Forget Time Capsule—what about AirPort backups?

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Boy, do I feel like a sucker.

About a year ago I bought myself an 802.11n-equipped AirPort Extreme Base Station. I’ve been gradually segmenting and upgrading my household network to get the most out of it, and I’ve been thrilled for the most part—I now get speedy machine-to-machine data transfers, especially between my n-equipped MacBook Pro and the two systems that are hard-wired to switched Ethernet ports.

But after last summer, I was certain that I was going to get ahead of the curve. See, Steve Jobs tipped Apple’s hand at last June’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), talking about all of the cool features of Leopard, which was still in development at the time.

One of them caught my fancy in a big way. Jobs said that when Leopard finally shipped that coming fall, you’d be able to use Time Machine to back up to a hard drive hosted on an AirPort Extreme Base Station.

Network backups free of Retrospect and a tape drive sounded like a great idea to me. My wife and I constantly back things up, but that would take a lot of the work out of it for both of us.

That weekend, I was checking my local Best Buy circular when I noticed a fire sale deal on some Seagate USB 2.0-equipped external hard disk drives. I bought one for short money and hooked it up. Had it set up in a couple of minutes—AirPort management software was pretty slick. It’s been sitting there ever since.

The drive’s 500GB would give me and my wife plenty of space to share for network backups once Leopard shipped, I figured.

Of course, I figured wrong.

Late October came and Leopard was released. The Time Machine back-up feature is pretty cool—in fact, I use it with a Toshiba portable hard disk drive, and I’ve been quite happy with it. I bring that drive with me when I go on the road, just to make sure that I’m backed up, if anything happens.

Unfortunately, that feature that Steve Jobs talked about during his WWDC keynote—the ability to back up to a shared network volume—was still MIA, as my colleague Dan Frakes warned right before Leopard’s release. So I waited. I figured it must be coming sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.

Mac OS X 10.5.1 was released in November, but no sign of the Time Machine feature I was looking for. Then Macworld Expo came around in January. And during his keynote address, Steve Jobs introduced a brand new product called Time Capsule.

Time Capsule was almost exactly what he had described six months earlier. Paired with Time Machine on Macs running Leopard, this device enables you to back up your Macs over a network. In fact, Time Capsule even looks just like an AirPort Extreme Base Station, and acts like one too—but it has its own built-in hard disk drive.

But wait a minute—isn’t this exactly like the product that I’d built myself months before, using my AirPort Extreme Base Station? It seemed like Apple was trying to sell me a new product that did exactly what something else was supposed to do.

The 10.5.2 update to Leopard came out earlier this month, and there’s still no sign of a fix that will give Time Machine the ability to back things up to a hard drive hosted on an AirPort Extreme Base Station.

Now we have word that Time Capsule is shipping to folks who have pre-ordered it since the January announcement. Call me an optimist, but I’m hoping that Apple will now turn its attention to the feature that Steve Jobs talked about last June to get it working with an AirPort Extreme Base Station that already has a hard drive connected.

If not, I’m sure I can find another use for that Seagate drive. Maybe I’ll just hook it straight up to my wife’s iMac and use it with Time Machine.

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