Time Machine - Part II: Going back in time with Time Machine

Summary:Yesterday I took a look at how to set up and create the first backup using Apple's new Time Machine utility. I found the process to be swift, efficient and enjoyable. However, there's more to the backup process than setting up the software and making the first few backup - you need to be able to retrieve your files from the backup when you need them. Today I'm going to look at how to do this using Time Machine.

Yesterday I took a look at how to set up and create the first backup using Apple's new Time Machine utility.  I found the process to be swift, efficient and enjoyable.  However, there's more to the backup process than setting up the software and making the first few backup - you need to be able to retrieve your files from the backup when you need them.  Today I'm going to look at how to do this using Time Machine.

Time Machine - Part II: Going back in time with Time Machine
OK, so you've had Time Machine running for a few days happily making backups every hour onto your external hard drive (it doesn't have to be an external drive but that seems to make the most sense to me).  All of a sudden disaster strikes and you need to go back to a file that you had previously (maybe one you were working on an hour ago, yesterday's copy or maybe one from last week).  You fire up Time Machine by clicking on the icon in the dock at the bottom of the screen and away you go.

The way that Time Machine works is simple.  Rather than having to learn some new interface, as is the case with almost all other backup utilities, in Time Machine you are faced with a series of cascading Finder panes (think Windows Explorer if you are a Windows user).  Each one of these Finder screens represents a snapshot of your

Time Machine - Part II: Going back in time with Time Machine
Mac when a backup was taken.  You can see an entry for each snapshot along the right hand side of the Time Machine interface.  To choose a particular backup, click on it to bring that Finder to the foreground (or use the large forward and back arrows) so you can work with it.

Once you have the Finder in the foreground you can work with it to find the files that you want to recover.  Using the Finder interface to navigate through snapshots is a brilliant idea that simplifies the whole recovery process dramatically.  If users knew where their files were before they lost them, they'll be able to find them in Time Machine.

Time Machine - Part II: Going back in time with Time Machine
Once you've found the files or folders you want to recover, recovering them is simple, just select them and click the Restore button.  The files are then recovered from the snapshot and copied to the file system so that they can be accessed and used.

I said it yesterday but I'll say it again, Time Machine is, without a doubt, the best backup utility for your average consumer.  It has a number of strengths but without a doubt the most compelling is how simple it is to use.  If you're a Leopard user and you have an external hard drive then you really should be using Time Machine (and if you're a Leopard user and you don't have an external hard drive, drop what you're doing now and go get one - if you had the money to drop on a new Mac or a copy of Leopard, you should spend a few more bucks and invest in an external hard drive).

My guess is that users who embrace Time Machine won't so much look at it as a backup system but more like an insurance policy or safety net since it's ideal for recovering a text file after a cataclysmic edit and save or a photo that's been 'shopped just a little bit too far.  While Shadow Copy offers a somewhat similar feature in Vista, it's nowhere near as polished or easy to use, which, I have to say, is disappointing. 

Thoughts?  Anyone here making regular use of Time Machine?

Topics: Storage, Data Management

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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