttons are nothing like any other Mac applications, the arrows look like they were made by an intern, and the navigation column to the right is incredibly difficult to navigate. Add to that the fact that Time Machine is somewhat slow – whether this has to do with the actual Time Machine software or the fact that it accesses volumes with lots of files isn’t clear – and it’s hard to find anything good about Time Machine.

I like the idea; however, there needs to be a better interface. This gadgety interface which is very hard to navigate makes for nice eye candy, but it is the least user-friendly interface of any feature in OS X.

Please, Apple, take a look at Time Machine and make it more usable.

10 replies
      • Daniel Cohen says:

        Back-in-Time provides an alternative interface, which is much better for many things.

        However, it does not let you do things like looking at mail from days back inside Mail

  1. Bob D. says:

    The interface may not be the best and probably even violates Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, but it’s not as bad as some of the obtuse UIs that I seen on other operating system. And, TM is the best thing that has ever happened to backing up computers. I have numerous family, friends, and clients whose computers (laptops and desktops) that are now backup every hour. This has saved them (and me) from a disaster many times. But, I will get in line with you asking Apple to make it more useable.

  2. Matt says:

    Why do you even need an interface? They could make it so you right click on a file in the finder, choose “earlier versions” from the menu and have all of the old versions of the file fan out. Then just click the version you want.

    I think it’s more likely that they will shoe horn an iOS interface into the next version though, like everything else

  3. Derek says:

    I agree the interface is not great but the worst thing about Time Machine is how slow it is to backup, especially on the initial backup. I manage several Mac’s for a customer and I use Time Machine as well as Carbon Copy Cloner for backups. Even over wired gigabit ethernet it takes all day to backup around 250GB. Over wireless it would likely take an entire week…

    And then there is the fact that every once and a while it prompts the user to create a “new” backup. As soon as they hit Yes, it deletes their entire existing backup which means they have no backup until the new backup completes which could be several days if they are roaming with a laptop.

    I will say however, I have used TM quite a few times to do complete system restores, whether restoring to an upgraded disk or because a disk crashed. It has always restored flawlessly.

  4. Jim says:

    The only thing I actually liked about TM was when I installed a bigger drive in my MBP. I was able to restore from TM and everything appeared as it had been.

  5. Apple Tech says:

    “Not only can these make me dizzy as they move slowly through space, but the CPU time used to display these animations is astounding.”

    Let’s also shed a tear for the poor b***d who has to recover a customer’s file(s) for him remotely, using Remote Desktop, VNC, or screen sharing, when the customer has a cheap-a** quarter-meg DSL connection. The animation floods the entire bandwidth, and there is no way to turn it off.


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