Has Dropbox made Time Machine irrelevant?

Backing up your data is important. Most nerds know that, even if we don’t do it as often as we should. The problem is that “normal” people (ie. my Mom) don’t know that… until it’s too late.

In my opinion, that’s what makes Time Machine so cool.

Time Machine just made it easy for everyone to back up. The instructions area as simple as “Mom, just plug in any drive and click ‘yes’ when it asks you if you want to use it to back up, then forget about it”.

My back up strategy is slightly more complex than that, but not by much. Currently, my main machine is a MacBook Pro with a 500GB drive. That’s enough to hold all my data (except for movies and TV shows, which are managed separately).1

So, I keep all my stuff in my MacBook Pro, which gets backed up to 3 drives:

  1. Clone Drive: A weekly clone using Carbon Copy Cloner and kept at home.
  2. Time Machine: Backing up whenever I’m at my desk and kept at work.
  3. Media Drive: Additional backup of my Aperture Library (as a Vault) and iTunes Library.

The weekly clone lets me get back up and running instantly if my internal drive ever fails. The Time Machine backs up files while in between clones and gives me access to previous versions of files. The Aperture Library back up is because I love my photographs and like the peace of mind of having multiple backups. Same with my iTunes Library.

I’ve been using this setup for a long time. Luckily, I haven’t had a drive fail yet, although I have had to use Time Machine to get to older versions and deleted files a few times. It’s worked great so far.

However, I now have a 50MB Dropbox 2 account where I keep all my documents. Since Dropbox backs up everything to the cloud and has the “back in time” feature, I’ve been wondering if Time Machine is still necessary.

I’m thinking a weekly clone and Dropbox would be enough.3

That would effectively mean:

  • Documents: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, Dropbox Servers)
  • Photos, Music/Videos: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, 3rd Drive)
  • Personal data & settings: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, MobileMe4)
  • email: since I use IMAP for all my email accounts through Google Apps and MobileMe, it’s backed up on the servers anyway.
  • Applications: exist it 2 places (MacBook Pro and Clone Drive). I don’t need multiple back ups of these as I can always re-install if necessary.

And if I move my Clone Drive to live at work, I can still have data in multiple places (home, work, cloud).

I’m not sure yet if I’ll ditch Time Machine though as I may be missing something here, but it sure seems to me that Dropbox has really made Time Machine irrelevant. At least in my case.


  1. They’re on an iMac that serves as a media centre and family computer. ?
  2. Referral link, gets you and me additional space for free. ?
  3. Plus my extra Aperture and iTunes back up, of course. ?
  4. I use MobileMe Backup to back up personal data and settings to my iDisk. ?