Apple's Time Machine, a way-cool device designed to be a simple backup device for your gleaming new Apple computer, is appropriately named, in my experience.

That's because installing one reminded me of hours (if not days) wasted installing my first floppy disk drive to a Commodore 64. Sure, it was supposed to work. Sure, everyone SAID it would work. But why didn't it work? (And why were we all changing to floppy disk, when cassette-tape storage was so darned reliable?)

But I digress. The Time Machine, which comes in 1TB and 500 GB flavors, is typical Apple Way Cool. It has a built-in wireless Air Port that theoretically can extend an existing wireless network (it didn't play nicely with a Netgear router on the network I was using) or create another wireless network altogether.

You are supposed to be able to plug it in, run a configuration utility, and then your Apple is miraculously backed up each day without your intervention. If you need a file that you accidentally deleted, head to the Time Machine and get it back. Need to restore your entire computer after a hard-disk crash? Put in the new hard disk and run your Time Machine to put your machine back where it was.

It's all very nice if you can get the Time Machine to work in the first place. (This is the point in the column, if not before, where the Apple faithful call up the e-mail pitchforks and simply point out that it is all user error, and Apple hardware or software can never, ever be at fault.)

However, a glance at the Time Machine forum at Apple.com points out I am not alone in my frustration. (My favorite post is one from a gentleman who suggests he is going to buy a handgun for the only purpose of putting his Time Machine out of its misery.) I know only disgruntled people post in forums, but there are more than 5,500 separate topics and 30,000 posts here, which seems like quite a lot for a new, niche product.

A recurring theme seems to be the error that the "backup volume (or drive) cannot be mounted," which seems be "solved" by firmware downgrades, renaming the Time Machine to the default and not changing it (my solution, thank you), erasing the Time Capsule completely and starting over, and lastly, holy water and a priest.

A number of the "solutions" offered is also way above the heads of the typical consumers, who correctly expect pricey Apple hardware and software to just "work," which has been the trend of late. Consider the iPod, which just happens to "work" when you turn it on. Or the rather glorious 24-inch iMac, which could be the single coolest PC I have laid my hands on (since my Zeos 486, but that was another time, another place.)

Anyway, if a Time Capsule is in your future, buy AppleCare (the extended warranty) and brace yourself for a little battle to get it running right. Your OOBE (out of the box experience) may be perfect, and you may wonder what the fuss is about. But if not, you may need a little nerd time on the Apple forum.


James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm, and tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com