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Thursday, March 20, 2008, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Update enables Time Machine backups to AirPort Extreme USB drives

A software update released Wednesday allows Apple's Time Machine software to perform backups to external USB drives connected to AirPort Extreme 802.11n Base Stations, essentially replicating the behavior of the company's Time Capsule appliance.

The functionality, dubbed AirPort Disk, was at one time an highly touted feature of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. But to the dismay of many, it was subsequently scratched in the weeks leading up to the operating system's release last October, with all references to its existence vanishing from Apple's website without explanation

Despite Apple's silence on the matter, AppleInsider later cited a person familiar with the ongoing development of Leopard as saying that company had internally classified the inability to select an AirPort Disk under Time Machine as a known issue. The matter was assigned a unique "Bug ID" number and titled: "Cannot set Time Machine Backup to AirPort Disk."

In the bug report, Apple noted that the issue was "currently being investigated by engineering," offering a ray of hope that it would be restored one day once the technological kinks had been knocked out. On Wednesday, the company released Time Machine and AirPort Update 1.0, marking the feature's long awaited return.

After downloading the update, users reported the ability to select external USB drives connected to the latest AirPort Extreme 802.11n Base Stations as the destination drive for backups under the Time Machine control panel. They also reported that the software update changed their Leopard build from 9C31 to 9C7010.