Playing in the Apple Sandbox
Today’s Apple PCs work well with Windows PCs. Samba networking is built-in, allowing you to share files with Windows PCs. The aftermarket combo of MacFUSE and NTFS-3G also brings read and write access to NTFS drives (although there is no way to chkdsk an NTFS formatted drive in OS X).
One of the strengths of Linux and Windows over OS X is the wide variety of software that’s available. What makes the Apple sandbox so viable is that the internal set of software is robust enough to stand on its own. A lot has been said about the iLife suite, but one great example of Apple software is Time Machine.
Time Machine brings EMC/Dantz Retrospect-like functionality for single-user PCs. All you have to do is specify where you want your backups stored. With the current version of OS X, you can specify an external HFS+ formatted drive or an AFS shared store. If you’re using an AFS shared store, Time Machine will store the file in a single file (“sparsebundle”). If you’re using a local external drive, Time Machine will store the files individually.
For the initial backup, Time Machine makes a complete duplicate of your computer ignoring caches and temporary files. After the initial backup, Time Machine makes incremental backups updating only the changed files. Time Machine saves the hourly backups for a 24 hour period, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for everything older than a month. This allows you to recover from a complete failure of your hard drive with, at worst, a one hour backup. More important, this protects users from user error. If I accidentally hit save instead of save as… and overwrite an important original file, it will be possible to skip back and restore a file from a specific point in time.
What’s nice about Time Machine is that it works well and encourages regular users to regularly backup their data. The integration into the operating system is seamless and it feels like a built-in-feature as opposed to “bundled 3rd party software.” In the current version of OS X, no compression is used. Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) will be adding HFS+ compression capabilities that will increase the number of files that can be stored. NTFS has had compression for ages.