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Time Machine’s Hidden Gem

Ever since I got my first mac nearly 8 months ago, I’ve been using the Time Machine tool provided in Mac OSX 10.5 Leopard. If you aren’t familiar with Time Machine, it’s basically an automated backup tool built into the Leopard operating system. Time machine runs every hour and backups up any files that have changed on your system since the last hour. The backups are stored onto an External Hard Drive or other external network drive such as Time Capsule. Then a backup is saved for each day of the month, 24 hours of the current day, and each week after the current month. Backups are automatically purged when the disc fills up. Essentially, Time Machine handles all the dirty work while keeping track of each and every file that ever touched your computer.

The obvious benefit of Time Machine is that you can “go back in time” and recover files that might have changed or been deleted. I’ve used this feature many times after running into a corrupt file or an accidental deletion. It’s extremely useful… but Time Machine has even more to offer.

Five days ago I received my new 13.3″ MacBook. I decided that I would try out the Time Machine Restore functionality. Basically, Time Machine is designed to allow you to restore your system to a specific backup. After all, it’s essentially an image of your hard drive at a given time. The goal was to restore the current state of my old MacBook and duplicate it completely onto the new laptop. I began by turning on the new laptop and sat through the OSX Welcome video. Next I was asked to provide my language and keyboard layout. 

The next screen asks “Do you already own a Mac?”. There are a variety of options for transferring files. I decided to choose “Restore from a Time Machine Backup”. I then plugged in my External HD and selected my most recent backup. Time Machine began to copy my 60GB of backup data over to my new MacBook. I went to class while it was transferring and came back around an hour or so later. To my complete surprise, the transfer was done!! My new laptop was prompting for registration information and after I provided this information I was taken to my desktop. It was IDENTICAL to my old laptop. I opened Safari and my tabs were still there. After opening iChat I noticed that it had also saved my in progress chats. All of my applications were there, my data was there, even my customizations and settings were saved too!

I did run into a few minor problems during the whole process. I noticed that some of my files from my MAMP (Apache, PHP, MySQL) installation were not copied correctly. I needed to recopy my php.ini file and I also needed to tweak my /private/etc/hosts file. This was not copied over in the restore. Ironically, the biggest problem that I ran into was with my Time Machine backups after the restore. Since I was on a new computer, I couldn’t manage to get Time Machine to continue backups where it left off. It didn’t realize that it was the same computer and required that I start a fresh set of backups. After a lot of Googling I was still unable to find a solution. I was forced to delete my previous backups and restart the backup process using my new laptop. 

Moral of the story is that Time Machine ROCKS. I could never dream of such an elegant solution for automated backups and restore. I highly recommend grabbing an External HD and using TM to backup your hard drive.

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