We recently blew the hard drive on our iMac. I wasn’t worried about; we had other computers to use and I had my data backed up via Time Machine. And I’d used Time Machine for more minor crises as well (e.g. a failed transition from POP to IMAP; still working on that one), but never for restoring an entire system.

For those of you that don’t know (JH), Time Machine is Apple’s automatic backup system. It works best with a desktop because the external hard drive can be hooked up to the computer permanently rather than a laptop to which the hard drive is usually only hooked up when the computer is home (so to speak). Either way, however, with an external drive hooked up, the computer will back itself up regularly and save those backups until the drive is full.

Here’s Apple’s video intro: http://www.apple.com/findouthow/mac/#timemachinebasics.

To get started, open the Time Machine preferences (utility bar; the clock with a counter clockwise arrow) and, with the external drive plugged in, set it as your Time Machine drive. Once set, Time Machine does everything itself. To take advantage of it, open Time Machine, where you will see a cascading series of whatever window you had open on the computer when you opened Time Machine. You can use the chronology bar at right to navigate through all your available backups. You can restore single files, folders, whatever you need. I was interested to see what restoring an entire computer would be like.

34 hours later (that’s 34), my computer was as if it had never left: exactly the way it was before the hard drive blew. Playlists were back in iTunes, bookmarks in Firefox, Dock the way it was. I knew that I had my information backed up, and was comfortable that I hadn’t lost anything, but had no idea that the full restore would be so comprehensive and easy (34 hours notwithstanding).

So thank you, Time Machine. A job well done.

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