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Flyback needs more than ease of use


2007/11/11

Recently, there have been a number of posts about Linux Flyback, which is an attempt to wrap a gui around rsnapshot/rsync to make a Linux version of Apple's Time Machine. Slashdot discussions cover the range of emotions concerning this, which run from "Time Machine is just rsnapshot" to "the interface is everything".

Well, Time Machine is not "just" rsnapshot. First, on the tech side, it uses hard links for directories and metadata that identifies a files lineage (see Time Machine Details). It's also much faster than plain old rsnapshot because it gets notified of file change events and therefore doesn't have to go searching to see what needs to be backed up. But as some have noted (and as some still don't get), it's the interface and design that make Time Machine so incredibly cool.

I don't mean the fancy graphics that accompany moving through backups. That is important because it's part of the overall experience, but it isn't the whole thing. It's that all of this has been neatly put together to make a user experience that makes sense, that is intuitively easy to understand and use - that is what makes Time Machine cooler than cool and hotter than hot.

And it's more than that. Other applications can use Time Machine to improve their value. Apple's Mail app does that now: click on Time Machine in the dock while using Mail, and you can browse back and restore individual messages from a previous date. Note - I don't mean restore your mailbox as it was then - I mean click on an individual message and restore just that. Not all Apple apps have that tight integration yet, but we are certain to see more of it.

Can Linux do all this? Of course it can, but not yet. As the Flyback site itself says, "Linux has almost all of the required technology already built in to recreate it.". Note "almost". Flyback isn't all that close right now. Wrapping a GUI around Rsnapshot is a start, but as noted above, it's more than just the backup mechanism: other apps need to start using it. And that, of course is a place where Apple has a big advantage: all Apple apps can be rewritten to be Time Machine capable because Apple controls those apps. Flyback can only hope that it is seen as useful enough that other developers want to take advantage of its features.

If Flyback hopes to be the Linux equivalent of Time Machine, it needs much more than a cute GUI. That's a start, but there's much more to it.



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