Inside Leopard: Time Machine

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Apple usually makes no secret of what it considers to be the marquee feature of its major Mac OS X releases. The clue is usually right there on the box in which the update arrives.

Take Tiger. The box for the OS X 10.4 update featured Apple's X logo bathed in a spotlight-a clear sign that Apple thought the newly-introduced Spotlight search technology deserved top billing among Tiger's enhancements.

The same holds true for Leopard. This time around, the box features the X logo on top of a swirling cluster of stars. As if to further drive the point home, that galaxy-eye's view also happens to be the default Desktop background when you launch Leopard for the first time.

So why is this significant? Because the galaxy motif also appears throughout Time Machine, the name Apple has given to the new backup system it has built into Mac OS X Leopard. Designed to work with internal or external hard drives, Time Machine automatically creates time-based "snapshots" of your machine, allowing you to instantly retrieve files, folders, and applications that you may have deleted-or even just older versions of documents that you've since updated.

The Major Features

Macworld covered Time Machine extensively when Apple first unveiled the feature in August 2006 and again following this summer's Worldwide Developers Conference. Time Machine remains fundamentally unchanged since those previews, but a quick overview of its features is surely in order now that OS X 10.5 has arrived.

Using a unique 3-D interface atop a cosmic outer-space background, Time Machine attempts to turn the complex and sometimes confusing world of backup and restore into a simple, visual operation. Backing up is simple: attach a drive of sufficient capacity. In fact, when you first attach an external hard drive to your Mac-whether USB or FireWire-Time Machine offers to use that as your back-up drive. Enable the drive to use with Time Machine, then wait for the initial backup to complete. Once that's done, Time Machine will automatically work in the background, creating backups of files as you modify your system.

When the day comes when you need something back, you launch the Time Machine application-Apple has added a Time Machine icon to Leopard's Dock-and simply move backward through time to find the files or folders you wish to restore. A timeline on the right side of the screen lets you jump to any given day; back and forward arrows in the lower right corner of the screen let you move among the changes made to a file or folder. A Restore button copies the selected files from the backup drive.

The 3-D Time Machine interface is quite polarizing-some love it, some hate it. It does, however, make the relationship between your files and folders and time quite obvious, which helps quite a bit when you're trying to restore files from your backup.

Time Machine incorporates other Leopard enhancements. Using Quick Look, you can scroll through retrieved files to make sure you've found the right version. And you can use Spotlight to find folders and files on your backup drive with a specific search string.

Some other Time Machine features that may interest you:

  • If Time Machine happens to be in the middle of a backup when you put your Mac to sleep, don't worry-the feature automatically stops and then resumes once you reconnect to your backup drive.
  • You're able to browse any Time Machine backup volume, even one of a different Mac, when you plug the drive into your computer-a useful feature for multi-Mac households.
  • Holding down the Control key and clicking the Time Machine icon in the Dock creates a new incremental backup, if you just can't wait for the automatic backup to take place.
  • Time Machine preserves access privileges associated with files on multi-user Macs.
  • See Our Complete Leopard Coverage
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