The Pain of iTunes Can Be Traced to Apple’s Time Machine

| Editorial

There was a time when Mac users had ripped a few hundred favorite songs from their CD collection. A laborious process. There was also a time when Time Machine could easily back up a 100 GB hard disk. But time and a failure to scale available technology has left many Apple customers with a huge, purchased iTunes collection that's hard to back up reliably. Apple has been too successful and not successful enough.

It's one thing to back up a user directory on a Mac with a really good, reliable app. Carbon Copy Cloner and Prosoft's Data Backup 3 are two that come to mind, but there are others.

It's quite another thing to back up hundreds of gigabytes of music and videos. Basically, two things have happened. First, Apple has been very successful selling customers music, movies and TV shows. Second, the pricing of that content has made it possible for the average customer to acquire content whose size in gigabytes (or terabytes) outstrips the ability of current backup technology provided by Apple.

I've written before about this problem in "Why Apple’s Time Machine Utterly Fails User Needs." What I haven't discussed is how this failure, in my opinion, appears to be coloring Apple's approach to how to solve the iTunes problem. What I'm referring to is this article.

Sources Insist: iTunes Music Downloads Dead In 2-3 Years…

The article insists that the fact-of in the title is real but is still being debated within Apple.

A great deal depends on how sharply music downloads decline, how quickly streaming accelerates, and how an unstable internal political atmosphere within the company shakes out, the same sources have shared.

In my opinion, the crux of the problem here is that Apple has been too successful in selling customers on content but hasn't stepped up to the plate when it comes to remarkable, robust, "it just works" mechanism to reliably back up all that content. Customers are overwhelmed with a surfeit of data.

The Family Backup Server

Along the way, over the years, there have been a variety of 3rd party backup systems, mostly Network Attached Storage (NAS). Synology and Drobo (fine products) come to mind, but there are others. But the gist of the matter is that average customers are still a little bit afraid of such awesome devices. Especially consumer-grade RAID 5 devices with multiple, hot-swappable drives and Linux operating systems.

Imagine if Apple had taken Time Machine to the next level, used its legacy experience with the Xserve-RAID, and developed a Family Backup Server with incredible ease of use. It would reach out, touch every registered device in the house, and reliably back up it and all its content. A USB 3 port and another attached drive would create a single drive mirror for off-site storage.

Suddenly, everyone's concern about managing and reliably backing up a huge iTunes library would be over.

Apple's own Xserve-RAID from 2003. Discontinued & thrown away.
Today, same storage, but 10% of the price for next generation products.

Solve a Problem by Making it Go Away

Today, Apple itself has enormous data storage capacity. It can stream every song to you that you could listen to in a lifetime. Meanwhile, iTunes is a mess in many ways and, perhaps, beyond fixing. (Although, we got some happy news.) By the way, ignoring music downloads, down the road, doesn't solve the entirety of the gigabytes of video to be stored, but it's conceivable that 4K video, given the file sizes, could suffer the same fate.

Stil, an iTunes UI makeover doesn't mean that Apple isn't paving the way for  simpler days of music streaming alone. There may still come a time when Apple makes the decision that a massive investment in music downloads no longer makes sense—just as it did when .Mac personal home pages were discontinued. Some remaining fraction of customers, perhaps, will have to learn new techniques, find new tools, and work through a process that suits them for all their ripped and downloaded music.

Meanwhile, Apple as always will move relentlessly forward, leaving a trail of much work left undone.


Teaser image via Shutterstock.

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Um, you are describing the TimeCapsule…

John Martellaro

Time Capsule is not RAID level 5.


Actually the following seems a little crazy to me .... because reliable, backup, network, USB3, server, and Apple ... in the same paragraph causes CRC and SegmentationFaults in my brain.  I would have loved such a device.  But it would have been ten times the price of my Synology, one third the thickness, made from a solid brick of Al, and the software would never get updated!  Something tells me that ... 1000 NOs for every YES ... is the reason that we don’t have such a device, or a Mac Mini with drive bays that could serve as the family server with RAID.  My two cents, your mileage may vary.  JD.

Imagine if Apple had taken Time Machine to the next level, used its legacy experience with the Xserve-RAID, and developed a Family Backup Server with incredible ease of use. It would reach out, touch every registered device in the house, and reliably back up it and all its content. A USB 3 port and another attached drive would create a single drive mirror for off-site storage.


I think the article wording has over complicated the solution. What it really want is an Time Capsule that backup iOS devices. And offer 2nd Drive Failure in Raid along side with USB off site backup option.

Raid, And file protection from error. Are all available in ZFS. So it is adding a little more function to Time Capsule.

I have been calling for an Time Capsule like this for a long time, with one little difference. it should sit as a proxy to iCloud. I.e You can have your Time Capsule backed up to iCloud as well. No need for USB off site backup.


Losing purchased content that has to be re- downloaded at worst is one thing.  Losing years of irreplaceable photos is entirely another….

Apple badly needs a one- stop backup system that just works; a Time Machine the way it’s supposed to be.

Old UNIX Guy


Please keep in mind that since we’re not talking about the Watch or iOS devices that it just doesn’t matter to Apple, despite what they may say.  Talk is cheap and actions are all that really matter and Apple is making it very clear with their actions that they don’t care about the Mac.

Oh, they’ll tell us differently next Monday.  They told us last year that El Capitan would be focused on improving the Mac operating system ... and it was all talk.  They delivered an OS where their e-mail client doesn’t work with a standard IMAP account.

I can’t count how many Apple apps have crashed on me in El Capitan.  Yesterday I even had System Preferences die on me!

The only words that Apple can say next Monday that will truly spark hope in me are, “Effective immediately, Jony Ive and Craig Federighi are no longer with the company.  Scott Forstall and Bertrand Serlet have been brought back to fix the mess we’ve inflicted on you for the last 5 years.”

Old UNIX Guy


Time Capsule with a dirt-cheap 2TB drive is an AWFULLY GOOD solution for backup. TC is NOT meant to be your primary solution; but if you want redundant copies of your hard disk, TC works extremely well with a second drive; the backup alternates between the two so you have each file backed up twice but still only writes once each time.

Have too much data for a 2 or 3 TB external disk? Then you want a NAS server, which you can configure as RAID-5. Once you set it up, you’ll perform exactly zero maintenance on the NAS thru their somewhat cryptic web interfaces, and just use it as if it were an extremely reliable backup disk.

You can even intermix the two, as I have: a cheapo disk for fast backups at my office, the RAID NAS in my basement. I don’t know how I’ll lose a backup file.

The only downside is that eventually you’ll need MOAR STORAGE. There’s no great way do delete big, old & unwanted files from your backup. At least you can migrate your backup to a larger disk system, then wipe the old one & use it for other purposes and/or an alternating backup, maybe in a second location.

Old UNIX Guy

Ironically enough, while I was posting the above comment about Apple not caring about the Mac Apple was e-mailing me with suggestions for Father’s Day gifts.

iPad Pro?  Check. 
Apple TV?  Check.
iPad accessories?  Check.
Gaming accessories?  Check.

ANYTHING Mac related.  404 - not found.

Here’s an idea ... Steve Jobs famously compared the Mac to trucks.  I think that every member of the Apple Executive Team should have to live their lives and do their jobs without ANYTHING that depends on a truck (the vehicular kind) for even just a week.  Maybe then they might see the true importance of trucks.

Old UNIX Guy


IMO Apple is not interested in providing a backup for iTunes users because that entire model allows users to be independent of Apple’s iCloud/streaming model/strategy. Apple apparently decided that recurring revenue is a more attainable strategy than trying to build more innovative products. Construction of the new data centers is undoubtedly aimed at iCloud/streaming revenue. Apple wants to rent everyone space and product; it has little to do with user convenience.


If Apple wants to push everyone to iCloud then Apple should allow you to run TM backups to iCloud. AFAIK they TM still does not see iCloud.

I hate to say it but I’m afraid I’m coming to be of like mind. When Apple releases their next MacBook Pro, if it’s a razor thin, no ports, low power wonder it will cement the case. I fear Apple wants to emulate Ferrari, not Ford. Make only cool looking, stylish, but impractical computers, but leave the people who need computing trucks for work behind.



That is exactly what I said being a proxy to iCloud. The problem with everything to the cloud is that you dont have Internet Connection all the time, and speed isn’t guarantee.

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