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

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 MachineOK, 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 MachineMac 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 MachineOnce 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

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  • Looks very simple ...

    I give kudos to Apple for making a simple to use backup tool. For Linux you have Simple Linux Backup, which is very easy to use, but it's just not as seamless:


    I have no problem with the aspects of Apple's technology, but I don't really like the closed source nature Apple products. Also Apple likes to "draw from the well" of the OSS community but doesn't give back so much in return, well at least this seems to be the pattern recently. ;)
    • Unix Certification

      A great deal of work has gone into making sure Apple was certified as a Unix
      platform. This opens up a wealth of possibilities for cross pollenated projects
      going forward. Currently one can support one of two monetized, proprietary OS
      vendors. One has a long standing symbiotic relationship with open source. The
      other tries daily to kill it. Do you really think Apple is the threat here? Exactly what
      additional hoops would you have them jump through? This is company that is
      responsible to their shareholders. It's also a company that is the biggest champion
      of Unix, Open BSD, Open GL, Konqueror, and mpegX.

      This "closed" talk should end.
      Harry Bardal
      • Different definition of symbiotic

        I think you mean parasitic. Can you name [b]one[/b] Apple authored OSX program that runs on Linux? iTunes doesn't. iLife doesn't. Safari doesn't. Apple takes and takes and never gives anything back.

        [i]The other tries daily to kill it.[/i]

        Uh huh. You are now suggesting that Microsoft's innovative way of killing a product is to become its largest reseller? No company sold more SuSE certificates than Microsoft has. If they can keep that up for a couple more years, Linux will truly be dead!!

        [i]This "closed" talk should end.[/i]

        Exactly because the evidence is all very clear: Apple is closed, closed, closed. End of discussion.
        • I'm sorry

          I wasn't aware that Open Source == Linux, and that to be a good open source citizen you had to make software for Linux.
          • Not Linux then

            Can you name [b]any[/b] Apple authored application that runs on [b]any[/b] non OSX *nix OS? No? Point proven.

            snicker, smirk :)
      • Funny, you make me laugh!!!

        [i]A great deal of work has gone into making sure Apple was certified as a Unix platform. This opens up a wealth of possibilities for cross pollenated projects going forward.[/i]

        This was already the case prior to Darwin being certified as POSIX compliant. Nothing has changed except they now have a seal of approval from the Open Group.

        [i]Currently one can support one of two monetized, proprietary OS

        Apple is not an OS vendor, but a hardware manufacturer that has an operating systems included with its offerings. Small error, but true. When OS X is available on my amd64 machine please let me know.

        If we believe your arguement that Apple is an "OS Vendor" this would be a false dilemma since Novell, Red Hat, Xandros, Linspire, etc. are OS vendors that include proprietary components in their operating systems.

        [i]Do you really think Apple is the threat here? [/i]

        Where did I say that Apple was a threat? Is this something that you have been thinking? A little defensive to say the least on your part.

        [i]Exactly what additional hoops would you have them jump through?[/i]

        I don't know maybe open Darwin/x86 kernel, APIs for itunes, OGG/Vorbis on ipod, give me time I can come up with a nice list.

        [i]This is company that is responsible to their shareholders.[/i]

        Let's see IBM (IBM), Sun Microsystems (SUNW), Redhat (RHAT), Novell (NOVL) are publicly owned companies the last time I checked. What does having to be "responsible to their shareholders" have to do with not supporting the OSS community?

        [i]It's also a company that is the biggest champion of Unix, Open BSD, Open GL, Konqueror, and mpegX.[/i]

        No the biggest champions of Unix would be IBM, EDS, HP, CAPgemini, HSBC, and NEC for the Unix specification since they are platinum members of the Open Group:


        OpenBSD is based in Canada. You must mean FreeBSD since they are the largest BSD derivative. Nope, I don't see Apple on the donor list:


        OpenGL? What do expect them to use DirectX?

        Konqueror is a file manager/web browser for KDE. Let's see if Apple is on the major donor list (guess what the answer is?):


        MpegX? Do you mean ffmpegX?


        which is a Mac version of ffmpeg:


        and believe me there is going to be [b]ZERO[/b] support for competing product. Maybe you mean the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) since the ISO choice Quicktime at the foundation for MPEG-4:


        Duh? Well of course Apple is going to support this because it benefits them to the exclusion of others.

        Now I know that some people are blinded by the entire Mac culture, but do you have to resort to bald face lying in your zealotry? ;)
        • Surrogate Fathers

          You know what?I am playing this fast and loose, you are right about some of these
          issues and I am a bit defensive regarding a post that was largely positive.

          I'd suggest you look closely at some of your arguments though. What you expect
          them to hand over on a silver platter is entirely unreasonable. Apple's obligation is
          twofold. To offer you a value proposition. If you accept that extends to
          maintenance of that value. That includes security. It is a managed experience.
          That's what people buy into. If it's not open enough for you, that brings us to their
          second obligation. To not interfere with your choice to go elsewhere. This is where
          "open" starts.

          To my mind support of open source includes its use and proliferation. Apparently
          you'd disagree. OpenBSD was misspoken. I think Open GL is worth supporting.
          What else would they use? They'd grow their own. Is this your preference? I think
          Apple is an OS vendor. If you see the forced use of Apple hardware as negating
          that, Time Machine should be off your radar. These issues earn me the title of
          zealot and bald faced liar but I'm not the one who sees a platform as ethos or a
          surrogate parent. I see it as part of a larger economy.

          Apple stimulates the marketplace. It generates economy, wealth, and promotes
          competition. No one platform can do it all. If you need parenting, look to the
          marketplace, not the ethos. Let me ask you? Does Apple owe you an apology for
          it? Does this lying zealot owe you one for making his views clear?
          Harry Bardal
          • Your views don't require an apology...

            And yet your as asking for one from Adrian? So your "uniformed" position on Apple's support of OSS is acceptable, and yet his is not?
          • Views Differ

            My views about what constitutes support differ from others. I don't feel the need
            to call them liars because of those differences. I consider the use and propagation
            of BSD to be support. Apple is (arguably) the worlds largest Unix vendor. Let me
            ask you, do you consider this support?

            Apple's contributions back to OSS will be contentious but the use of the terms
            open or closed, are being used as a very blunt instrument. If there is resentment
            that Apple doesn't give back, they offer you an opportunity to punish them for it
            by endorsing Linux. The only thing that need be "open" is the marketplace itself.
            Beyond this, it can be argued that any given choice is closed to one extent or
            another. Closed to monetization, closed to unlimited choice, closed to scrutiny.
            Take your pick.

            You can decide if my Free/OpenBSD gaff constitutes being uninformed, or me
            being a liar. For mixing the two up, you have my apology.

            Adrian has had a bully pulpit and used it to take pot shots at Apple repeatedly.
            He's weighed in on iPhone, Apple's business model, Apple security, and Apple
            Users. Until Friday, he hadn't owned one and his experience with the platform was
            limited to a loaner of a MacBook Pro from Apple themselves. We should all be so
            lucky. I for one wouldn't want his opinion to be formed from this kind of
            patronage so I encouraged him to pull the trigger and buy one.

            So far every bit of actual exposure to Apple gear has garnered favorable opinion.
            He had said it was the best hardware he'd ever used, the iPod is the best player,
            now Time Machine is the best backup. He's admitted being more productive on a
            Mac. I welcome the negative opinions also, but only from an informed place.

            Looking at the cross section of this experience it becomes clear that a lack of
            hands-on with Apple gear garners blogs about Apple's arrogance, Apple user's
            zealotry, cultish behavior, or complacency. Or it centers around the platforms
            closed and restrictive nature. Actual Apple hands on experience garners blogs
            about best of class software, hardware, and experiences. Are these things
            mutually exclusive? No, but only experience puts things in perspective.

            I don't like being called a liar, zealot, cultist, or drone. Call me sensitive. If Adrian
            switches let's just call it even. We can't expect humility from an arrogant Apple
            fanboi can we.
            Harry Bardal
  • Go Deeper

    I strongly recommend John Siracusa's review of Leopard at Ars Technica. There is
    much more going on here.


    Time Machine? Thoughts? How about this...

    You keep us informed as to how Steve Job's mercurial nature, Apple's totalitarian
    business model, and rabid Apple fanbois impact and hinder your use of Time
    Machine, or any of the other of the tools and features that have been made
    available to you for the price of a mini.

    If the decision is to continue to use Time Machine and the Mac, and if the decision
    is to recommend Macs to your clients, we'll expect you to come clean. You've
    been sniping at Apple and it's supporters for some time. You've done it from a
    wholly uninformed place.

    The best backup you've ever seen comes thanks to Apple and those who've put
    money in their coffers for years. As you move ahead with this experiment, at some
    point, an apology might be in order.
    Harry Bardal
  • It sounds like you are going to need those backups quite regularly...

    [url=http://www.retrodata.co.uk/notice_apple_seagate_drives.php]Important notice ?? Users of Apple Macbooks[/url]

    [i][b]This notification may affect any Apple product that incorporates a 2.5" hard drive.[/b]

    It has come to our attention from the sheer volume of this particular drive received for recovery that they have a critical manufacturing flaw.

    The faulty drives are all Seagate 2.5" drives that are manufactured in China, with a Firmware revision of 7.01. They are also all SATA interface. No other drives seem (at this stage) to be affected.

    We are receiving quantities of these drives for recovery, and nearly all display the same cause of failure. The read/write heads appear to fail mechanically, quickly causing deep scratches to the platter surface, and rendering the drives practically unrecoverable.

    Should you have one of these drives in your system, we believe the problem is serious enough to warrant copying all your data off the drive and replacing it with an alternative drive, or a retail-version Seagate drive.[/i]*

    *Taken from Retrodata's website at http://www.retrodata.co.uk
    • Must be a mistake

      This is a bulletin about a flaw in a Seagate drive. Apple builds their own, super high quality components which is why Macs are so much more expensive than everything else. For example, the Apple CPU is twice as fast as the equivalent Intel CPU.

      Has there ever been a problem with an Apple built hard drive? No? Then this article is nothing more than FUD.
      • Not a mistake

        Apple Laptops and Desktops are not built by Apple. They use off-the shelf components along with custom components just like every other manufacturer. An Apple MacBook is just Apple's version of a PC Laptop with OS-X put on it instead of Windows.

        Apple uses standard hard drives from Seagate, Western Digital and other manufacturers, custom motherboards by LG and Foxconn, optical drives by Pioneer, LG, Keyboards from Acer and LG etc.

        Crack a Mac open and you'll see for yourself.
      • Message has been deleted.

      • Message has been deleted.

  • Time Machine nothing like Restore previous versions

    For example, "Restore previous versions" works with networked file shares, Time Machine doesn't.

    snicker, smirk :)
    • So, tell me

      Why isn't Shadow Copy getting as much raving press as Time Machine? Could it perhaps be because, like all things Microsoft, the usability sucks?
      • Right click is too hard for you?

        Yeah, probably is.

        As far as the raving press goes, it is because Apple is a [b]far[/b] better marketer than MS is. Apple has been hyping Time Machine ever since Vista came out (coincidence? :) ) and, when combined with the vast amounts of money that Apple pays bloggers to write positive things about Apple, you get your "raving press".

        As far as usability sucking, can you tell me precisely what it is about "Restore previous versions" that makes it so hard to use? I'm guessing you have a good argument and you aren't simply assuming that more marketing $$$ = better usability, right?

        snicker, smirk :)
        • Care to back that up?

          [B][I] combined with the vast amounts of money that Apple pays bloggers to write positive things about Apple, you get your "raving press".[/B][/I]

          Unless you can provide a source for this baseless charge, I think we can safely classify it as libel or at best, raving FUD.
        • Let's go zealot.

          Please educate the masses. Write us a tutorial that any Joe Schmo can follow to enable and use shadow copy to backup and restore any file on their local file system with.

          We'll then let the audience come to their own conclusions.